Friday, July 13, 2012

GIVING FOR A CAUSE


I had promised myself when I started this blog that I would not write about my work. But then old habits die hard. A bus man (or woman in this case!) does long for getting on that bus even while walking on the road ( holiday or otherwise)…!!

As those of you who have been regulars  may  have gathered, I work for the non profit sector. One of the recent trends that I see in many non profits in our country these days is  tele calling or doing  “face to face” interactions for fund raising. And believe me, it is not as simple as it sounds! Many non profits engage professional organizations who run “call centres” for approaching people through phone calls to raise funds and then there are others who combine telecalling with face to face interactions. This I understand is fairly common in the west but in India it is something more recent.

Though I have been with this sector for almost two decades, I am still a bit  doubtful about  the inclination of the average Indian  towards “giving”!! Let me explain it a bit more. I am not saying that we as a group of people are not interested in charity. Think of the  few coins that people put into the donation box every time they  go to a temple or the money that is given as  “ Zakkat” by  Muslims and the donations made every Sunday after service at the church. These  are all examples of charity, but  driven by religious motives.  Many do not even think about why they are doing it – they do it so mechanically that it is not linked to the larger motive of charity or philanthropy. And in some cases like that donation box in temples, I am not even sure that it is used for charity ( except in the case of a few famous temples).  Then ofcourse there is the begging industry that thrives solely on what I call our “charity compulsions” !

Despite all the money that we spend on charity,  I would still maintain that we are not a “Socially conscious” nation. We give,but very randomly- to appease our conscience, to feel good about ourselves, to escape taxes or because we want to celebrate an event. All this is money that we spend for ourselves and not for a cause.

However, there are in our country people who feel strongly about causes-I can vouch for that! But I am not sure that they will give to any organizations when they call or visit them. For example, a friend I know is very passionate about education – she supports this cause by holding free classes on her front porch for children from a nearby slum. She spends more than two hours every day doing this! Then there are others who pay the school fees of the children of their domestic help or sometimes support medical emergencies in their families.  These are people who would prefer to help someone directly because in a country like India, we do not have to go far to come across someone who is in poverty or distress.

But considering that so many organizations are investing in approaching the public directly for donations these days, I am increasingly beginning to think there must be a group among us who will donate when approached by an organization. This is a very interesting change that is happening to us as a society. I am watching this both from within and outside the non profit sector – as a person who works for an organization that has recently taken to this direct approach at fund raising and also a person who has been “targeted” by fund raising efforts of other organizations.


I will share with you some of my experiences in both roles.

I was approached a few weeks ago at home, by a group of fund raisers from a faith based organization. However, I have never donated for anything in the name of religion! When this organization said that they were driven by their faith in order to reach out to the poor, I experienced a sense of discomfort. I am and have always been a secular person and I think that the very act of donation should be very objective – driven only by the desire to help someone and not because our religion or faith demands it. We had a nice discussion after which they left – empty handed!

Then last week I received a phone call – this time from the representative of an organization that works on protecting the environment. This was a completely different experience from the previous one – a young girl spoke at the other end. She sounded very enthusiastic and began by  mentioning  the name of the organization. In terms of branding, I would say that they are probably very good because I could immediately link the organization with the cause. I had supported them for a year and somehow after that there had been no contact. She wanted to know why I had stopped supporting them. Actually, I  did not know I HAD stopped because I had a ECS facility with my bank for support to  this organization. The period for which I had donated was over in January and that was it ! I liked the way she kept me engaged in a conversation wanting to know if I had decided to stop supporting them because of any particular reason. When I told her the real reason  she asked me if I would be willing to support them again. On hearing that “Yes” from me she asked me to confirm my address and by that evening I had the very same girl at home taking down my details and a cheque with her!

