Backed by tech giants Google and Atlassian, not-for-profit Humanitix redirects thousands in booking fees to charitable causes while at the same time disrupting the highly competitive ticketing industry. Jihee Junn talks to the CEO of its New Zealand operations to learn more about how the platform works.
Founded in Australia in 2016, Sydneysiders Adam McCurdie and Joshua Ross set out to create a new type of events ticketing platform – one that would turn booking fees into charitable donations rather than profit, and inject new meaning into what many consider a necessary evil.
Three years on, Humanitix is thriving. It’s donated more than $380,000 (and counting) to charitable projects, processed more than A$9 million in ticket sales, and has worked with everyone from Westfield and Optus to the Football Federation of Australia. But perhaps the biggest sign of its upward trajectory has been its decision to expand overseas for the very first time.
At the start of this year, it hired Georgia Robertson, a former corporate lawyer, to head up its New Zealand operations as CEO. Since then, Humanitix NZ has hosted events for Red Bull Farm Jam, Wanaka Beer Festival, and Verb Festival Wellington among others, with 100% of the profit from booking fees (5% of the transaction price, plus 49 cents per ticket) being funnelled into charitable projects of the event organisers’ choice. In contrast, companies like Ticketmaster regularly charge a $5 flat fee for online purchases, plus a 2.3% payment processing fee.
Currently, Humanitix NZ has three charities to choose from: an educational equity programme for Māori and Pasifika learners delivered via Manaiakalani, a programme for helping disadvantaged Kiwi school kids delivered via KidsCan, and a global literacy programme teaching young girls how to read and write in collaboration with Room to Read.
For event organisers it doesn’t cost anything more to use Humanitix, and for ticket buyers, booking fees are about 25% cheaper than other solutions, Robertson says. “This is because we don’t have any shareholders. Nobody owns a slice of what we do [since] we’re a registered charity.”
“But at the same time, we’re also a social enterprise. We don’t rely on grant funding to support us. Everything we do we generate ourselves so we’re a social enterprise in that sense, but also… instead of having shareholders, we fund education projects.
“It’s a really unique and exciting case of how you can provide education to disadvantaged Kiwi kids through technology disruption, recontextualising and reimaging both the role of charity and the role of business.”
Central to the growth of Humanitix has been the funding it’s received along the way which it’s used to hire more staff and improve its platform. Last year, it picked up A$1.2 million in funding from the Atlassian Foundation and then a further A$1 million as part of the Google Impact Challenge. In New Zealand, it’s also backed by NEXT Foundation, a strategic philanthropy fund that invests in education and the environment.
With that said, Humanitix is competing in a highly competitive industry, and as a charity going up against multinational ticketing companies that rake in billions in profit each year, things definitely haven’t been without its challenges.
“The events industry is a really mature, competitive market and one of the biggest challenges for us is establishing ourselves,” says Robertson. “We’re constantly going up against the biggest companies in the world and trying to win market share from them. That means we have to be fast-paced, and I think the reason why we’ve been able to do so well in that environment is because we focus on event organisers and take really good care of them. We listen to them and build new features and new products every week to have an amazing platform.”
“It’s not enough to just be the most ethical … we have to have an extraordinary platform as well, solving the core problem that event organisers are experiencing and delivering a really great service,” says Robertson. “That’s actually why a lot of event organisers are making the switch – it’s not just because we’re a charitable option, [we’ve also] got a whole raft of advanced features that other solutions don’t have. For example, we’ve got thousands of event organisers on the platform at any time but [we’re also able to have] millions of ticket buyers looking at our page as well.”
Another challenge Robertson refers to is its inability to raise capital. “Because we don’t have any shareholders we don’t have any equity to give away, so we don’t suit the traditional model of impact investment and we don’t sit in a typical venture capital model. That’s why we’ve been really lucky to work with NEXT Foundation, Atlassian and Google who are excited by what this new form of philanthropy can do.”
Despite these challenges, Robertson says Humanitix is doubling in size almost every three months, adding new events and new features along the way. Its latest feature sees it linking up with Facebook so organisers can create an event on Facebook through Humanitix, which means more chances to share, promote and grow the reach of their events.
Next year, Humanitix plans to take its overseas expansion one step further by setting up shop in the United States, further solidifying its status as the world’s first not-for-profit events ticketing platform. But that’s just the start, says Robertson.
“We’re working in ticketing but what we’re doing is so much bigger than that. It’s creating structural change and transforming the role of charity and business. There are so many other ways the Humanitix model could work in other industries as well,” she says.
“Ultimately, our whole kaupapa as an organisation is to close the education gap. We’re here to help tackle global inequality and the evidence is overwhelmingly clear: education is the greatest weapon we have in fighting that.”