New Delhi: A giant ape looms over the 19 NGO representatives sitting around the dark conference hall.
Fund-raising guru Ken Burnett begins his presentation — titled “The 11 Pillars of Fundraising Wisdom”—with an image from King Kong, the 1933 black-and-white Hollywood version, to help non-governmental organizations gain some confidence.
“Big donors can be frightening people,” he says, “but there are ways to conquer fear of high net-worth individuals.”
He pauses and turns away from the menacing monster: “And remember, there’s plenty of fish in the sea.”
Each of the executives gathered around Burnett has paid Rs 5,000 for his advice on tapping that sea. The class, organized by the New Delhi-based South Asian Fund Raising Group, represents efforts by India’s vast NGO sector to cash in on the good times sweeping much of the nation. As India makes the transition from a recipient to a donor nation, NGOs are trying to figure out how to ask Indians for money.
With India’s economy producing some 83,000 millionaires—by US dollar standards—last year, philanthropy is poised to grow, says Burnett, a France-based consultant who conducted the day-long seminar on Tuesday. According to a Merrill Lynch report last year, high net-worth individuals in India are worth a combined $290 billion (Rs12,81,800 crore), excluding the value of their homes or consumable goods, and grew 19.3% last year.
“While there are Bill Gateses, Warren Buffets and Ted Turners, a vast percentage of donors still tend to be middle-aged with money to spare, many of whom want to see the local base grow,” says Burnett.
Against the backdrop of amendments to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which intends to curb foreign funding in the sector, NGOs expect they will need to rely even more on domestic donors. As a result, there is a need to formally train those in the role of asking for money, says Surat Sandhu, chair of South Asian Fund Raising Group.
The corporate sector, with its talk of social responsibility programmes, amounts to just 5% of the total contributions to NGOs in India, while 84% of donations are from individual donors, Sandhu says.
At a conference in New Delhi last year, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said NGOs must raise standards by raising their own resources. Recently, the South Asian Fund Raising Group, which has trained 2,400 people in fund-raising, presented a $1.3 million proposal to the commission to train fund-raisers.
With no universities offering courses on social marketing, the potential for fund-raising consultants is huge. Murray Culshaw, who runs a Bangalore-based consultancy firm and trains fund-raisers, says business has been brisk.
“For people to give, you have to ask them to give,” he says. “Which is why professional training is so important.”
After pledging $5 million to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US and providing assistance to victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, India is attempting to be seen as a country that lends instead of borrows. For NGOs in India, the fallout is that international givers are now shifting focus to poorer areas in East Africa, according to Rati Misra, regional programme officer of Resource Alliance in South Asia, a fundraising consultancy.
In 2005, Resource Alliance set up an office in New Delhi. “Local NGOs cannot raise funds in a sustained manner unless they are well governed, which is where we come in,” says Misra.
According to one estimate, Indian NGOs raise less than 0.1% of the country’s GDP, a broad measure of economic activity.
“As foreign funds will become limited, India will have to attempt to raise 1% of GDP for the voluntary sector to stand on its own feet,” says Pooran Chandra Pandey, CEO of Voluntary Action Network India, a network of NGOs.
Fundraising consultants say a part of the challenge is to change Indian mindsets over charity. “We give charities for religious purposes and to beneficiaries for direct usage like buying beds for a shelter home,” says Devasmita (Kajol) Menon, executive director of Childline India Foundation, a child care advocacy group. “But we are still not amenable to giving it for institutionalising a project.”
Stephen Gonsalves, director of Calcutta Urban Service, which receives grants from the Tata group, Confederation of Indian Industry and oil company ONGC for its water supply improvement schemes, saw good reason to attend Burnett’s class. “We cannot forever go on chasing donors,” says Gonsalves. Bhupinder Singh also took the class. The former director general of Assam Rifles started an NGO in Shillong, Meghalaya, recently to undertake HIV-AIDs prevention programmes.
“We need money,” he says. “It’s better to get it right from the beginning.”