As an organization we also do fund raising. We take the help of professionals who call people over the phone and make that initial contact. Where telemarketing is concerned ( after all it is only that – marketing a cause!) I think the key to success is understanding who is our potential donor.  Who is that person who might  spare those two minutes on a call just to listen . In my understanding I would say that there are two types of people – one is the educated urban professional holding a responsible  and well paid position in an organization and the other are people who are  retired from salaried jobs.  The first category can hardly spare you time while the second category has all the time.  Both are very well informed and socially conscious to an extent. But  the challenges in getting them interested are different.  In the case of the group which has little time, one needs to have a voice that differentiates you from the callers from companies that sell insurance, credit cards, phone connections and what not! At the cost of sounding snobbish I must say that knowledge of good spoken English would get a person past that first hurdle of having the phone disconnected. This is particularly true in the southern metros where people  associate good English with good education and in the case of your urban professional there is immediately a sense of connect helping in building that rapport which ensures continuity of the conversation. In the case of the retired person, the caller needs to have a lot of information about the cause and be able to answer all the questions that are asked. This generation of  people are often retired from the public sector so they have a certain bias towards against  anything which is non government. So, the caller needs to have all information at their finger tips and be able to convince them through their enthusiasm. In these cases it helps to have a young person do the talking because many of them being senior citizens respond well to enthusiastic youngsters as it reminds them of their children and grand children who may be living away from them.

And finally there are the causes that work- anything to do with children always helps raise funds, followed by education for girls and support for the HIV affected. What I have found strange is that causes around women do not work so well with people who want to give. Issues around women’s economic engagement particularly are  difficult for people to understand though  convincing people around providing support for maternal health  initiatives is easier. But most importantly organizations that raise funds need to have a clear brand positioning in terms of causes that they promote as the name often does the trick. However in India it is only few organizations which have been able to successfully build their brand in the social sector.   

So, as I get ready to sign off I would like to hear from those of you who are reading this  - what are the causes that are close to your heart? And would you respond by agreeing to support it if a complete stranger called you one find day on your mobile  as you are taking your lunch break? What would be the questions that you might want answered before you agree to part with your hard earned money for the cause that interests you? 

12 comments:

Rahul Bhatia said...

Meera a very thoughtful post and a subject close to my heart as well! An experienced non profit sector/fundraiser and worker with long experience you have very nicely segregated the people who support causes and are willing to part money for the same:)

anilkurup said...

First, the extortionists in the cloak of "Religion". I'm often curt with them. They have cursed me and showered abuse too sometimes.I,ignore that.

As for NGOs soliciting funds, the difficulty is that there are a lot of charlatans and it is often a tough matter to identify.
However, the brands like National Geographic, WWF, CRY,and some passionate organizations in India that deal in social matters are worthy of response.

It will be a tough proposition for a nascent and unknown NGO to entice funds even if the cause is magnanimous.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thank you Anil for your comment. Very true- brand building is what is important!


@ Rahul thank you for comment. Just a correction, I am not a fund raiser, more by way of a person who tracks the change that the fund brings in the life of the people.

Bikramjit said...

I am not going to elaborate on what i do or dont do, its my personal thing.
But recently I must say I was not happy, with one of the charities that I support, I got this call saying that since I pay such and such amount maybe I shud increase it by X amount.. I told them polietly that I am doing as much as I can afford and since its not jsut them i support, YEt the lady on the phone wud not give up, She HALFED the amount .. I was getting irritated by then..
and you wont beleive it she said Sir can you increase it by just 5 pounds..

Now that has shaken a bit of my belief a bit, when they ask you to give as much as you can they why are they phoneing again to ask for more, I am already giving as much as i can afford.. and it was not just an isolated incident, it has happened thrice now..

When i was in bangalore last year the same happened there too , I was on MG road looking for a electronic showroom when these two girls approached me and they were talking of something , wanting some money.. so I gave 500Rs to them and as she was cutting the Reciept her words to me was "SIR can you make it 1000/-" ..

Which i think is WRONG..

I have faith in all these charities but slowly it is going away.. and every day I get so many letters I cant tell you , asking can I increase by 1 pound or 2 .. I know small figure but when added to already being paid it becomes big.. and this is happening here in uk too ..

In the end I am thinking am i doing the right thing is the money being spent well or are the people who run these charities enjoying their life to the fullest ..

