Daan Utsav: How a little giving can go a long way

Just as many drops make an ocean, small amounts given out by ordinary people can help nonprofits make a huge difference as they go about running initiatives for a better world.

Most nonprofits occupy an unenviable position. They have a cause they are committed to, they have a fair idea of how to achieve it, and they have the people and the passion to go after what they believe in. Where they hit a roadblock is when it comes to finding the money required to get there.

Typically, the primary source of funds for nonprofits have included philanthropists, foundations and companies (through their CSR allocations)— all of whom come with their own experience, expectations and worldview, which may not necessarily be always in sync with the nonprofit’s expectations or agenda. And that often translates into long-drawn-out processes before they finally invest in programmes. This is where ordinary citizens or retail givers, can step in and make a difference. When several hundreds of thousands of retail givers come forward and put their donations, however small, into nonprofits to support causes they believe in, they empower these organisations in important ways.

Retail donations are resilient
Reducing nonprofits’ dependency on big funders and providing an effective way to derisk their programmes from the vagaries of corporate funding is one benefit. “Corporate money can be whimsical. It goes away when strategy changes, when sectors are no longer ‘fashionable’ or when companies leave the country altogether,” says Ingrid Srinath, director of Ashoka University’s Centre for Social and Philanthropy.

Moreover, CSR budgets are the first to be slashed when the company faces a downturn or when the economy slows down. This can have a direct impact on the continuity of nonprofit programmes. However, when millions of retail givers stand by their chosen nonprofits through thick and thin, they provide these organisations and their programmes security, stability and resilience.

Srinath recalls an incident in the wake of the Gujarat earthquake—she headed CRY back then—when a retail donor came forward and offered to increase her donation to the organisation, because she anticipated that large donors would have shifted their attention to earthquake relief.

Creating autonomy, providing insulation
Money from institutional donors often comes with riders on how and where the nonprofit must utilise them, thus limiting the latter’s freedom in a way. The balance of power, thus, is heavily tilted in favour of the funders. Retail donors can help change the power dynamics between a nonprofit and an institutional donor. As Srinath puts it individual donors “really just want to know that nonprofits are honest and doing good work” and they are not bothered with anything else. “In the programmes that retail money pays for, nonprofits will have the flexibility to adapt their activities, without donor interference or approvals, to achieve the desired impact.”

Backing from large numbers of ordinary citizens also ring-fences nonprofits against harassment from powerful bodies and governments. “It is much harder for governments to target an organisation that has a million donors versus one that is funded by a foreigner or even an Indian corporate or foundation,” highlights Srinath. Put simply, there are enough important reasons for citizens to put their might—and money—behind organisations and causes they believe in. All it takes is a little effort to identify causes that resonate with them and organisations that have a clear plan and commitment to work for these causes. What’s more, the rise and spread of digital has made it easier for citizens to contribute to their chosen causes. Gone are the days when one had to fill out physical forms and write out cheques to make a donation. Most nonprofits now have websites and online payment gateways that allows for quick and easy transfer of payments.

So, what’s your excuse for not making a donation?

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