Saving threatened habitats worldwide

The Big Give, not big enough to cope

15 December, 2011 - 14:13 -- World Land Trust
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Big Give Logo

World Land Trust (WLT) had put a huge amount of effort into galvanising activity and donations for Big Give Christmas Challenge week (5-9 December).  We had raised £50,000 in matched funding in advance from a group of very generous supporters, and we had our online donors poised ready to donate at 10am on Monday 5 December to help reach our online target of £100,000.

WLT staff and donors alike were, therefore, frustrated beyond words when the Big Give site crashed shortly after 10am on Monday and did not function for the rest of the day. We were distracted all day by phone calls and emails from would-be donors who had planned their time to make a donation only to find they couldn’t.  And most people thought it was WLT’s fault, that our web links weren’t working, and we had a lot of explaining and apologising on behalf of the Big Give to do. 

And since not everyone contacted us, we believe that a lot more people thought that they were let down by WLT, and we have no idea how much damage that did. Monday evening was a very low point indeed.


El Jagueycito Reserve, Mexico was protected by Buy an Acre funding. Funds raised through the Big Give will help purchase and protect more threatened habitats like this in Central and South America.  © Roberto Pedraza Ruiz

Prior to 5 December we were quietly optimistic that we would reach our ambitious target of £100,000 online during the week, and were focusing on the first day to raise at least half.  We know that many of our donors were only geared up for that day, and we know many simply gave up.

Continued frustration

Our spirits were raised a little on Tuesday morning when the Big Give site was up and running at 10am and appeared to be functional during the day, although again, many people contacted us during the day, and also throughout the week, saying they were finding it impossible to make their donation. We know we missed out on a lot of donations because of this. Thursday and Friday were a fiasco with the matched funding running out before 11am on Thursday and Friday’s information being totally random – sometimes the website said donations would be matched and sometimes saying the sponsor fund had run out.

Big Give also encouraged donations after the close of the challenge knowing that they would not be matched, leading several donors to contact us with conspiracy theories (since the Charities Trust takes 4% in admin charges, more than credit card companies).  In the end WLT is just very sorry that the system couldn’t live up to its claims.

Monday 12 December.  A significant number of donors did make their donations on Friday evening and throughout Saturday, out of sheer desperation because they had pledged to do it, and this raised in excess of £6,000 in unmatched donations over the weekend.  We have also come in to a deluge of emails and post from people who are utterly distressed and disappointed (and much stronger language) and feel that charities have been seriously let down.

Total funds raised

The good news is that WLT has, according to Big Give calculations, raised £134.105. However these figures aren’t accurate according to our information and calculations and we believe, are as follows:

Raised online £74,513.00
Matched donations £67,131.00
Funds raised by Friday £134,262.00
Donated online but not matched £7,382.00

Total funds raised (not including Gift Aid or minus charities Trust Administrative fees): £141,644.00

When all is said and done this is a fantastic result. We just wish that the Big Give could have been ready to receive donations and not caused charities and donors alike such angst.  Perhaps there will be a response and possible new funds will be released to compensate charities for the loss of ill-will and frustration on behalf of their donors.

Meanwhile very many thanks to everyone who did manage to donate.  We will be pleased to receive all comments on this page, good and bad, and will report on your views in the next eBulletin.

More information



Submitted by Daniel on

Cheers up, folks! It's still an impressive amount of money. And I promise, I will donate early next year as a kind of start uo for 2012

Submitted by Anna on

I am one of the would-be donors that wasn't able to make a matched donation, it was frustrating! On Monday I dealt with The Big Give's collapse, on the following days any of my credit cards or my husband's were accepted... Well, we can still make an unmatched donation. However, I am glad that WLT managed to raise a nice amount of funds!

Submitted by Simon Mollison on

I attempted to make a matched donation not long after 10.00 am on the Wednesday, anticipating trouble. To my surprise, it went through smoothly at the first attempt and I got an email later in the day confirming that my donation had been doubled.

