Home / Politics / News /  Social media changes fund-raising landscape

New Delhi: Praveen Khanghta teaches in a low-income school in Seelampur, East Delhi.

The 23-year-old engineer who graduated from the National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra works for Teach India, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that places recent college graduates (whom it terms fellows) in two-year teaching positions at schools attended by underprivileged children. He hopes to make a difference in the lives of students “from backgrounds where education is a luxury or a lottery (currently only one out of 25 students will pass out from class X; fewer still will go to college.)"

Khangta wanted to raise 50,000 to paint his classroom, buy story books for the second-graders he teaches to show them that reading can be fun, a projector and teaching tools, and fund field trips to museums, parks and fire stations.

And so he set up a pledge page on the GiveIndia website, a facilitator organization that links donors to charities.

Pages like the one set up by Khanghta are part of GiveIndia’s “India Giving Challenge", a six-week online fund-raising event in which corporate donors and NGOs compete to be “Challenge Champions".Participating NGOs and companies set up online fund-raising pages outlining their causes and goals, then reach out to friends, family, clients and donors via email, Twitter and Facebook to solicit donations (these people, in turn, reach out to more using the same tools). GiveIndia gives out limited “matching" grants, on a daily, weekly and overall basis.

“We are helping NGOs drive their own online campaign by creating a system where it’s fast and simple to make a donation, while providing incentives for people to make donations," says Dhaval Udani, CEO at GiveIndia. “A defined time frame, matching grant and celebrating the Joy of Giving spirit make it easier for the NGOs to push their donors to donate now rather than later. The matching grant provides incentives, and allows them a low-cost way to raise funds."

While deceptively simple in principle, the event (now in its third year) is among the first of its kind in India in terms of scale and its use of technology for fund-raising, and marks a radical departure from traditional methods of giving in the Indian context. People generally prefer to give to organizations that they know, through person-to-person contact," says Udani. “The success of the Giving Challenge shows that online fund-raising is coming of age."

In the two previous years that it has run, the event has nearly doubled the total funds generated, and seen a substantial increase in terms of the number of participants: When GiveIndia first introduced the Giving Challenge in 2009, it successfully raised around 90 lakh from about 5,000 donors for NGOs across India, making it India’s largest online fundraising event in history. The following year, the event generated around 2 crore from about 9,000 donors, with 150 participating NGOs and 19 companies. This year, with 15 corporate donors and 250 participating NGOs, the event has already generated around 1.3 crore, and is on schedule to meet—and possibly surpass —last year’s total.

The event runs till the end of next week.

Vinayak Lohani of Parivar Education Society—the reigning NGO challenge champion—says that the event has allowed his organization to raise a significant amount of money in a very short period of time, and at low cost. “Because of the timeliness of the event, people feel pressed to give now," he says. In addition to reaching out to funders through email and telephone calls, he says the organization has had great success by getting young, Internet-savvy volunteers to galvanize support, and reach out to potential funders and walk them through the online donating process.

Corporate donors (this year the leaders are currently HDFC Ltd, Firstsource Solutions Ltd and Genpact) have adopted various strategies to encourage a culture of giving throughout the week—such as sponsoring internal “giving" events such as clothing-, food- and blood-donation drives to drive enthusiasm and then encouraging employees to log on to the site to make individual donations.

“Part of the strength of this model is that it unifies a large number of individual donors for a common cause," says Udani. “The top two corporates last year each had more than 1000 individual employees donating. While the value was also significant, we think that that having so many donors engaged in this activity is far more important."

Teach India is one of the champion fund-raisers so far this year with a record number of individual donors, largely because of its fellows’ effective use of Facebook, Twitter, and other online social networking tools.

“We would not have been able to achieve this had it not been for the volume of pages we were able to set up," says Mridvika Mathur, manager of the development team for Teach India. “Rather than set up one page for Teach For India, we gave ownership and responsibility to every fellow. Since they were doing it for their own classroom and their own kids, they felt a sense of responsibility and ownership —and the energy and enthusiasm was much more."

In only four weeks, more than 150 fellows set up individual pledge pages for their classrooms, collectively generating 15 lakh to buy books, teaching supplies, and fund field trips for their schools and classrooms.

Udani credits Teach For India fellows for a recent surge in Facebook traffic—from only 10 referrals to more than 1000 per day—to the GiveIndia site. “What’s remarkable about Teach For India, is that the value per donation is very small, while other organizations like Parivar might have fewer, larger donors." says Udani. “They know how social media works, they are on Facebook all the time and have managed to reach out to their friends and colleagues and raise a lot of money online just through that."

Khanghta, for instance, made his goal in 10 days.

“I found that social media helps a lot—if just one person shares on Facebook, then many others who have not heard about it get to know about it. For us, it becomes a very low-cost model of advertising," he says. He has already begun buying books for his new library, and says he intends to keep his funders up-to-date on how their funds are being put to use by posting pictures of his kids and classroom on his Facebook page.

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