Blog       Interview with GivePanel's CEO Nick Burne on Do More Good Podcast

Interview with GivePanel's CEO Nick Burne on Do More Good Podcast

Catch up with GivePanel’s CEO Nick Burne’s interview for ‘Episode 73, Season Six: Realising the Scalability of the Internet’ of the Do More Good podcast

In his chat with James and Kenneth, Nick discusses how he started working in the charitable sector, why Facebook Fundraising and the importance of investment. He also shares the valuable lessons he has learnt along the way.

What We Will Cover:

  • About Do More Good
  • About Nick Burne
  • Starting out in the Charitable Sector
  • Coming from Outside the Industry
  • Entrepreneurial Start
  • Learning from Failures
  • The Road to GivePanel
  • Focusing on Facebook Fundraising
  • COVID’s Impact
  • The Reluctance to Invest
  • The Need for Different Digital Fundraising Models
  • Aligning with Facebook
  • The Team Behind GivePanel
  • Challenges and Focus
  • Advice to Anyone with an Idea
  • The Future of GivePanel
  • Plans for Next Year
  • Legacy
  • What to do on Tough Days
  • Sources of Inspiration

Listen to the Podcast Here:

Listen to "Episode 73: Realising the scalability of the internet with Nick Burne, Give Panel CEO" on Spreaker.

About Do More Good

The Do More Good podcast interviews the movers and shakers from the third sector and beyond, and tells the stories of people doing more good. 

About Nick Burne

Nick started his career in the charity sector in 2004. Following a degree in economics, he quickly found his specialism in digital fundraising. He became the Head of Digital fundraising at Christian Aid, before joining Think Consulting in 2008. He has worked with a wide range of charitable organisations, including the National Trust, the Salvation Army and UNICEF.

He then went on to start his own consultancy in 2013, developing digital fundraising strategies that would raise millions for good causes. It was during this time that he would identify the untapped potential for fundraising through social networks. In 2019, he founded and became CEO of GivePanel, a platform that helps nonprofits manage their Facebook fundraising. He likes tennis and, according to his LinkedIn profile, Shake Shack burgers.

Starting out in the Charitable Sector

Basically, I got myself into a lot of debt in my early 20s. Because I’m entrepreneurial, I had some failed ventures. That was mainly in the music industry – I was managing a band. I learned a lot from that job, but ended up learning that the music industry wasn’t for me. I started looking for jobs, and an online job randomly came up at Christian Aid. I knew nothing about the charity sector. When I heard the words ‘Christian Aid’, I literally just thought of poverty porn images. I wanted to change that perception.  So I went and got a job there, and that’s how my career in the sector started. Really, it was because I needed the money. I wasn’t thinking about going to work for a charity at all. 

I knew how to do the online thing – I’d been in online marketing since 1997. I started building websites for people when I was 17 years old. Really early doors stuff and was confident in doing that. So I applied for the job through a recruitment agency. They were kind of embarrassed to say that it was with Christian Aid. And I said ‘that’s fine’. I went to a Christian school, even though I wasn’t a Christian at the time. The funny story is my wife interviewed me (although she wasn’t my wife at the time!) She was my manager at Christian Aid. I think I grew on her over the course of time!

Coming from Outside the Industry

I actually loved that job. I never imagined that a full time job would be something that I would do, as I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. It was my first proper job and the people were lovely. The very first thing I remembered happening was the Asian tsunami. That was the first time that digital fundraising and online fundraising came into itself. Because it happened on Boxing Day, no one was prepared for it. There was no emergency appeal. Everyone was at home, there wasn't telly, there wasn't a telephone bank setup, there wasn't anything.  Just the website donation form.

So it was the first time that a donation page was what people searched for on Google. It was such a massive emergency. I don't think we've ever seen anything like it, the impact of that tsunami. Online donations just poured in for Christian Aid, like you would not believe.  And suddenly, I went from being a digital fundraiser that wasn't raising much, to raising a huge amount of money online. And that's when I started to gain influence in my career.

