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JustGiving, launched in 2000, often used to be held up as a UK dot-com success story.
Initially I thought it was a shame to see a big corporate like Virgin is ripping off a plucky little startup like JustGiving. But Virgin Money Giving is a not-for-profit. Unlike JustGiving, there's no monthly subscription and no charges on Gift Aid. They do charge 2% on transactions, but that is lower than JustGiving's 5%.
They've taken a for-profit business and reinvented it as a not-for-profit. As Bill Gurley notes in The Freight Train that is Android, having a good financial reason to give something away puts a company in a wonderful position. It is almost impossible to compete against.
On a smaller scale than Google, that's what Virgin Money have achieved. As a cuddly charitable endeavour, that's pretty clever.
I don’t know if a large organized industry has ever faced this fierce a form of competition – someone who is not trying to “win” in the classic sense. They want market share, but they don’t need economics.
Considered as a piece of advertising for Virgin Money, there is a touch of genius to it. The giving pages are highly viral (I couldn't help myself from linking earlier) and have feel-good vibe. As has often been noted, the rhythm of successful advertising online isn't about campaigns and interruption, but about long-term relationships and real usefulness.
Is it cynical to call Virgin Money Giving advertising? There's something hard to categorise about projects like this and Pepsi Refresh and O2 Think Big. On the one hand, you want to believe the motivation is public spirited. On the other, it seems reasonable to assume there is a return on investment calculation behind it. Perhaps that isn't even important: if they make the world a better place, does it matter that they are the fruit of cold business logic?