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Charity flow to non-profit organisations dwindle

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December 07, 2008
The Economic Times
Mary Bowers

NEW DELHI: The smiles are wide but the budgets are tight: two hundred children in New Creation Bilingual School, Auroville, left their English lessons to sit down to plates of rice and bright yellow daal, the only meal they would receive all day. They chattered and shovelled into their mouths and down their purple and green uniforms. The school has provided nutrition and education to village children for eight years, funded mostly by overseas donors. But money is fast disappearing. New Creation currently faces a shortfall of over Rs 6,000 per month.

"India is no longer a poor country," said Mauna van der Vlugt, a member of the school's support group. "People in the West, who have money for charity, would rather send it to Africa, or somewhere where the need is obvious." And wealthy India, she said, is not making up the shortfall.

Agrees Anjali Gopalan, director of AIDS charity NAZ Foundation. "We're still in the age of grabbing," she says. "We haven't yet reached the stage of giving." NAZ first found its most prominent individual donor, not in India, but in the form of Hollywood star Richard Gere.

Last year, charitable giving in the US topped $300bn, with over 65% of middle income households giving to charity. In the UK, the rate was 58%; the total ?8.9bn. Though there are no recent statistics for India, Ujwal Thakar, CEO of the GiveIndia Foundation, says charity culture here is only just beginning.

"We have seen a 50% growth rate year on year," he said. "But in terms of relation to the population this is still a very miniscule number. It's nowhere near what it could be."

A major barrier, Thakar said, is lack of trust. The Centre for the Advancement of Philanthropy, based in Mumbai, offers advice to charities on how to build donor confidence and maintain transparency. CEO Noshir Dadrawala says the key is for charities to publish as much information as possible about spending. "Are you going to be transparent enough to say what you are paying your staff?" he said. "Good NGOs do that on their website. And where does that money come from? Charities need narrative as well as financial statements."

Ways to donate are also getting easier. Foundations such as GiveIndia have introduced Western-style corporate pay roll giving, where voluntary monthly sums are automatically deducted from paychecks. It has proved to be very popular, mostly with young people working in BPOs. Around 30,000 have signed up already, giving an average Rs 190 per month.

Thakar says that this population group may provide a ray of light. "It's beginning to change in the younger generation, and it's a good thing," he said. "They are young idealists who believe that their country has given to them and they should give back."

As the bell rings at New Creation School to signal the end of lunch, it can only be hoped that this generation, and the next, will continue to invest. If their country gives to them, these children may one day have something to give back too.

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