Submitted by Bru on

I got in on the Monday before the crash... at that time only £30 had been donated so there's a fair chance I was only the second or third person to get through - and it crashed so soon afterwards that I had to wait until Tuesday to give to other causes I was interested in.

I had no joy for the rest of the week, although I was running out of patience by that time, and I did keep trying. However, I wasn't blaming RSPB Scotland for not being able to give matched money for restoring the Caledonian forest and hopefully those who were frustrated will come to realise that it really wasn't WLT's fault.

To have raised more than £100,000 is a tremendous achievement and WLT staff should look on the bright side... the original target was very ambitious and money ran out because it was going to other causes, many of which are dear to other people's hearts, so it's not all bad news.

Submitted by Jim Steedman on

We stayed indoors late on Monday morning in order to donate, and were frustrated by the Big Give website crash.
We had to be out all day Tuesday and Thursday. Again stayed home Wednesday till after 10 am and made a matched donation via my credit card, but then tried to donate using my wife's credit card, which was not accepted.
Tried again on Friday at 10 am using my own credit card again, but this time I was told that the sponsor fund had run out.
As the Big Give made a complete disaster of Monday (and quite a bit of a mess on Friday too), why could they not have extended the dead-line for an extra day to compensate?

Submitted by Chris Redston on

As someone who was involved quite closely in this, I can confirm that all the problems were due to issues with the Big Give site and none of it was the WLT's fault. I'm surprised that anyone could feel that the WLT were responsible for the problems on Monday, as they only had to go to the Big Give site to see that it had been taken down for the day - so it was obviously not the WLT's fault. This was probably a result of 424 charities all telling their supporters all to log on at 10 am on Monday morning.
Considering that people could only donate for any length of time on Tuesday and Wednesday, I think getting £140k is a really fantastic achievement and perhaps should be celebrated more than it is in the report above. (I don't think posting unsubstantiated rumours about the Charities Aid Foundation running a conspiracy is particularly helpful, for example). The Big Give people will be the first to admit that they have had a bad year and things didn't work properly, and I'm sure they'll be doing all they can to sort things out for next year. In my correspondence with them regarding all the delays etc. I found them courteous and apologetic, and always replied to emails within 24 hours, which is pretty good considering how many people must have been emailing to complain. As you say, perhaps they overreached themselves this year, as there were a lot more charities involved than previous years and their system couldn't cope. However, it's worth reminding people that they never claimed that every donation at any time of day would be automatically matched - there is a certain amount of competition involved between charities as money is released in chunks at the beginning of the day and people might need to try a few times to get their donation match. Having said that, the website crash was a disastrous start for every charity, not just the WLT, and there didn't seem to be enough money released on Thursday and Friday for reasons that were never made clear. So, I agree that there is much that the Big Give people can and should do to make things work better, and I hope that we work with them to make the improvements that are necessary for this to be successful next year.
Only three other environmental charities managed to raise more than we did - the WWF, FOTE and FFI - all of whom have a membership base many times bigger than the WLT. With gift aid, the amount raised is enough to purchase 1,500 acres or rainforest, which is a great result, and makes me thing what a great and generous bunch of people the WLT supporters are.
I appreciate that it was a frustrating time for all concerned, but as someone who has donated to charities via the Big Give the previous two years, it usually works much better than it did this year. Hopefully your somewhat negative write-up won't put people off donating next year if we are planning to do it again, as I think we should.
Finally, thank you to all the people within WLT and all the donors both large and small for managing to raise as much as we did, given the circumstances. Have a very happy Christmas!

Submitted by Edo on

Congratulations on a great achievement! I encountered problems when trying to make a donation, but I thought it is because I'm not from the UK, and at that time I assumed it is only for UK residents, so I didn't tried more than once.

Anyway, I'm glad it was such a great success for WLT.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

I reckon they (The Big Give) should do the decent thing, and as compensation for all the disappointments, refund WLT it's commission fees; if not fully match fund all donations made during that week.
Come on Sir Alec (Reed) - your reputation is at stake!

Submitted by Bru on

Because, Jim, they'd simply run out of money.

