New Delhi: Lakshmi Krishnan has spent nearly three decades working on behalf of disadvantaged women and children. By all accounts, she’s an expert on what it takes to run a model non-profit aid society that keeps girls from the Capital’s slums in schools and teaches women ways to make their own money and stay healthy.
But recently, the president of Society for the Promotion of Women & Child Welfare found herself somewhere unexpected—in the classroom. Along with about a dozen others, she was attending a course, , that aims to teach those in key positions at non governmental organizations (NGOs) how to improve their fund-raising skills and make their operations more transparent.
“Things are changing from the way they used to be. It’s a lot more competitive,” said Krishnan, whose eight-year-old organization receives government grants, but wants to gain an edge in seeking corporate donations.
The government’s recently approved policy on the NGO sector calls for tightening governance and financial standards, and may eventually bring an independent regulator to watch over India’s vast community of NGOs, estimated at more than a million, active in everything from disease prevention, disaster relief and caring for children with nowhere to go.
Like this course rolled out for the first time in New Delhi by UK-based non-profit training and support organization, The Resource Alliance last week, training programmes and even contests aimed at strengthening the management talent in the non-profit sector will move increasingly into the spotlight and as groups compete with other organizations to pull in more funds from the corporate world.
“Today, you have to be (at the) cutting edge,” said Nirja Mattoo, chairperson of the Centre for Development of Corporate Citizenship (DOCC), who teaches management and strategy courses for NGOs at the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR) in Mumbai.
“If people are going to give you money, they want to know exactly how you are going to spend it. They don’t just want to hand it over any more. They want to be part of the process,” Mattoo added.
In addition to a tighter watch by the government possibly on the cards, those that run grassroots aid groups say that it is increasingly necessary to learn the language of the multinational and national companies they target for support—drafting presentations that include clear-cut objectives and benchmarks.
“A lot of people NGOs are so focused on running their programmes, doing whatever it is they do to help people that they don’t step back and analyse their organizations,” said The Resource Alliance chief executive Simon Collings. “It’s an increasingly competitive world out there and they need to professionalize to compete for and keep support from donors.”
While it sounds basic, mapping the next few years, creating an effective presentation and making regular reports on their activities is new for many in the non-profit sector, said Collings.
“We’ve never had a long-range plan for fund-raising before,” said Jo Chopra of the Dehradun-based Latika Roy Foundation, which provides education, therapy and support to disabled children and wants to increase its corporate donor base.
“We’re seeing tremendous growth and we’ve just gotten to the point where we need that,” added Chopra, who travelled to Delhi to attend the course.
Corporations and funding organizations have moved away from the days where they just write a cheque and send out an announcement about their donation, according to both those who donate the money and those who run the programmes.
“Before, things were sometimes haphazard. There was no formal structure to our fund-raising pitches,” said Shoba Sachdev, a consultant with the Spastic Society of India, which provides treatment and support services to cerebral palsy patients. She completed a course under Mattoo at SP Jain. Now, instead of sending a big batch of appeal letters, she analyses which companies support which causes and tailors her approach to their business and what they can do for her organization and what she can do for theirs. “Like anything else, we are selling something. In our case (we are selling) what we think is a great programme,” added Sachdev.
“We have to communicate our vision and our mission clearly and effectively report on what we do every step of the way. Now, I’m not just thinking how they can help us, but what they can get out of helping us. It’s much more of a two-way street.”
The Spastics Society of India was among the shortlist in last year’s inaugural India NGO awards run by The Resource Alliance in partnership with the Nand & Jeet Khemka Foundation. The award and the process of applying for it can help open the door to more donors, say experts.
“Part of the idea is just putting together the application makes them more aware of transparency, governance and financial management. They have to meet criteria, they have to have an independent board, meet minimum financial standards and other things such as conducting audits,” said Collings.
The deadline for applications this year is 30 September.
Awards such as this may mean they have stood up to a review from a panel of independent experts; increasingly slick presentations may help grassroots organizations hone their pitches; but their operations still have to withstand a high degree of scrutiny from major corporations.
At Citi India, any organization that receives money from the corporation’s charitable foundation has to go through several levels of due diligence, where it is thoroughly vetted by a team from the office which assesses the leadership of the charity and checks its references. The charity is then passed on to third-party organizations who may do field evaluations and further checks on the group’s operations.
And it might not stop there. Teams from Citi are available to support the non-profits that receive support from the foundation and often help them do things like set up and improve proper financial systems or get their message out, according to Madhulika Gupta, director of corporate affairs for the local arm of the multinational financial services firm.
“The basic facts we look for are their organization, that they have a management structure, that they have a financial reporting system and that they have a track record of delivering against the programme objectives they have set for the fund utilization including the timeframe,” said Gupta.
“We would have to believe that they can meet them, but we leave it to them to set their own goals, their own budgets and run their own programmes,” added Gupta.