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Ditch the Excuses, Just Give in to Giving

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Giving is not as difficult as you think. Read, run, click, bequeath, or simply write a cheque. We give you six ways to contribute. Some are fun, some are easy to do. So, with all these doors open, there is no reason why you shouldn't walk in.

What is the appropriate behaviour when we are accosted by hungry eyes and outstretched grubby palms at traffic signals everyday? Should we toss some change and quell the guilt, shoo them away and turn up the music or ignore them and wait for the light to change because we cant be responsible for every poor person in the country? The answer, we know, is none of the above. As we roll up the window and wave the odour away, it is, perhaps, time to look at how we can help.

As paradoxes go, India is often at the top of every list. In the decade and a half since 1991, a vast majority of Indians have tasted unprecedented prosperity. We now drive swankier cars, juggle mobile phones and Blackberries, wear designer togs and expensive accessories. Shamefully, in the same period, the number of the hungry in India has also risen significantly, says the United Nations report on right to food over 47 per cent of the children are underweight, and 46 per cent stunted in their growth, figures higher than most countries in poverty-stricken sub-Saharan Africa. With the haves getting richer and the have-nots getting poorer, charity has never been so necessary or so convenient.

Writing a cheque to your favourite cause is one way to give, but certainly not the only way. Also, giving does not always have to be about money you could contribute your time, your professional abilities, or your areas of special interest. In fact, even a good workout could end up helping a cause. 

Outlook Money seeks to help you on your route to self-actualisation. Here are six easy ways to give to a cause. Some are fun, some are convenient but they are all fulfilling and add up to make many lives better, yours included.

Volunteering

How would you like to spend two hours a week reading your favourite book? All you need to do to make a blind person happy is read aloud to him. If writing a cheque is not your definition of giving, then committing two hours a week might just be the ideal way to contribute to a cause. Volunteering can include any kind of activity teaching children, using your skills as a lawyer or an accountant with a needy NGO, participating or helping to organise a mela or an awareness programme, helping out at a picnic for underprivileged children. All these are the fun options to giving.

Radha Vedantam, project manager, SOSVA, an NGO that supplies volunteers to other NGOs, says that all you need is a caring heart and a committed mind to make a difference. Social organisations do not ask for more than four hours a week and you would usually be given an assignment close to your home so you dont have to commute too much. You can also pick the kind of task that you want to do. If you subsequently realise that teaching mathematics is not as romantic as it seemed, you can switch to another task. NGOs offer back-office functions to those who may not be able to handle the emotional strain or the trauma of working with disabled children or terminally ill patients. These functions could be anything from setting up a filing system to writing project reports.

Sarika Pherwani, chartered accountant, started off her volunteering stint while at college, where she read to some blind students and also acted as their scribe for examinations. Now, she teaches, mainly English, to children from poor and abusive households. She has also drafted her husband and together they teach children in various age groups at Anand Kendra in Mumbai. I have learnt so much from these children. We crib for the smallest of things and then you meet these children who are either orphaned or come from very abusive households and they always have a smile on their faces. It makes your problems seem so small, she says. Sarika juggles her banking career with her social consciousness. She volunteers for two hours during weekends, and two hours during the week. She calls volunteering addictive and an activity that helped her change her perspective on life.

Several NGOs work on Saturdays to accommodate volunteers from corporates. Else, if you have only weekends to spare, you can participate in some short-term activity like volunteering for a thalassemia awareness programme or helping organise a sports meet for underprivileged children.

All you have to do to start volunteering is email an organisation (see: Where to Give?) that will assess your areas of interest after meeting you. It will then assign you to an organisation and a task after a short sensitisation training session. 

Marathon

Fitness, fun and funds. Running a marathon is sound cardio in more ways than one. Heres how: the Mumbai and Delhi marathons have a charity partner. When you register for the marathon, tick the option which says that you would like to run for a cause and get the pledge kit by paying an additional Rs100. You can pick a cause and an NGO for which you want to raise funds. GiveIndia, the current charity partner for both these marathons, has about 100 listed NGOs. If the NGO you want to support is not listed, then you can register it with GiveIndia.

It is advised that you visit the NGO and learn about it, quiz it on its need for funds and how it is going to utilise the money. You will be the one pounding the tarmac, you have a right to know. Once you are convinced, you can tell your friends and acquaintances about your intention to run the marathon and raise money for your cause. 