The pot of cash was only ever going to be of a finite size... didn't the first ever Big Give run out of cash in the first ten minutes? It's a pretty good deal from the Reed Foundation and so it attracts a great deal of interest - more than 8,000 charities were involved so is it any wonder the pot ran dry?

Still, here's to next year and more cash for the WLT!

Submitted by Barry O' Dowd on

I tried Monday and Friday without success. On the positive side I have just had my Will written and am leaving a substantial amount to WLT - later rather than sooner I hope! I will also give extra early next year as I know the need is urgent with intense pressure on tropical habitats increasing scarily.

Submitted by Chris Redston on

Just to clarify something that Bru said above, the Big Give acts as a donations portal all year round for over 8,000 charities, as stated on their homepage. However, only about 430-odd charities took part in the Christmas Challenge, where donations were doubled, of which the WLT were one.

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

But Chris, at 4% commission on each donation that must make the Big Give a nice little earner for someone the other side of the tinsel.
Sure they're a portal but not a very generous one.

The Big Give set up did very much give the impression to us donors that all we had to do was rise to the challenge of meeting the target, and they would then match this with the big sums already raised from their company partners.

Not so, WE had to jump through two sets of hoops: 1. Donate during that week using their portal and paying their commission fees, and then 2. Compete with fellow donors to get our contributions in before they ran out of dosh.
The onus was always on US to stump up, not them to have the requisite amount up and ready for match-funding.

Big Disappointment.

Submitted by Lyn Sales on

One advantage of being "retired housewife" (!) I could spend an inordinate amount of time trying to donate through Big Give which I did manage to do eventually. Surely though with the high commission being paid there is not much point in using their system unless your donation is matched?

Submitted by John Burton on

It was great to raise significant funds, and Chris Redston was one of our supporters driving it all. The downside has obviously been the huge amount of negative publicity about the failures of The Big Give operation. And I am afraid that most of the criticism seems to be justified. Our experience has been that it actually attracted hardly any new donors, but our existing donors ghave been amazingly supportive, and despite the problems worked hard to support us. The real question is, "Do we go with The Big Give next year", or do our own thing? There is a debate within our office. My personal view is that it is so complex, and since it doesn't really match donations, we would be better off using the experience to create our own Matched Donation Christmas campaign. It wouyld be very easy to do, and I am sure many of our existing donors would be happy to match all new donations at 2:1. And that would have actually raised about three times as much for the same amount of effort, and the same commitments if we had done this. But The key issue to me, is what do you, our loyal supporters think? Wev are non-aggressive fundraisers, and we really do listen (as I am sure Chris Redston, Dominic Belfield and others appreciate). Thanks for all your support and do keep us informed.


Submitted by Lyn Sales on

P.S to my previous comment. At one point with Big Give I was told that "the charity could not cope", one could assume that it was WLT and give up but perhaps they meant themselves!
Please do your own Matched Donation Christmas campaign, I am sure lots of supporters would be happy to take part.

Submitted by John Burton on

It certainly was not us that could not cope; the WLT was properly geared up for this. Our main concern has been that our supporters thought we were ill-prepared. Thanks for the feedback