So I was sending out all the emails, I was making us more money. I was optimising the donations. I was just doing that kind of thing. You're the coolest kid in the office for that week because no one else knew how to do that stuff. By then, I would have been doing online marketing for quite a few years. I was well positioned. I'm very fortunate that I got to go to university around 1997. That’s when Google was incorporated and I got into the online marketing thing. I'm very blessed with the timing.

I really enjoyed those first years at Christian Aid. I imagined staying for years, actually. And I couldn't have imagined staying at a job that long before. I love being around people, and that's what I was missing. When I was just on my own in entrepreneurial work, it was quite lonely. And then to come in and be part of a bigger team, and also be an expert in a small way to the organisation. That was fun, really fun.

Entrepreneurial Start 

I just remember my dad would say things to me like ‘Don't be so busy making a career that you don't make any money’. He was really entrepreneurial and I guess I looked up to him. The idea of having a job wasn't something that was made attractive to me. It was more along the lines of ‘what business is it going to be? What are the ideas going to be?’ I always wanted to start my own business. I was the kind of kid selling lemonade on the street. I was just naturally that way. I think I always struggled to understand, ‘why doesn’t everyone want to do that?’ But then you realise that everyone's different, and that's a good thing.

I know entrepreneurs are a certain kind of person. And it's not all together hinged. I think entrepreneurs over-index in being manic or hypomanic. But you also have to be naive. I think that's the point, because if you actually thought about what it took to build the business, you wouldn't start it out. You have to be incredibly green and actually naive. And I think actually, that's been a very good trait of mine!! I don't think through the full consequences of starting stuff, I just start. 

Learning From Failures

It took ages to recover from my musical industry failure – the band falling apart, losing a lot of money. I should have just got straight back on the horse a lot quicker in terms of business, financially and mentally. That was a learning for me that sticks out – I think I just assumed that everything I touched would work out. But turns out life is hard! I look back on it and recognise I have learnt to pick up quickly. 

The Road to GivePanel

I had moved into productized consulting and taught organisations how to raise money through facebook ads. I got to the stage where, as a consultant, I could only help a few people with digital fundraising at a time. I thought – how do I help 100-200 charities in a year with this? So we created a programme, a kind of accelerator programme for help charities raise money on Facebook with Ads. Not doing one digital strategy at a time, which to be honest, was boring the life out of me. The things like digital transformation – all this top down stuff that never goes anywhere. For me, it was time to get results for charities.

So we raised money with charities that came on the programme and had some amazing successes. That was really fun. But, you know, there’s a lifecycle to these things. You have the idea, you birth the idea, you build it, and now it’s carrying on the race. Productizing consulting was happening in other places on the internet, but it wasn’t happening in our sector. And I just knew so many of our clients were unhappy with their digital ad agencies. So many were struggling with upskilling staff. It came out of a need, really. 

But what we were doing at this stage wasn’t ultimately software, and I kept coming back to this. I grew up “inside the browser” – so everything to me is like a user interface. I’m a software product guy at heart, more than I am a fundraiser. I was always looking for that next online software product.

Focusing on Facebook Fundraising

I saw clients struggle with Facebook. They were okay with the fundraising revemue, but weren’t able to engage their fundraisers, manage their data, all of that stuff. So we started helping them out manually with spreadsheets. But I knew there had to be a better way. I had a few too many coffees one day and I thought, ‘this is it’.There’s an idea here, there’s a platform here, we’ve got to do this. So I hired a developer and we started building an MVP (minimum viable product) to see if there was a product market fit, or if any of our clients wanted to use it. 

And it turns out that it solved their pain points with Facebook fundraising. From that one developer, we now have 15 staff, and 220-230 clients in 10+ countries, all within the space of two years. Especially at the moment, it’s been like holding onto a rocket ship – everyone has been doing fundraising events during COVID. It’s been timely. But for me, it’s a toy I got to build in the browser that now has 1000s of users. 

The donation volume going through Facebook is so high now. It was around $5 billion last year, which was a significant 70% growth over the previous years. JustGiving, since it started back in 2020, has raised $4.5 billion. That's how insane this moment is. 

