MassiveGood charity project axed, travel technology worked but brand failed
Travel industry involvement in the high-profile and star name-backed MassiveGood fundraising scheme has been terminated after poor results and problems with branding.
MassiveGood raised just $300,000 in under two years, despite a glitzy launch and visibility on a fairly wide array of distribution channels.
The project came together in early-2010 when the Millennium Foundation wanted to plug a campaign into the booking path of travel products to raise awareness and money for projects to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
At its launch, MassiveGood was fronted by former-US president Bill Clinton, United Nations’ secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and a string of musicians, actors and other politicians, including then-UK prime minister Gordon Brown.
A Spike Lee-directed video featuring the likes of Hollywood stars Samuel L Jackson and Susan Sarandon was all part of the publicity machine to support the project.
One of the key elements of the campaign was to place a MassiveGood donation tool within the payment process of offline retail travel agencies, via the GDS, as well as on OTAs.
The project had the support of a number of well known travel brands and all three GDSs (both Sabre‘s Sam Gilliland and Travelport CEO at the time, Jeff Clarke, backed it), with Amadeus taking on the lion’s share of the development work.
However, almost immediately after its launch, many in the industry had started to question the level of investment that was supposedly used to get the project off the ground.
A pot of $11 million was talked of as the so-called “seed funding” to create the technology, establish a legal structure for the charity, build the website, etc, although umbrella organisation Millennium Foundation is now disputing the figure.
The worry lines increased further when, six months after its launch, officials admitted the project had only raised $200,000 in donations.
Ten months further on and the Millennium Foundation has now pulled the plug on the scheme.
The GDSs have been asked in the past few weeks to remove the donation functionality integrated in their respective booking tools and publicity materials are being removed from the corporate social responsibility pages of partners.
Millennium Foundation managing director Henk Mulder confirmed this week that the project in its current guise is now at an end, after raising just a further $100,000 during 2011.
Mulder says the technology and integration of the donation tools through the GDSs worked well – unfortunately the project failed due to brand issues experienced from the outset and communication problems when working with offline retail travel agencies.
“It is very disappointing we did not really get MassiveGood off the ground,” Mulder admits, claiming the use of an unknown and new brand, rather than an existing fundraising system, was a hugely prohibitive factor.
The organisation also had difficulties establishing any kind of rapport with offline retail travel agencies, as large companies, consortia, then branch managers and individual travel agents themselves need to be convinced that the customers should be notified of the opportunity to donate.
The project became a loss-leader when it emerged just one in 100 of those customers were donating, giving on average $4 per person.
Mulder says as soon as the branding was altered to include messaging from the International Red Cross, conversion rates increased, but still to only around three in every 100 customers.
Results from online travel agencies, where the donation tool was embedded in the web booking process, were better, Mulder adds.
The Millennium Foundation says the project may continue in some form with individual travel companies, especially in Spain where pick-up was stronger and national airline Iberia was known to have been a keen supporter. A Chinese airline is also interested in working with the project in some way, Mulder says.
“What we have realised is that it takes a lot more money to actually make something like this work,” Mulder says of the investment, adding that despite the good intentions and huge support of the industry, the Millennium Foundation couldn’t continue with MassiveGood with the kind of results it had achieved in the first two years.
An Amadeus official says:
“Amadeus supports numerous CSR projects; we see this as a core part of what we do.
“The technology solution we developed to enable micro-donations from travellers has proved to function well, we will continue to work with existing and new partners to give this technology the best possible use.”
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.