Sunday, August 9, 2015

Fundraising Myths, Busted

I really want to donate, but…..

…. I have heard that most NGOs are frauds….

….. I want to give directly to the person who needs my help, and not to……

….. I want my money to be used to [insert cause]; I don’t want it to be used to pay electricity and phone bills….

…… how do I know that you are really making a difference…..

…. you are already flush with funds; I’d rather donate to someone who needs the money….

If I had a hundred rupees for every time I have heard any of those lines, it would have provided three meals a day to at least a few families for a year each. Don’t get me wrong – those are not people who are looking for an excuse not to donate. They are people who genuinely want to “do good”, but have been conditioned into thinking that there are better ways of doing it than by donating to NGOs.

I don’t deny that there isn’t some degree of truth in many of the myths surrounding NGOs, but that shouldn’t come in the way of making a donation. Here are some of the popular fundraising myths – busted.

Myth # 1 : All NGOs are frauds

People worry as to how to choose an NGO to support. Yes, some NGOs are frauds. Some NGOs were set up for tax purposes or to bring in money from overseas. But those are not the NGOs that will approach you for donations. Any NGO that does fundraising is either spending money on programmes, or intends doing so. Yes, the sceptic in you might argue that asking for donations is a good way for NGOs to “make money”- but if you really think about it, aren’t there easier ways of doing so? Nobody is going to navigate through all the paperwork required to set up an NGO, only so they can “make money”.

Conclusion: Yes, some NGOs are frauds, but do you stop buying peas because some of them might have worms?

Myth # 2: It is better to directly help a person, than donating to NGOs, which will not pass on all the funds

If you know a person who has a real need, and are in a position to help that person, then by all means go ahead and do so.

When you are moved by the sight of a destitute beggar, can you be sure that he will use the fifty rupees you give him to buy himself a proper meal or two? He is more likely to use the money to drink himself into oblivion and then beat up his wife in his alcoholic daze.

I once met someone who wanted to buy a flat for a family in Dharavi. “Go ahead”, I told him. “Stand at the corner of T-junction and announce your intentions. If you escape unhurt, you will have an interesting Facebook status update.” Even though there is no dearth of people who need your money, it is difficult to identify specific beneficiaries who will use your money in the manner in which you want it to be used.

Conclusion: Unless you are willing to invest a considerable amount of time in selecting the beneficiary and ensuring proper utilization of funds, it is easier donating to NGOs that work in the community.

Myth # 3: NGOs “waste” money on non-programmatic expenses

Think about a school. You might argue that teachers’ salary and school supplies are the only “essential” expenses. But is that really the case?

Who handles admissions? Who maintains inventory and places the orders for school supplies? Okay, maybe the teachers can do it themselves. But who ensures that the teachers are doing their job? Who sweeps the school premises and keeps it clean? Who pays the suppliers and cuts the cheque for the teachers’ salary?

Now do you start to get the picture? A school cannot run without some kind of support staff. Neither can an NGO.

All NGOs need someone to handle finance, administration and fundraising. No organization can run without running up electricity, telephone and transportation expenses. Computers have to be purchased, some kind of an office needs to be maintained. All of that costs money, and that money has to be raised from somewhere.

Conclusion: Any NGO needs to incur ‘overhead’ expenses, which can only be raised through fundraising.

Myth # 4: NGOs do not always make a difference

While people can relate to numbers like children educated, hearing aids donated or patients treated, they often struggle to understand the real impact of many community based initiatives. Even though many NGOs spend a considerable amount of time (and money) on collecting and analysing data to demonstrate impact, often the real impact of any intervention is seen only after several years. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes, you just have to take a leap of faith and donate even to programmes you do not completely understand.

Myth # 5: Seemingly larger NGOs do not need fundraising

Any NGO that is fundraising is doing so because there is a gap between expenses and donations. While it is tempting to want to support an NGO that you think “needs” your money more (and I am all for supporting smaller or less funded NGOs), do not fall into the trap of assuming that the so called larger NGOs will not value your donation. And often, due to economies of scale, the impact of your donation is much higher in larger organizations.

So there you are. Five less reasons for not making a donation the next time someone asks you to.

And if you are still not convinced, why not try a simple experiment? Add up the amount you and your family spend on wafers, ‘kurkure’, cheese balls and cold drinks every month. No, don’t tell me the sum; I don’t want to know. Just reflect for a moment. If you can spend that amount on pumping your body with toxic chemicals with zero nutritional value, can’t you donate an equivalent amount to charity? Maybe some of the charities will turn out to be fakes. Maybe not all the money you donate will be used for the purpose you think it should be used for. Maybe only some of the money will actually make a realdifference to a real life. But isn’t even that a better utilization of funds than adding empty, often poisonous, calories to your body and those of your loved ones?

Think about it for a moment. And do your bit to make a difference.

First published in-

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Go Set A Watchman- blog tour

Three decades back, I chanced upon Harper Lee's classic at a bookstore, and picked it up on a whim. At that time, I didn't even know it was considered one of the defining books of its generation, but it left a profound impression on me. Racism did not exist in India, but as a nation, we were grappling with a host of other 'isms- castism, classism, communalism, regionalism, parochialism, intellectualism. Every individual had a unique reason to look down upon almost every other (or be looked down upon by them), and as an individual born into reasonably privileged conditions, I could have taken my place in the well established social order.