COVID’s Impact

It’s been amazing to see our clients take our strategies, and our platform, and adopt them. I can’t take all the credit. There’s amazing people that came up with these ideas. But it’s not just all good fun in our sector at the moment. We have clients that are doing nothing but hiring people. And then you see other charities who aren’t investing in digital, who are having to let everyone go. You’ve got that kind of dichotomy. 

We have an Academy where we get all of our clients together, and they present their results. In 2020, one of our clients forecasted an £860,000 loss. But, because of our impact and because of the Facebook events that they did, they made £2.7 million. Wow. That's a huge turnaround for an organisation. Less than three years ago, they were raising under £1 million as an organisation. Now they're raising £3 million a year through Facebook.

The Reluctance to Invest

There’s an overriding sticking point around investment in fundraising. If you don’t understand that have to speculate to accumulate… you need to recognise that doing great fundraising is based on great investment strategy. Fundraising events are predicated on spending money. For instance, you have to spend on Facebook ads and buy t-shirts for fundraisers. So you need a board that is going to give you money. It’s amazing how many organisations I meet where that’s just not the case. They just don’t have the budget, and especially during COVID, and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Budgets are cut – the worst decision ever right now. You need to invest more in fundraising during these times, not less. 

A lot of charities were too cautious with Facebook fundraising when the pandemic hit. I initially questioned ‘what is gonna happen to our business?’ It took me a few weeks to decide that we were going to invest heavily. If you take six months, or twelve months to decide, and you let your fundraising team go, you let your budgets go, you're going to end up not raising as much.

If you adopt new strategies, pivot into the trend, you’ll see that there’s lots of people at home that actually want to raise money. They want to fundraise by doing press ups for you or squats because they can’t get down the gym. You hack into the thing that’s happening in the world and you create a great fundraising out of it. You can raise a huge amount of money. 

Our clients have gone on to raise huge amounts of money while other other charities haven't. And I think it's about just a general approach to investment from what I can see. That and risk.

The Need For Different Digital Fundraising Models

There are some organisations where digital doesn't work very well for them. But we don't talk enough about the fact that different models work for different organisations. The events model works brilliantly for health and medical organisations. For instance, cancer charities and animal charities. But it doesn't work as well for International Development charities. Emergency fundraising works brilliantly for international organisations when urgent things happen, but not so well for other charity types.

Digital isn’t always going to be the best for your organisation. There are some organisations that just can’t get it to work. And that’s the reality, just like there are some retail businesses that don’t fit ecommerce. Like Helicopters! 🙂 Ultimately, digital fundraising isn’t going to be for everyone.

Aligning with Facebook 

The biggest strength of GivePanel, as well as it’s biggest weakness, is Facebook. The biggest strength is that we're strapped to a hugely scalable platform. When I joined Christian Aid as a fundraiser, I was thinking about social media. Facebook now was the fundraising platform I dreamed of then, allowing us access to an amazing community. It gave us a platform embedded, peer-to-peer fundraising system, where people don't have to leave and log in somewhere else.

Users are connected to their friends and family on Facebook, the perfect people to become donors. Then you have an inbuilt advertising platform that allows us to reach everyone on the platform, and we can lead them to this experience. It’s an amazing fundraising tool. We have a healthy partnership with Facebook. We’re aligned with something which has onboarded well over a million nonprofits. These new onboarded charities could be our clients. That’s the positive thing – we’ve got an amazing partner. 

The negative side is we’re a derivative of Facebook. We don’t have control over what they do. They can release things that can affect us. But, generally speaking, what we have found is that we can help them. This is a good alignment – they’re not 100% focused on charities in the same way that we are. They’re trying to keep users engaged on the platform because they have an advertising model. I think they’re more concerned with the donors and the fundraisers than the charities. They do care about the charities. However, we’re obsessed about caring for nonprofits all day, every day. Facebook builds the charity tools, but we go the extra mile and build them extra tools. For the long term, we definitely don’t see ourselves exclusively as a Facebook platform.

