6 years ago

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.”

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Karin Holm

    Behind the MASSIVEGOOD campaign was the Millennium Foundation which used $22.4 million of UNITAID funding (grant) over a three-year period to build up its staff, office, and programs before folding in 2011.

    On 26 November 2008, UNITAID signed an agreement with the Millennium Foundation for
    Innovative Finance for Health, whereby UNITAID would contribute an amount not to exceed
    US$22,400,000 to facilitate implementation of the Voluntary Solidarity Support Project
    covering the period from 2008 to 2010.

    From annual UNITAID Report 2011.

    Direct Financial Cooperation (DFC) by project cumulative as at 31 December 2011
    Grants(in $000’s) 2006-2011 2011 2010 2009 2008 2006-2007
    Millennium Foundation (Note 4) 22,379 0 6,094 12,098 4,188 0

  2. Guillaume

    What a pity and a wasted opportunity. I agree with most points raised by Robert above.

  3. Stephen Joyce

    Stephen Joyce

    This is not at all a surprise. It’s a pity that so much money was spent to do nothing more than boost some egos. You want to take a look at a real micro-donations platform, take a look at the Footprints network. Practically no expenses and they have raised over $1.2M for real grassroots projects. http://www.footprintsnetwork.org

  4. Stuart

    What a monumental waste of money. Especially when you consider there were already active – and working – models online when this disaster area launched.

    A debacle.

  5. RobertKCole

    A real tragedy. Sorry Henk Mulder, the demise of MassiveGood had nothing to do with branding. MassiveGood was a great brand supporting a great cause that was incompetently managed from the outset.

    A few examples – let’s ask the simple who, what, where, when, why and how to get some hints:

    1) How? When the initiative launched, I built my own MassiveGood banner for my blog that deep linked to the contribution page – MassiveGood failed to provide even basic functionality to convert traffic into contributions. Even on the current site, clicking “Promote MassiveGood on your Blog” that purports to offer banners and widgets, downloads a zip file containing only four variations of the logo in eps and png versions. The word donate does not appear, there are no links to a donation page, there is no widget. That is ridiculous.

    2) What? Donations were initially capped at $2.00 online – Even though the concept was micro-contributions, there was no mechanism for individuals to easily make a larger donation to the cause. That changed later, but it was an incredible lost opportunity at the launch that could have gained momentum.

    3) Where? There was no Search Engine Optimization effort to speak of. MassiveGood never ranked in the top 50 websites for key search terms relating to their causes and donations. From a structural perspective, the current site, according to SEOMoz, has 535 pages with client errors, 48 with duplicate content and 129 with duplicate page titles – based on 960 total pages crawled… Compound that with no backlink execution to gain link juice from all those high profile companies and celebrities – A clear recipe for SEO suicide.

    4) Who? MassiveGood, while having some social media hooks, never leveraged the opportunity to create a conversation with its supporters. A simple “Tell us how you support MassiveGood” social campaign could have engaged an army of supporters – even cynics could agree there would be legions of do-gooder narcissists who would want to show others that they support the cause… It seems JoinMassiveGood has about 2/3 the followers of my Twitter account – that certainly makes no sense – especially given their star-studded launch lineup that literally had millions of followers.

    5) Why? Based on the above, it didn’t appear MassiveGood was trying very hard to secure donations, be found via organic web search, engage the blogosphere or encourage social conversation. So why should anyone donate a penny to a lazy and/or incompetent organization? One might question the chances of donations actually passing through to the people who so desperately need the help.

    6) When? I attempted to contact MassiveGood twice in 2010 to provide pro-bono expertise on how to solve several of the problems outlined above. First, immediately after MassiveGood launched, then six months later after having lunch with a Millennium Foundation representative at the PhoCusWright conference. The response on both occasions was that assistance was not required as everything was progressing according to plan. That may have been true. There was little evidence of any plan. As a result, the absence of results or accountability may have been in perfect alignment with an absence of internal expectations…

    It particularly pisses me off that $11 million that could have been spent by direct investment to support the causes was squandered on the MassiveGood program. This was not because it was poorly conceived – a McKinsey & Co. study reportedly indicated that the project should have thrown off several hundred million dollars each year.

    My personal theory is that the $11 million injection was in the form of a UNITAID grant as opposed to a loan – resulting in a lack of urgency to seek efficiency or results from the program. That lack of urgency translated into a lack of accountability, which in turn, translated into a lack of execution.

    My offer to assist still stands, but now I want to get paid. Considering the $9 million Fred & Farid advertising campaign and the $525,000 Spike Lee 60-second launch film, I too want to suckle the sweet teet of no-strings attached UN funding for such a worthy cause (sarcasm intended.)

    I won’t go so far as recommending a name change to MassiveFail – that would be mean. Especially since MassiveStupid would be so much more appropriate…


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