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 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 position 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 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?