There are always going to be things that charities need that Facebook isn’t going to get around to building. But to me, that isn’t an issue. It was maybe in the early days, until I figured out what we should be doing – Influencing Facebook to build the stuff that we see working for charities. We want more charities to adopt Facebook, because the fundraising tools raise more. Anything that raises more money is a good thing from my book. If you can raise more by doing an event on Facebook, why would we not want you to use Facebook for your charity? We want more charities to adopt Facebook. There’s always going to be that next platform, that next idea. And we can keep going. I can keep inventing, I can keep coming up with new ideas. 

If we had to close down GivePanel because Facebook copied us, that would still be massive social capital. I can go to bed happy at night knowing that I’ve influenced things positively. I’m not the kind of entrepreneur that cares about the money. It’s more about the impact. I would be quite flattered if that happened, but I don’t think Facebook would do that.

The Team Behind GivePanel

We’re growing so quickly – at every team meeting we’re welcoming new people. I think we have 13 full time employees, and then we have another 13 freelancers. You can’t hire everyone in one day, unfortunately. It takes time. But we’re growing fast, about 20-30 people altogether.

How would they describe Nick Burne the leader? Informal. Not very corporate. Probably creative. I think our staff find it’s a very rewarding place to work. You get to see charities knock it out of the park. Our morale is really high. We were a remote company before Lockdown, but I’m really looking forward to meeting up with the team. We’ve got an amazing bunch of people. 

Challenges and Focus

We haven’t had too many challenges. Just the sheer volume of the work is the challenge – trying to steward it, building it one day at a time, whilst not getting ahead of yourself. Keeping up with the demand that’s coming in. 

I tell charities that the rudest word in our sector is the F word. And it’s not Facebook, and it’s not the other one – it’s Focus. I have the ability now, where I didn’t before – I have the ability to have extreme focus. And I’m supremely focused on GivePanel. That has surprised me. What GivePanel enables me to do is come up with lots of ideas for the platform. We have a roadmap that we’re super excited about, constantly coming up with ideas, with our clients telling us what we need to develop next. We get to build those things. It’s the kind of project that could keep me busy for a long time. Everyday is interesting, everyday there is a new problem to solve. That’s what I love about software, you don’t have to come up with a completely new idea. It’s always changing. 

We do releases every few weeks on the platform. We are really good at getting new stuff out, which I think our charities love. That keeps me busy and I don’t need to focus on anything else. Maybe in a few years time it will be different. And I’ve learned that when you get mature, you learn how to focus. I think it’s really hard to focus when things aren’t going well. You start to escape into other things and you don’t deal with it. But at the moment, everything is going super well.

Advice to Anyone with an Idea

Ideas are like buses – they come every five minutes. It’s all about the execution, not about the idea. If you don’t do anything with an idea, it’s useless. You’ve got to act as fast as possible on that idea. What I do is try to kill the idea first, and see if it comes back. Try and forget it. Until 10 clients start asking for it, then we keep thinking about it. I then wake up in the middle of the night and think ‘yeah, that’s the idea!’ Ideas have to survive. Once it’s survived, you’ve got to act upon it, test it and get it out in the wild as quickly as possible. You can do that in so many different ways. I see so many people procrastinate around ideas. They create their business card first and want a website first. You can start a business without a website. You can start a business without a business card. You can start a business without all of that. You just need to start talking to customers, see if they want it first. We call that product market fit in the startup world. 

There’s another thing my dad said, ‘Ideas without actions are dreams.’ To be honest, he was probably quoting Confucius or someone like that. But he jammed that idea into me. Can you execute your idea and find something where you turn that idea into a product that people want to buy? That’s when you’ve got something. And you can’t do that unless you actually put a product in front of someone. It could just be a piece of paper, it could be a conversation. Find 10 friends that you think might want this thing. Just ask them! Have that first conversation with a potential customer as quickly as possible. And be skeptical about your idea, try and think it’s bad, because everyone else will. At GivePanel, we started by putting a landing page together with a waitlist and then sent it out to some people we knew. And we had 300 people after the first day. We did that all in one day, with no product. 

The Future of GivePanel

Fundraising is being aggregated. Facebook has aggregated fundraising because that’s what their platform does. And this presents charities with a major problem. Just like it did in the music industry. Before you used to own your own experience, and own your own data, but now you’ve been aggregated. Now, you need to survive. It doesn’t matter whether you think aggregations are a good or bad thing. Just take it as a reality. It’s just what’s happening. So you have to adapt and get your head around a whole new model.

