Monday, February 22, 2010

When you forget the Cause, and just see the Institution

Two years ago, I started supporting a NGO in Bangalore that works for the visually impaired/disabled children. I first came to know of them during a corporate event when these kids performed on stage in gratitude to the donation the company had made. I was totally moved. There was absolutely no need for this nonprofit to bring these kids and make them sing and dance before a crowd of ‘gifted’ (yes, gifted with sight) people to say “Thank you.” They could have simply sent a representative who would have said a few words and saved them the trouble and efforts in arranging logistics, preparing & rehearsing the song/dance, etc. Yet they did. The kids were at their best dressed and were very eager to showcase their talent. And I admired the NGO because they accomplished many things with this action: say thank you to the company, give these kids a chance to exhibit their talent and feel good, and show the people gathered at the venue the immense amount of courage these young ones have to live in this society and happily at that.

In the next two years, I made several passive small-time contributions (meaning no volunteering or even visits to their centers/schools but pure cash donation) to the NGO. The first time I donated, it was purely voluntary - I donated the money by myself without any effort on their part. Thereafter, every time, it was solicited by the NGO through phone calls. In fact, it came to a point where the NGO regularly started calling me every three months thanking me for my previous contribution and asking me to contribute again. And it was not necessarily at the end/after my contribution ran out – For instance, I usually donate towards the cost of mid day meals for 4 children for six months. So it was not necessarily at the end of these six months. In fact, they just called me up today and told me about a new program they have launched for these kids. I recall that I gave them a cheque three months back. And this is what has brought me a little soul-searching. Let me be frank here and thank you for not jumping to judgment.

So when I got a call from them this morning, my first reaction was irritation. Man, these guys can be persistent and annoying. What’s worse, their lengthy sales pitch (yes, sales!) is very convincing and definitely pulls all the right strings. And even worse? I end up feeling a complete moron when I try to put them off for a few days. You see, I have not really figured out my philanthropic side yet – I really don’t know if I want to keep donating a sum every month or every other month to the same charity. I do support other charities who I occasionally contribute to (but who never so actively pursue me!). And admittedly, this particular NGO is just asking me a few thousands which is not that great an amount of my salary. But I couldn’t bring myself to say an instant yes. It’s like I need some time to think and look at my financial position at the time of my month before I commit to them. When I tell them that, you know what’s the reply I get? Ma’m, we accept post-dated cheques. That annoys me even further!

So, on one hand, I have a high regard of them for all that they do and enable. On another, I get really annoyed with their constant solicitations. Conversely, I even admire their fundraising efforts! It does take quite a bit, resources and otherwise, to track your supporters, keep calling them and make them part with the measly amount they are willing to, to make a big fund for new programs.

But to do it so actively? So intrusively? Like making a telephone call on a Saturday/Monday afternoon when you know for sure the person will pick up. They probably also know that their supporters aren’t really the type of people to store the NGO’s number and not pick the call the next time they call (yes, that has occurred to me :( ).

I know they have limited resources which they are employing to call me and call me again when I tell them to call me another day. So they do listen, it is not like they are exasperating. But…but I still have this itch. Something is not right. Why am I feeling cornered? Why am I feeling pursued? Why am I feeling forcibly compelled? Am I not supposed to continue feeling the way I felt when I first donated to them? Why are they calling me so many times? Why can’t they just send me an email or a card? Will that cost them more? Or will that be less effective? Probably the latter because I do know that I am going to donate to them next month in spite of all these questions – because they called. But why is there this resistance to an instant decision?

In all this thought process, I forget to think about the cause that made me give in the first place. I forget the children. It has become more about the institution and not anymore about those children who I saw perform that I fell in love with.

What is a good duration to give your supporters before you call them again? Do NGOs just rely on a small set of supporters who give periodically continuously? What about getting new supporters? What can be a non-intrusive, yet effective, means of soliciting donations?

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rags: VJ, i think the best way for them to solicit the donations and get a steady stream of donations is to conduct a regular cultural events from the inmates, and invite all the donors. Probably encourage them to get along their friends and relatives to that programme. Probably that way they strike the right cord with right people, without being too pushy.

This regular events will also give the children to exhibit their talent more, and also grow more confident in this "blind" world.