As word spreads and contributions start coming in, fill up the pledge form with the details of the contributors. Pledges can be of any amount, even as low as Rs 5. All contributions come under Section 80G and certificates will be issued to individual donors. If some pledges are in cash, you can just sum them up and issue a cheque to GiveIndia. If you raise Rs 1 lakh and above, you get to run in the Dream Team. This is quite an effective way to raise money last years Mumbai Marathon raised over Rs 4 crore. 

Rahul Bose, actor and social activist, Nachiket Mor, deputy managing director of ICICI Bank, and Amit Chandra, managing director, DSP Merrill Lynch, were all part of the Dream Team for Mumbai Marathon 2006. Chandra and his wife were the highest pledge raiser couple for this marathon, raising Rs 17.75 lakh.

If you are running for a listed NGO, then GiveIndia monitors the usage of funds and you will receive a feedback report in six to eight months. If you are running for a non-listed NGO, then monitoring the deployment of your funds is your responsibility. Run for a cause that you are passionate about. The marathons current format allows each runner to raise funds for only one charity. 

So, don your track suit and hit the gym, for a good cause.

Events

If running a marathon seems like too much work, how about throwing a party? Events of just about any kind can be used to raise funds for your favourite causes. All you need is a little bit of imagination and a commitment to your cause. In fact, you can even turn an adversity into a fund raising event. Kyle Paxman from the US, a jilted bride, was recently in the news. She found out days before her wedding that her fianc was cheating on her. Instead of calling off the wedding, she turned it into a women only charity dinner where the drinks and a gourmet four-course dinner that were originally meant for the wedding reception were laid out for the guests. Paxman managed to raised $20,000 for two US-based charities. 

In India, there are NGOs that help you host events for raising money for charities. Concern Indias art auction is a large fund raising event. The annual auction, conducted in association with Christies, is now held in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Over 500 people are invited and about 65 pieces of art are auctioned to about 250 people who turn up.

Fund raising NGOs also tie up with both corporates and individuals for events, both financial and non-financial. For example, a corporate or an individual can pay some money for a music concert or a movie screening and and leave the management of the event to the NGO. Money could be raised from ticket sales, or, if it is a corporate event, from sponsorship. NGOs also manage non-financial events for individuals, like throwing a party for underprivileged children or taking the aged for a movie screening.

If you have good organisational skills and like the adrenaline rush of getting a show off the ground, then it is easy to raise some serious money while enjoying yourself. You can host a sit-down dinner, a wine tasting event, a cookie sell-off, a garage sale or anything else that catches your fancy. You can either charge people for entry or raise money by selling or auctioning things and give the collections to an NGO.

Let your imagination soar, and watch the funds pour in.

Payroll giving

This is a convenient and sustainable way to fund a cause. Social organisations like United Way have tie-ups with employers and you can decide on a pre-determined sum that will be deducted from your salary every month. The NGOs and projects are identified by these organisations and employees can choose the area that they would like to contribute to.

The time-consuming part of this process, according to Shibani Sachdeva of United Way, is to get the top management to agree to this, as the organisation will need to make structural changes in its accounting systems to allow payroll giving. Usually, an employee is made responsible for this. There are many instances when employees have taken the initiative to convince their company to start payroll giving programmes. 

Once the corporate agrees to this arrangement, you can contribute either every month or once a year. If the contribution is on a monthly basis, some organisations allow you to revise the amount you contribute. If you have a monetary emergency, you have the option to contribute less in that month.

Payroll giving is a good way to start contributing to a cause. For one, if you are giving Rs 100 a month from your salary, it is not going to send your finances into a spin. Secondly, you could then follow up and find out how your money is being utilised. If you are satisfied with the work being done, you can get more involved with the organisation and volunteer for it, or contribute a larger sum every month. Some organisations even have collection drives in which the company matches the contributions made by the employees. Through this method, the the beneficiary organisation can raise significant amounts of funds for its projects.

Online giving

Social fulfillment at the click of a button, cant get easier than this. With online donations you dont even need to stir from your desk to support a cause. All you have to do is go to the website, pick a cause you want to support and enter your credit card details. 

