How Dryathlon was powered by our APIs


Ed Cervantes-Watson is the senior innovation delivery manager at Cancer Research UK. In this post he explains the technology behind Dryathlon – its New Year fundraising campaign encouraging people to give up the booze in January, and how they’ve used JustGiving’s APIs to power some of their apps.

When I joined Cancer Research UK’s innovation team an API (Application Programming Interface as it’s less commonly known!) sounded rather like a diagnosis I didn’t want my doctor to give me. Eighteen months on (and much to my doctor’s satisfaction) I cannot imagine launching a digital fundraising product that does not in some way rely on these little marvels.

What are APIs?

APIs are magical bits of code developed by platforms (websites, databases and other web-based software) to send and receive information.

Yes, but what do they really do?

Essentially they make your life easier and deployed properly can provide an enhanced user experience. APIs power your banking app, letting you view your balances and transfer money on the go (or in the Doctor’s surgery). They let Expedia tell you in an instant how much that flight to Timbuktu costs. They allow you to track the taxi you just ordered so you don’t need to leave the pub and stand outside in the rain.

Sure, but when would I use an API?

More and more frequently! Clearly it depends upon the product, audience, and the platforms that you are interfacing with, but increasingly the best digital products are reliant, in part or whole, on functionality provided by own or 3rd party APIs. The joy of APIs is that they are relatively simple to use (if you’re a geek) and are written to enable developers to get the maximum out of platform – which is in everyone’s interests.

But I still don’t get how APIs can help me?

APIs have had a place within all of the fundraising innovations we have launched at Cancer Research UK in the past 12 months.

On Dryathlon, the JustGiving API powered the team leader-boards allowing us to “poll” (technical word for interrogate) the JustGiving database for Dryathlete page totals, sum them all together before presenting them as live team totals. The result: teams comprised just 3% of entries but accounted for 6% of income, and this was in part down to the competitive banter and visibility created by API-fuelled live fundraising leaderboards.

On Dryathlon the JustGiving API powered the team leader boards

The same API was used to power a Race for Life app to pull down individual JustGiving page details (including totals, event type, and date), allowing us to provide app users with a dynamic, interactive user experience on the go, and in the moment – including notifying new donations, milestone messaging based on fundraising status, and real-time event updates. The result? Simple. Race for Life participants who downloaded the app raised more and returned at a higher rate than those who did not use the app. The 2014 rollout app will use additional APIs such as Transport for London and weather based software to provide enhanced functionality.

Race for Life app

OK I sort of get that, but I’m not technical, neither is my boss – give me the headline.

I’d suggest as fundraisers we all have a desire to support people to raise and return more for our charity. We know that if we can convert people to online fundraising this is cheaper and more efficient for us – and typically leads to a higher return of sponsorship rate. For years we’ve spent time, money, and resources trying to convert participants in our events to online fundraisers – usually after the point of registration.

On established events such as Race for Life, we’re getting better at converting participants at the end of the registration journey, using the JustGiving page creation API to enable us to offer participants the ability to create a fundraising page there and then.

Where we are trailblazing with great effect, is on new products such as Dryathlon and TheInThing, where we’ve realised that conversion to online fundraising can, and should, be a guaranteed output of the registration process. You cannot register to either product without it resulting in the automated creation of an online fundraising page – pages which we tailor with messaging and fundraising targets that the user can then customise during registration.

The In Thing uses JustGiving APIs

Yes, but show me the money?

Well, what if I said that on Dryathlon the return of sponsorship rate was significantly higher (10’s of %) than on any of our other products? The reason is simple. Because 100% of Dryathletes already had a fundraising page, we removed a potential drop-off point in the fundraising funnel. We’ve also not witnessed any discernible difference in bounce rates/drop-off at registration as a result of “forcing” this page creation.

My boss reckons this API stuff is just for big charities – where do I begin?

A good starting point is your internal digital team, or the external agency that helps you create and maintain your current digital presence.

How about asking them to take a quick look at your existing online registration process for one of your fundraising events, and set them the simple challenge of advising you whether they can improve that via an integration using the JustGiving API?

It should take no more than a couple of hours for a switched-on agency or digital specialist taking a peek at the publicly available JustGiving API documentation to indicate to you the complexity and costs. And then you’re halfway to understanding what’s involved and constructing a case for API use.

Failing that, why not speak to the JustGiving team directly? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What’s the future for APIs?

APIs will become more prevalent as platforms strive to make themselves more accessible, organisations bid to provide better user experiences, and customers demand more out of their digital interactions. I for one believe that use of APIs to create fundraising pages at the point of registration will be the norm for events fundraising in the imminent future. The question is not “why use APIs?” but rather, “why not?”?

Want to know more about JustGiving APIs and how they could work for your charity?


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Ed leads on translating insight driven propositions into tangible fundraising products for Cancer Research UK. In the past 12 months he has brought the award winning Dryathlon to market and piloted the charity's first mobile app for its flagship fundraising product, Race for Life. Ed is passionate about using innovation to help charities achieve more. His quote of the moment is: “minds are like parachutes - they work best when open.”