Instead, Atticus Finch taught me to look at individuals as individuals. To look beyond labels and actions, and to try and understand the motive behind why people behaved they way they did in a particular situation. Though I smile at Scout's naiveity in greeting Cunningham the way she did, some of her blindness rubbed off on me, and to the chagrin of my peers, I treat people below me in the social ladder exactly the same way as I would someone above me. That is who I am, and I owed it to Harper Lee. 

Naturally, I was curious when I first heard about the "forgotten" first draft of 'To Kill A Mockingbird', which was developed into 'Go Set A Watchman'. How could I not want to know what happened to the people who were almost closer than 'family' to me? Close to release date, we came to know Atticus was portrayed as a racist. A lot of people declared they would not read the book, because they wanted to hold onto their version of St. Atticus. I was not one of them. If anything the reports made me even more curious- if Atticus indeed became a racist, I wanted to understand why. He had taught me to try and understand the other person's motives before judging them- I could do no less. 

In that, I was disappointed. The book offers no reasons why he developed the views he did. When he explains to a fuming Jean Louise that the blacks are not yet ready to take up positions of responsibility, I don't entirely disagree with him, because in my country I have seen the damage that can be caused by people who do not yet have the maturity to take policy decisions. But why should blacks remain segregated- if they are not allowed into the so called white schools which have better teachers and infrastructure, how will they ever advance enough to become intellectual leaders? There were no answers, merely vague assurances that when the time was right, he would come out in support of what was right, and that till such time, he was maintaining peace. 

What I did come away with, and which redeems the book for me, is the message that you are responsible to your own conscience. Even though the world may be polarised into two opposite camps,  you need to remain true to who you are, and speak up for what you think is right. If that alienates you from everybody, so be it. Remaining silent, or running away is not an option if your conviction is strong. In the county that I now find myself in, that gives me the courage to continue to speak up. 

About the book itself, while the quality of writing shows that it was indeed an earlier version than 'To Kill A Mockingbird', it works equally well as a sequel. The characters have evolved in the intervening decades, yet largely remain true to who they were. I would have liked Calpurnia to show some recognitition to the girl she brought up, but I can understand how the years have been too cruel for even a spark of the old affection to remain. 

And there are echoes. Many echoes. In To Kill A Mockingbird, when Aunt Alexandra forces Scout to put on a frilly frock and entertain her guests, Scout declares that she is a lady. To me, then, it was the ultimate sell out- Scout should have refused to be untrue to herself, I thought. In Go Set A Watchman too, after verbally assaulting her aunt, Jean Louise declares that her aunt is a lady. This time, I agree with her. In thirty years, I've grown up!

The blog tour started at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… on Thursday, 23 July.

Friday, 24 July – It’s all aboard for Canada, as the tour stops at Bill’s blog,Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

Saturday, 25 July – The tour hits the UK, with a stop at Moira' blog Clothes in Books.

Thursday, 30 July – The tour moves along to India, here at Coffee Rings Everywhere.

Friday, 31 July – It’s back to the USA with a stop at Sue Coletta’s Crime Writer blog.

Friday, February 20, 2015

December 2014: Traditional Finery

The village belles dressed in traditional finery presented a picture of India that was Young, Beautiful and Traditional. An India seeped in culture. An India proud of her heritage. An India that I thought no longer existed.

How their lives will change once education and technology reach them, I thought. The thought excited me, but I was also apprehensive about how our collective heritage will be lost.

And then she whipped out her mobile phone, and checked her make up using the selfie mode. She was satisfied.

I was too. Technology and tradition do not have to be mutually exclusive.
2014: The Year That Was

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

November 2014: The Village Life

The village life. The rural life. The burst of colours. Scents. And textures. We romanticise everything, from the smell of crowding to the taste of fresh food. Even the poverty, seen through city eyes, is exotic- wood fired stoves never look as good in urban slums. 

Do we look beneath? At farmers depending on the rains; at others depending on the farmers. One bad harvest can wipe out all chances of repaying loans. With the only way to create wealth being dependent on factors beyond their control, is it any wonder the menfolk all migrate to urban slums?
2014: The Year That Was

Monday, February 16, 2015

October 2014 : What Breed is your Dog?

“Which breed is your dog?”

The question used to irritate me, because I thought I was being judged on my choice of pooch, till I realized it is just a question that people ask.

I still didn’t have an answer. ‘Street dog’ is inaccurate, because he’s never lived on one, and a dog with a home cannot be called a ‘stray’. ‘Indie’ and ‘InDOG’ both sound like I am trying to create a false pedigree, and I dislike the word ‘pariah’.

I’ve finally got an answer, “His mother was a stray, we don’t know the father. And he’s all ours!”
2014: The Year That Was

Friday, February 13, 2015

September 2014: Find their own Solutions

The longer I work in the social sector, the less sure I am of what I thought I knew. In fact, the only thing I know for sure is that I do not even come close to having all the answers. 

We speak about economic independence, but how does a woman go out to work, when she has to stay behind to catch water? We all agree that child labour is bad, but banning it only leads to greater exploitation.
On the ground, all we can really do is to act as facilitators to help communities find their own solutions.
2014: The Year That Was

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

August 2014: Those Masks We Wear

All of us lead multiple lives. Who we are is not who we show we are. We may be a teeny bit anxious or scared, but what we project is sheer confidence. We don't want to admit we do not know, for fear of being judged. But often the other person is just as scared too.

And then we get so good at being who we are not, we almost forget who we actually are. The projection starts taking over. 

Those masks we wear; do we really need them? Beautiful though they are, isn't what is beneath the real us?
2014: The Year That Was


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