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January 23, 2010
Outlookindia.com
Rajiv Bhuva

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An economic slowdown, one would imagine, would put the brakes on giving, not just at a corporate level, but even more so at an individual executive level. But that hasn't been the case. Payroll giving programmes-”that allow employees to donate funds directly from their pay cheques to non-governmental organisations (NGOs)-have reported an increase in donations this year. These programmes allow employees to donate, as little as Rs 50 per month, funds which can then be claimed as income tax deductions.

Charities Aid Foundation India (CAF India), a Delhi-based public charitable body, quadrupled the funds raised via payroll giving in FY 2008-09. Also, the number of donors grew by more than 10 times over the previous year. But, there's a catch. "We experienced a slowdown in decision making at the corporate-end," says Amita Puri, Chief Executive of CAF India. "In many cases, respondents asked us to get in touch with them next year," she adds. CAF India, which works with 16 companies, has enrolled over 3,000 employees in FY 2008-09.

Payroll giving is picking up. "The concept of involving employees in giving, whether financially or non-financially by volunteering with non-profit organisations, is growing," says CAF India's Puri. "And we believe it will grow over the next few years," she adds.

Why did employees continue funding charity initiatives even in a slow year? "A belief that they can make a difference," says CAF India's Puri. "The contributions people are making towards social causes are not linked to the increments or lack of bonuses," says Dhananjay Bansod, Chief People Officer at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.

Give India Foundation also saw 50% growth last year. The not-for-profit organisation works with 70 companies and has enrolled 30,000 employees as donors. "Some companies did delay their programme launches," says Mathan Varkey, Head of Payroll Giving Programs, Give India Foundation. "But overall, the growth tells us that the potential is huge," he adds. Give India allow employees to choose from a dozen social causes and over 200 NGOs.

Give India has successfully partnered with Vodafone Essar. The telecom major, which has over 9,000 employees, sent out electronic mailers to its employees about the payroll giving programme in September-October this year. Since then Give India teams met 3,000 employees. Of these, 1,500 have enrolled for the programme, giving an average of Rs 200 a month. "We have seen that many of our employees want to give back to society," says Samaresh Parida, Director-Strategy, Corporate Communications and Corporate Responsibility, Vodafone Essar.

While ICICI Bank had around 2,000 employees enrolled for payroll giving two and a half years ago, the number has risen to over 5,000 now. But K Ramkumar, ICICI Bank's Executive Director and Head of Human Resources, says, "The numbers have risen, but personally I am extremely disappointed". The reason-poor awareness about how people can make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged. Ramkumar feels that there is still a lot of ground to be covered in his bank.

While the intent is noble, some people are not sure that the money will be put to good use. Observers agree. "A large number of NGOs harm the cause with irresponsible conduct," says a senior HR official. People still do not understand how small amounts of money can change lives, says ICICI Bank's Ramkumar.

Hopefully, with the return of good times people will be more generous. Everyone who enters Ramkumar's room is asked if he or she has enrolled for payroll giving. While a lot can happen, a lot still needs to be done. At least for payroll giving.

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