We’re moving towards a direction of third party social platforms, which is giving charities less control. We see ourselves helping nonprofits navigate this new world, and to survive and thrive in the world of aggregated third party platforms – TikTok, Facebook, Amazon. Whoever it might be, we’re there to be the interface between the two with our panel. That’s where we want to position ourselves. 

Plans for the Next Year

We always want to be a product led company. We’re focused on delivering the best product for our clients. We’ve invested a lot in the product and making it the best it can be. There’s still much we need to do to make it better. And our customers help us feed into that. That’s the number one objective right now. 

We want to help as many organisations as possible. We want to help them raise more money. The next year is about executing on what we’ve done so far, and trying to increase the velocity of how quickly we can help charities. Super exciting times! Instagram is incredibly interesting for us. That’s on the cards – Instagram fundraisers. I think Instagram is going to be a big thing. 

There’s two products that you have to build if you start a company. You have to build the product first and then you have to build the product that builds the product – that’s the company. When you start out, it’s you and the developer. My focus now is building the company. So building the ethos, the culture, looking after our staff and hiring more people. You find that a CEO in this stage is basically a full time recruiter or an HR executive. I’ve never really done this before, it’s new for me. I’m not necessarily a natural CEO-manager-type, I’m more of a creative kind of person. That’s going to be interesting for me. It’s a whole different kettle of fish and I’m going to be learning some stuff. 

We might have to end up hiring someone that’s better at it than me. Which is fine! I’m okay with it. I don’t have to hang on as a CEO. Am I going to be good at running a 40 or 50 person company? It’s a different set of skills and will be challenging. Will this energise the staff and energise me? Is that going to be a good thing? I’m open to how that works. But that’s probably beyond next year. There’s an exciting road ahead. 


I certainly don’t see my legacy as fundraising and charity. Interestingly, I’ve helped charities raise a lot of money over the years. Even what we’ve raised this year isn’t really going to move the needle in the total amount that I’ve helped raise it like, you know what I mean? I don’t even really measure it. I tried to work it out one day because I needed to write something on our website. It came out to over a billion. But I’ve been doing it for a long time. And we’ve had some amazing appeals over that time, working for UNICEF across 60 countries, who raised a ridiculous amount of money. I’m not saying that I’m single handedly responsible for all of that at all. But I was involved in it. 

The legacy for me is much more on a personal basis. I never knew what I really wanted to do with my life. I didn’t come to work in the charity sector on purpose. I just needed the job. And then I stayed. And so I’ve never really had an idea of any legacy with my career. I think my legacy is more like, am I a good dad? Am generous with what I give to strangers and the people around me? What do I do in my life when no one else is looking? What am I like behind closed doors? Who am I really?

So I don’t have any grand legacy of where I want to lead the sector or anything like that. I’m okay with who I am when no one else is around. I know my heart’s in the right place. I’m very passionate about giving. There’s a lot of bad press about billionaires, but I also see a lot of healthy things as well. I see the level of giving, I see entrepreneurs trying to change the world and make it a better place. I’d like to be known to be generous. I think that’s a good, healthy thing.

What to Do on Tough Days

I chat to my wife and go out for a walk. I’m not great at consulting other people about stuff. One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how I can have more mentors in my life, actually. I think that would really help me. So I have a couple of mentors, but I need to have that deeper relationship. So perhaps this has uncovered something that is a bit of a weakness I need to work on.

Sources of Inspiration

My wife is so generous. She got the community together and planted daffodils during the Lockdown in our local park. The part was a bit dingy, but not anymore. And they all come out in the spring. And she organised the whole thing, bought the daffodils. She did everything. It was just a message of hope during the Lockdown. That’s the kind of stuff she does all the time. It keeps me on the straight and narrow, and inspires me.

Our customers inspire me as well. The honest, hard work to raise the money. Going back to that story where our customer turned a £860,000 loss into a £2.7 million profit. That was through bloody hard work. Our customers inspire us the most!

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