Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Transparency revisited - an answer needed

I urge you to read this post and give your take on it. Thanks. Anou

It was more than a decade ago that my dear friend and mentor DV suggested we have a detailed budget on our website as he felt that total transparency would help us gain the trust of people and hence get the support we needed. Actually he is the one who designed the page for us and we have been updating it since without any transformation. I was in complete agreement with him as I felt it showed the potential donor exactly where his money went. And that it worked needs no further proof that we are till today a vibrant organisation that is thriving in spite of a few hiccoughs.

Till date I have been the one who has headed, virtually single handed, the funding aspect of project why and I have been overwhelmed by the support of I have received. However the new laws that may soon come into force make an organisation like ours very precarious as we depend on the famed FCRA - the government stamp that allows us to receive funds from outside India -! It seems that the Intelligence Bureau has now set its eyes on all of us FCRA holders and may revoke it almost at will. In that scenario we sink, as ours is a cause that is not dear to our countrymen. It may or may not happen but I feel that one has to be prepared for the worst as one is responsible for so many tiny dreams. The option is to raise money from our own and that is a herculean task.

As luck would have it, a mail dropped in my inbox a few days back offering a fund raising workshop. I jumped on the occasion and sent my two coordinators even though it meant a hole in our pocket, one we could ill afford. But I really thought that we would get some new ideas if not an epiphany and also prove where I had been wrong.

R & D - and it is not Research and Development but why two hands Rani and Dharmendra - travelled the unending distance in heat and rain and attended all lectures attentively. If had not yet had my full debrief - I am dreading it - but from the little they shared I think that from from an epiphany, it seemed like a Oh No! moment.

Before I go on, I need to share my world view in the matter. When I was a donor, what mattered to me was that the money I gave reached to the beneficiary as directly as possible and not through some devious round about way. I my early days when I was still finding my way, I visited an NGO that is extremely successful and flushed with money. They had a swanky building designed by some foreign architect that to me seemed quite futile as it did not house any of the main activities of the said NGO. The Director's office was huge and had not one but two air conditioners blazing and though it was midsummer I froze and wished I had a jacket. I could not resist asking him how much the maintenance of such a building cost and he had no hesitation in replying: 100 000 a month! That meant that the first rupee reaching the beneficiary was after the 100 000 were in the bank. I swore to myself never to go that way. Of course nowhere on their website would you find mention of this useless cost as it was well hidden.

So when R & D told me that one of the funding options suggested to them during the workshop was telemarketing I did a double take and candidly asked: but how do we get the money? The deal is you get 100 000 from a donor and if you can use that to generate 200 000 it is a win win situation. I guess many large organisations do that, but to do so you need to 'hide' cots, something that makes me gall. I know of one that started as small as ours but today has a huge fund raising department that not only does telemarketing, but also door to door campaigns as well as expensive mailing. I also know of many who have stopped giving to that organisation.

For me it is morally unacceptable to ask any donor for money that does not go to the beneficiary as directly as possible. I have refused more than ice the offer of four wheel drives as transport at project why is provided by auto rickshaws owned by parents of students and ex-students. How can I ask anyone for money that will go to some funding raising agency. I would rather close he doors. So here goes one suggestion.

The other was to have a good ppt that would showcase our achievements and be transparent. Whereas  we have been wanting in the first instance and never been able to show the scale of our achievements, I though we were spot on on the later: transparency! I was soon to learn that it was not quite so.

A friend from the US, who is knowledgeable in the field of fund raising: making presentation, writing proposals etc happened to be staying with us and I requested him to help R & D with the presentation part. It all went well till we reached the slide that would show expenses. Being extremely proud of my expense page, I would have bet my bottom dollar that all  that was needed to be done was to translate it into a chart of sort like those colourful pie charts! Our expert said that that would be counterproductive as we were too explicit as we mention every expense and have foot notes to elucidate if and when needed. However apparently this is not the way it works in the big bad world.

I need money for project why but I strongly believe that it cannot be at the price of giving up what has been my strength. I do not see why someone who wishes to donate to a cause should feel upset to see where her/his money goes even if it is cleaning material that we truly need and for which I can produce bills. I for one would prefer that then a section of the pie stating: project costs!

My intuition tells me to follow my heart but I would love to have your take.


1 comment:

Jon W. said...

I feel the transparency of costs is a great thing, but more so is the fact all donations go to fund the project and used directly and not to large salaried admins etc. This is something I state whenever mentioning PW, I feel it's important and different from larger charities the world over with their plush offices etc. However, your model cannot carry on forever as it is, you state this yourself, maybe R&D might become great fundraisers like yourself but they already have jobs they do very very well. I myself would be happy to see some funds go towards fund raising, say 10% possibly at most but maybe less, this could be employing someone to do the fundraising, pay their salary rather than an outside agency. This might fit your model a little easier. Another alternative or additionally would be to advertise for interns to come from abroad, for 6 months to a year placements to gain experience of charity fundraising. This is often how bigger charities do it as there are lots of people wanting to work for charities as a career nowadays. I would be happy to see a little money spent on marketing/fundraising if it meant more funds were raised and the project was seen as more sustainable, but not at the expense of losing the ethos it has now.