I dont want to be pestered for more when they have already said to agree to a amount monthly that i can afford, and please no junk mails with sorry photos of children or animals , I am already doing what I can ..

If someone gave me a call I have the decency to listen to them, I never put the fone down, but nowadays after 10-11 years i have learnt to say "no" too if the idea does not impress me ..


Bikram's

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Bikram, I empathize with you- fund raisers chasing you on the streets is bad! So also the pressure to donate more. What many of the professional organizations do is inform a donor about the options available and then let them decide. About informing what cause you believe in, sure you have every right to maintain confidentiality on that! I can only say that what you have experienced is probably the worst lot - often the organization who may have engaged such fund raisers may not even be knowing that they behave this way. But once they get complaints they get rid of them! I agree with you, giving should be voluntary and through pressure coming out of a need to meet sales targets.

Cloud Nine said...

Very well thought out post, Meera. I too never give away on religious cloak. And i hate unsolicited calls too. I give when i like to and to whom i'd like to...

Jack said...

Meera,

I will not claim that I am qualified to speak on this issue but with whatever limited experience I have had I will try to give my views. I belong to second category ie retired persons. I do get a lot of telecalls mostly marketing but few asking for support to some cause or the other. I mostly ask them for their location indicating my desire to visit them on ground before I commit anything and surprisingly at times the call is disconnected. I support two causes basically. First being spread of education and second women empowerment. I had been with a NGO for over two years, my last stint before I called it a day and am still consultant with them for CSR projects. During this period I interacted with some of the NGOs as well as corporates. I feel sad to say that most of the NGOs are self centered as they just do not wish to go along with others. I have had occasions to meet persons at the helm of social welfare wings of some corporates but again found them to be WE ARE THE BEST and not keen on involving others who are into similar fields. Also those corporates which wish to indulge in charity look for what is in it for them before anything else. I agree that they should definitely get their name publicized for what they do but cause is more important, isn't it? As far as welfare project floated by governments are concerned, lesser spoken better it is. Not that situation is all bad but mostly it is so. Unfortunately. Such scenario discourages the one who is genuinely interested lending a hand, financially or time wise, for some social betterment work.

Take care

Meera Sundararajan said...

Dear jack, I completely agreed with you! We have also organized visits for potential donors and anyway I agree that it is their right. But we exercise a discretion in terms of which donor we would take because there is a cost attached to it. Very interesting to know that you are also engaged with NGOs. Yes, government projects have their problems and corporates are only doing it to escape taxes. But these days there seems to be a larger agenda especially the better known corporates.

@ Cloud Nine- glad that there are many like me who also do not get led by charity in the name of religion and yes, unsolicited calls can be so bugging!!

Dr Roshan said...

Interesting article. Lots of points here -

1. The kind of groups I would personally support : NGOs dedicated towards orphanages/elderly/those who are shunned ( HIV) Biased as it sounds, I dont support any group with links to a political head or religious group - this is from experience of watching them fleece my family and turn from requesting to demanding and insulting.

2. Would I be happy recieving a call from a stranger demanding cash ? Would anyone ? The thing is we face it a lot during local festivals where we 'are required' to shell out cash by people who just walk into our houses with reciepts.. yes, it still happens here. Failure to comply is not an option for them.

3. I probably dont have the right to ask, but if I could I would like to know where my money goes. I know its hell running an non-profit group and a certain amount will definitely go towards the people running it.I dont mind that at all - I would just appreciate a honest answer. Again, this is from experience.

anindita said...

Close to my heart is the cause of ADoption. We have been supporting Child Line at Ujjain both with cash as well as physical presence. I would actually rather involve more physically than/along with supporting with money.

And ofcourse doing it personally (in this case, actually adopting).

Questions arriving in my mind for such donations is whether the money will really go for the cause? Truly speaking I have doubts regarding this and if I am convinced, I would surely go for it.

KParthasarathi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
logic said...

Nicely written..first time here..lots of thoughts to be read here..i do have a page expressing emotions in short stories do drop by when u find time

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