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Up to 1000 UK Charities will benefit from a new digital fundraising service which has been pioneered by a North Tyneside company.

Chat Heroes provides specially trained agents at its contact centre in Wallsend who support charities through web chat.

“It means the charity is effectively open for business both in and out of hours,” said Chat Heroes commercial director Paul Lawton. “Web chat is only usually associated with major organisations and it makes a real difference by adding a human dimension to websites.”

He added: “This is the first time it’s been provided for charities and, crucially, there is no cost to them because their web chat service is sponsored by a business – their very own Chat Hero.”

The scheme was launched last year with a successful pilot involving 10 local charities.  It has now been extended to include 100 – each sponsored by a business – and plans to be working with 1000 charities by the end of October.

“We know it’s ambitious, but we’ve proven it works,” said Mr Lawton.  Chat Heroes already employs nine people and provides responses within 20 seconds, 12 hours a day and seven days a week.  It plans to take on many more agents as the service grows. As well as a method of making donations, Chat Heroes has helped members of the public discover more about the services charities have to offer.

It has the backing of a well-known figure from the North East’s business and charity communities.  Bill Midgley OBE was chief executive of Newcastle Building Society, a former president of both the British and North East Chambers of Commerce, and currently patron of Down’s Syndrome North East and vice president of Marie Curie Cancer Care.

“Chat Heroes is very effective for businesses and charities alike,” he said. “For businesses it’s very simple to get involved and quickly see the impact of its sponsorship. They can even get ethical business leads for themselves through their ‘click through logo’ appearing on the Charity chat box. For charities, we have already seen that the service does make a difference.”

He added: “Charities, generally, are trying to project an image that is not about hard-selling, cold calling and so-called chuggers.  Chat Heroes is an ideal vehicle for them to do this and never touch bank details or charity money.  It’s all about allowing members of the public to make the approach, not the other way round.”

Charities provide Chat Heroes agents with a list of responses to frequently asked questions. If an enquiry cannot be answered, the agent will pass it on to the charity immediately to respond.

“That in itself has its benefits,” said Lucy Philipson, the CEO of the COCO charity. “It shows up any gaps in our website, which is so central to what we do.”

COCO, based in Newcastle, was founded in 2000 by former Olympic athlete and BBC commentator Steve Cram and has raised around £3m to improve access to education for children in Africa.

“For us it’s almost like we have another member of staff available out of hours.  I can imagine that many people who want to find out more about a charity might be reluctant to ring in case they are on the receiving end of a hard sell,” said Miss Philipson. “The Chat Heroes agents are polite and professional and just there to answer questions – which is just what we want.”

COCO’s business sponsor is the Gateshead video production company, NewGen Creative. Justin Edlagan, its director of business development, said: “We think it’s a really good service.  I spend a lot of time online visiting websites and it makes a real difference when you are able to communicate with a real person.  It’s just like having an online shopkeeper.”

Charities who are interested in finding out more about the benefits of Chat Heroes are invited to attend an information evening at Wallsend Town Hall from 6pm on 14 September. Details of that are on the Chat Heroes websitewww.chatheroes.com

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