John Burton

Submitted by Chris Redston on

In reply to Dominic, I agree it's a high commission and never said otherwise. I was just pointing out that the Big Give Christmas Challenge only involved a small proportion of the charities that otherwise use it as a donations portal.
As for how the Big Give works internally, had we raised £200k, we would have received £50k extra money from the Big Give Central Funds, which seems a nice bonus [and perhaps worth biting the bullet about the high commission charges for]. As it was, we didn't reach the target because of problems with the Big Give end of things, so we only received about £17k extra Big Give money above and beyond the donations. Because of how the rather complicated way funds are matched, the first two thirds of a charity's online donations are matched 75% by pledges and 25% by the Big Give central funds. The final third of a charity's online donations are matched 100% by Big Give funds, which is where they pay-off is for charities such as ourselves. Unfortunately we didn't get to that point for reasons discussed above.
However, it's a bit simplistic to see this just in terms of how much 'free money' we got from the Big Give. By entering the Christmas Challenge, I'm sure that we attracted more donations than we might normally do [both from pledgers and online donors], and these donations were higher than they might normally be too. So it's hard to say exactly how much extra money it attracted compared to normal donations in December.
As for John's comment about not attracting many new donors, I think this is because the website was set up differently to how it was in previous years. Last year there was an 'environmental home page' with just the Christmas Challenge charities on it [about 13], which you could easily access from their main home page. This encouraged 'donor tourism', ie donors who had been attracted to the site by one charity might end up donating to another charity that works in the same field. I don't know why they didn't do that this time, but it is just one of many things that didn't work as well as the previous two years of the Christmas Challenge. Also, the fact that people could only really donate on 2 days out of five didn't help either.
So, whether to do it next year or not is of course a WLT decision - I guess it depends on whether you think the Big Give will get its internal act together for next year. If it does, I'm sure we would reach a similar target next year, which would mean earning £50k above and beyond supporters' donations. Of course, this doesn't preclude us from having our own match funding event sometime in the year, as the idea of a person's donation being worth double is a very motivation and compelling one that obviously encourages people to donate [which is why the funds ran out so quickly].
My suggestion, therefore, would be not to put all our doubling eggs in one donation basket next year. I would give the Big Give another year as I'm sure they will fix a lot of the problems - every single charity must have complained to them this year and so things will get sorted out, I would think. Perhaps we could put in a lower target next year [perhaps £100k?] so that we are more certain of getting the 'free money' that makes it so attractive and reduce the stress of the whole thing for everyone. Then we could perhaps run our own internal WLT match funding in about May/June, so that supporters have two opportunities each year to make their donations worth twice as much, one in early summer and one in the winter.
A final point to John is that if he feels an internal self-funded matching campaign would raise three times as much as we raised in the Big Give [ie £420,000], then of course we should do it (and makes me wonder why this hasn't been done before... ). Whether the WLT wants to do the Big Give Christmas Challenge as well is of course up to the people at the charity, but we can't save forests without money, and we should explore every avenue possible to increase our income and in particular our supporter base. If nothing else, the Big Give has certainly put our approach to fundraising on the agenda!
Happy Christmas everyone!
ps Sorry this post is so long. As my editor often says, if I'd had more time, it would have been shorter!

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

Thank-you Chris, long is good when you supply important details as above.

And the two crucial, bottom line facts for me are these: 1. the Big Give only allowed us donors two days out of their promised five to access match-funding; and 2. WLT only raised £17.K out of a possible £50.K (online).

We the public were not found wanting. The Big Give didn't put it's money where it's mouth was.

Two match-funding events sounds good to me; but certainly one of them should be an internal job, if for no other reason than to compare with external ones.

Happy Christmas!

Submitted by Jake on

There was an enormous spike in traffic to the Big Give website. Hundreds of thousands of people will have been planning to donate online. Its not easy building a website + infrastructure to handle that kind of traffic but hopefully Big Give will build a more resilient site for next year.

Nevertheless, well done on raising so much money for such a PRICELESS cause!

Submitted by Sue on

It took me 2 days of trying and I nearly gave up, but eventually I did manage to get a credit card accepted and make a donation. Thank you to WLT staff for staying so calm and polite through this must have been a fraught week at the office!
To all staff and supporters of such an important cause,
Happy Christmas!

Submitted by patrick marks on

Hi, am I the only one who had no problems and managed to donate to three charities I wanted! Glad the amount raised by WLT was as much as listed - all grist to the mill!

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

Just quickly to Jake.
I presume you work for the Big Give. So what part of you did NOT expect a big rush on the Monday morning when the whole schaboodle had been trailed for weeks, and every charity was advising it's supporters to get in there early to match funds?
Honestly, did it really take you by surprise?
And at 4% commission, how can you honestly expect people not to complain when your site crashes, you run out of money and what was touted as a week's Big Give dribbles out into barely two days?
Sure - glass half full / half empty - a lot of money was raised for charity,; but there IS such a thing as incompetency.

Christmas! Bah, humbug....

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