Sandeep Sharma, Co-Founder, INDIAdonates explains the crucial nuances of the NGO sustainability in India.
Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, much like the whole world, the civil society organisations working at the grassroot level are going through a massive churning, not only at their work, but also how they work, public perception, delivery models, impact, lobbying, technology, funding, to name a few.
A similar tectonic shift is happening in the territory of individual charity. According to Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index 2018, India has the most number of people donating money in the world. Online citizen engagement has grown rapidly, more so during the last 2 years, as remarkably displayed during the COVID crisis. Twitter and Instagram became the go-to source to not only raise funds but provide critical information on hospital beds, concentrators, drugs etc. The digital donation proved the most competent, accessible and acceptable medium to raise funds overnight, thanks to rapid digitisation, and millennials spearheading the movement of free information. However, much to our chagrin this invasive technological evolution has left out a large chunk of small and mid-sized NGOs and adaption to technological advancement has been wanting.
By and large fundraising landscape in India is predominantly occupied by a handful of big NGOs, that have international descents. This international affiliation has provided a distinct advantage in terms of access to technical know-how; adaption of proven international fundraising models and most importantly sizeable financial resources. Unarguably, they had the first movers advantage in trying different methods of fundraising, starting from face to face, retail, digital, door-to-door, legacy giving etc. These select few NGOs have created diversified fundraising funnels to champion social causes. Starting from service delivery, advocacy, branding, corporate association, volunteering, fundraising, they are doing it all. They are at the checkout counters, retail stores, on the face of the packaged goods, even airline tickets, at malls. It is hard to dismiss their ubiquitous presence, from day to day lives. Of course, our objective is not to malign or renegade their effort. They have earned their reputation after years of hard work, and they deserve appreciation and applause.
However, it is baffling to see smaller NGO with every bit of worth, STRUGGLE to enter the fundraising arena and explore alternative fundraising approaches at the grassroot level. Although, their appetite for change and development is equally sweeping; global know-how, access to technology, bureaucratic encumbrance, networking gaps, geographical detachment, all adds to their struggle. Into the bargain, the FCRA modifications in September 2020 has made sweeping changes, flattening the funding curve for smaller NGOs. Right now, many of them are facing an existential dread. The hullabaloo surrounding incurring expenses around Fundraising has given rise to angst and trepidation in the minds of smaller NGOs, leaving it completely unexplored. To be fair, Fundraising in its totality used to be an extremely cost intensive method, with cost of fundraising nearing around 50-60% of funds raised. Thankfully, COVID-19 has radically changed how individuals perceive and experience giving, and how NGOs interact with potential donors, at a much cheaper cost than imagined. Even then, smaller NGOs are struggling to enter the market & seem to be stuck in this lamentable cycle of lack of funding = lack of visibility/branding, and vice versa.
If we are to believe in data, donations have increased, donors have equally increased, and the market is ripe with people wanting to give. Corporates donations have also opened new avenues for funding. There is a new sense of social stimulation happening within the corporate sector. On the other hand, conventional source of funding the foreign institutional donor has slowed down over last 5-6 years.
For a country like India, the space occupied by NGOs provides the necessary substratum for our society. Their relevance became even more poignant with the ongoing COVID19 battle. While in an ideal world, all shapes and sizes of NGOs should have the right to exist, in reality the landscape has become lopsided, due to the above-mentioned reasons.
Honestly, there is no right answer to deal with it, it is a larger question that thousands are struggling to answer. And so are we at INDIAdonates. However, as a small NGO ourselves we have devised an experiential program to disrupt the existing market of fundraising by exploring and innovating low-cost Fundraising methods, that can potentially burst the bubble around how fundraising can be conducted by even smaller NGOs and help them to diversify their funding base.
Our three-year intensive program Centre of Excellence focusses on select few small and mid-sized NGOs, who can become power centres in low–cost fundraising and create a ripple effect in their adjoining geographical areas. The idea behind Centre of Excellence was rooted in our vision for INDIAdonates, to provide a pathway for robust and diverse fundraising for small and mid-sized NGOs. This one-of-a-kind intellectual lab of Fundraising, hopes to imbibe and inculcate fundraising structures across existing systems and processes of an NGO. While we are hopeful that different models of charity are likely to emerge and excel from within the cohort, we also intend to release the learnings from Centre of Excellence, that can act as a fundraising playbook in the longer run.
While this research-led action is limited to few NGOs, there is no limit to exploring fundraising, by others who are already experiencing a funding lull. For starters NGOs need to make digital noise, be more present, topical, get more volunteers, leverage technology and importantly believe low-cost fundraising is possible and is not limited to a select few.