After a long and successful career, Nigel Harris, Director and Founder of CommittedGiving, is soon to retire
We caught up with Nigel before he leaves us at the end of March 2022 to capture his story of innovation in the payments sector and his winning partnership approach, and to learn how CommittedGiving came into being.
When did you set up CommittedGiving and what were its original aims?
Back in 1996, I was a member of the team providing direct marketing IT support at NatWest Bank, when the whole department was made redundant.
Fortunately for me, the bank immediately realised that they still needed the work to be done, so I set up a company called Phrasis Ltd with some of the other staff who had also been made redundant. A ridiculous state really, I was made redundant on the Friday, then back to business as usual on the Monday: same premises, same office, same IT hardware, same processing, same people – except now I was working for my own company.
The business thrived and Phrasis Ltd grew into a successful direct marketing bureau over the next five years, with new premises and a solid, diverse client base.
The big change for my company came in early 2001. This was when Macmillan Cancer Support decided they wanted to start collecting regular donations via direct debit, and they contracted us to help them set it up.
A brand-new charity-centred payment processing product and service was born, which very quickly took off and became our core business offering.
The company changed its name to CommittedGiving in 2005 to reflect our company’s core purpose, namely charity expert payment processing. From that point onwards, the aim was to develop the CommittedGiving brand into a leading provider of digital, online fundraising, and associated services to the third sector. That has certainly been achieved.
Macmillan Cancer Support are still a major client after all these years!
How has the landscape changed over the past 20+ years in payment processing for charities, and how did CommittedGiving adapt to meet the changes?
The payment processing landscape has changed beyond recognition over the past twenty years.
By far the biggest change is not technology or payment platforms, nor is it the range of options available – which clearly have developed. But rather the massive increase in bureaucracy, administration, regulatory and legal requirements!
Twenty years ago, a couple of forms and a handful of signatures got you a Service User Number or a card merchant account – now 80% of the setup of a new client or service is working with the client to satisfy and meet ‘Know Your Customer’ and anti-money laundering regulations, cyber security and quality control standards, and on and on. A necessary evil, I know!
Other than this, the overriding objective has been to provide our clients with the best opportunities to take advantage of the changing payment processing landscape. To that end, a continuous and ongoing program of product and service development has existed since day one and this is an ongoing process for us.
Describe your proudest moments in CommittedGiving
Keeping the business going for 20 plus years! Not only going but growing and adapting.
But most proud of having long-standing, loyal, and very productive (and nice) colleagues working with me and supporting me and the company objectives.
What general trends can you foresee in payment processing in the foreseeable future and how is CommittedGiving planning to be ahead of the curve
Payment processing platforms will continue to diversify with new players, new disruptors, and new methods. We have seen Paypal, ApplePay, GooglePay – all of which have been integrated into our processes. Now open banking (definitely) and cryptocurrency options (possibly) are examples of payment advances that CommittedGiving fully intends to be part of.
The ultimate objective, however, is full and extensive service and functionality integrations – everything in the one place including payments, other modules (events, e-commerce, memberships, etc) and automated and direct links with client in-house and third-party systems. CommittedGiving is already far down that route.
What makes CommittedGiving unique
Very simple – being client-led. We have to accept that, in some cases, it is the client who is ahead of the curve.
We do not impose solutions but have always worked in partnership with our clients to provide them with the best solution for their requirements. There isn’t, nor ever has been, a one-size-fits-all answer.
We are also a very pleasant and friendly bunch of people to deal with!
What difference do you feel you make to charities and why does this matter to you?
I am not an IT expert – never have been and never will be. But I have always had the ability to be a very good go-between for non-techies and IT developers, and we have nine IT developers here at CommittedGiving who work on our solutions here at the University of Kent Science Park.
It is an important and valuable skill as very often charity fundraisers can be unaware of design and function implications. Interpreting and mapping out the processes and making sure all parties are up to speed is invaluable and ensures trouble-free and effective project implementation.
Do you feel CommittedGiving is in a safe pair of hands as you hand over the baton? In what ways?
Preparations for my leaving have been taking place for several months. I leave CommittedGiving in very good shape with a very good team in charge. All the bases have been covered and, if not already done, all my clients will hear from other team members over the next few weeks to confirm handover arrangements and future working arrangements.
CommittedGiving recently became 100% owned by MFS GroupCo. The group includes, amongst others, Mosaic Fulfilment Solutions Ltd and Telebank Ltd. Being part of such a well-regarded group of companies with, between us, a comprehensive range of complementary and linked services, will undoubtedly be of huge benefit to all of our clients.
How are you planning to spend your retirement
My future plans are pretty flexible at this stage. I do know that they will include travelling, dining out (most definitely!) and reacquainting myself with long-lost and forgotten hobbies and interests. I also hope to volunteer with one or two small local charities. I may be able to pass on some of that knowledge I have gained over the years – who knows may even put in place a better payment processing service for them - or at least help them out with a bit of filing or admin!
Nigel has created something wonderful at CommittedGiving, not only making it a leading payment solutions partner for the charity sector, but also creating an incredibly strong team that makes up the CommittedGiving family. We shall miss him and wish him an amazing retirement, with lots of cruises and rounds of golf!