There are several social organisations founded by non-resident Indians that work in areas such as education, healthcare and providing basic amenities in India. Most of these allow you to donate online. A simple Google search will throw up plenty of options to choose from.

GiveIndia, for example, has its own online donation section at its website www.GiveIndia.org. You can access the site, go through the names of NGOs listed, and donate money online to any of these. Another site, www.rediff.com, also has an online donation section called click2donate. This takes you to a site powered by GiveIndia. 

In most of these cases, you can specify the actual activity for which you want your money to be utilised. If it is to feed, say, 10 children as part of the midday meal scheme, it gives you the break-up of the costs for the meal. 

While the primary mode of payment for most of these websites is a secured credit card transaction, some of these also allow you to send cheques or make money transfers. You can make various other kinds of donations, as well. For example, at www.ashanet.org, you can donate shares, or even a computer. 

The very popular online encyclopedia www.wikipedia.com is run by Wikimedia Foundation Inc. Wikimedia uses public donations to run all its Wiki-based projects like Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikinews and others, whose content is provided free of cost. Parts of the foundations funds are used to regularly upgrade hardware. The foundation also packages and distributes Wikimedia content to places that do not have Internet connectivity.

Donations can be made once, monthly or yearly, through the Internet, by post or by money transfer. 

Most online donations are also eligible for tax exemptions under Section 80G. Dont forget to check the website and the NGO benefiting from your donation for authenticity before making the payment. And then, just click! 

Bequest

This is the ideal way to let your charity outlive you. You can will any part of your assets to an organisation of your choice. This includes money, real estate or proceeds from sale of paintings. Lawyers say that it is an easy way to donate and this is reflected in the fact that more and more people are opting for it now. 

You could either include your bequest as a gift deed to a specific organisation ot to charity in general in your will. Life insurance policies and retirement plans can also be bequested to your favourite cause, or even more than one cause. In the West, bequests are a common way of contributing. A lot of educational institutions, hospitals and hospices are beneficiaries. Even museums have benefited from bequests. What can be a bigger example than the decision of Warren Buffett, the worlds second richest person, to give away 85 per cent of his wealth to five foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? 

Most large NGOs and funding agencies have their own format for taking in donations through bequests. They would tell you what to write in your will to make them a beneficiary. Make sure that you show it to a lawyer before you sign the will. It is also best if you discuss with your children or immediate heirs before bequesting a large sum or real estate. Their buying into your plans is essential to ensure that the transfer is smooth and problem-free.

Often, small steps of giving end up leading to a larger career. Divya Thangadurai uses her corporate management education and skills to help find space in mainstream markets for handmade items. After working at multinational corporations for seven years, she found herself at a crossroad. She could either pursue a degree in public administration or apply her management education and experience in the social sector. And thus was born her company, Sandhi Crafts Foundation. 

The foundation helps artisans find shelf space in large urban retail stores for their handmade products. The foundation is being registered as a Section 25 company, where profits have to be necessarily ploughed back into the organisation. Divyas vision for Sandhi is to spin business fundamentals into the unorganised sector, which would be scalable and survive beyond its founders. 

Having grown up in a middle class family, yet having pursued college education in the US, Amit Chandra realised early on the importance of helping youngsters with their education. On returning to India, Chandra and his sister set up a scholarship to help students get an education similar to theirs. We took our proposal of starting a scholarship to our alma mater, Boston College, and though we did not have much funds, it allowed us to offer a scholarship in a staggered manner. Most of the contribution came from my sister, and we got this started, he says. 

Education is the cause closest to Chandras heart. His wife quit her job and got involved with Akanksha, a Mumbai-based NGO that teaches street children.

Says Chandra, Do not treat giving as charity, treat it as an enormously productive responsibility. Start howsoever small, but make a beginning. The happiness that you get out of the process will carry you through to do more and more.

A little thought, some action thats all it takes to give something back. Charity need not even be only about the poor, the disabled and the underprivileged. 

Love Mozart? Help put together a symphony. Afraid of stray dogs? Help control their numbers and volunteer for a sterilisation drive. Need to bond with your colleagues? Organise a tree planting drive on a Sunday with help from an NGO. Innovation, creativity, enjoyment, fulfillment ... there are no reasons not to give. So, whats your excuse?

Source - Veena Venugopal' article in Outlook Money

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