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The intelligent giver

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December 27, 2009
Malini Nair

With the band of affluent and well-paid Indians expanding, there is a greater pool of potential donors. But for this to bring about social change requires the givers as well as NGOs to be savvy, because passion alone does not lead to success. Malini Nair looks at a whole range of innovative methods designed to enable the well-heeled to open up their purses to good effect.

At Goonj, Anshu Gupta has long resigned himself to the fact that Delhi's middle class and its money are not soon parted. So he asks it, instead, to let go its household excesses.

The NGO's sorting room is full of discarded clothes. The jeans that cannot hold your girth, the shirt with a stain down the front, the underwear whose elastic is overstretched, the sock without a pair or even the kitchen rag you want to chuck. Every scrap means something to Goonj. If they are intact, the clothes are donated; if torn, they are tailored into smaller outfits for children or stripped and fed into a loom to create mats.

The smallest squares of cloth that cannot be tailored into anything wearable are washed, ironed and carefully wrapped in layers to make clean sanitary napkins. Sealed into paper bags, these are then dispatched to women in villages and slums across the country.

Gupta is among the many in the social service sector to realise the need to step out of the box to tap the philanthropic core in Indians. Traditionally, for most, giving is a religious ritual — the money that goes into the daan peti at the temple, the offering to appease Shani or the alms to the beggars outside a mosque.

Opening up the purse for secular, community or even research related causes is not easy for the average Indian. There was a time when community funding was used to set up dharamshalas, gurukuls and other public institutions. There are few such examples today.

Compared to the merchant philanthropists of say 19th century Mumbai, there are few givers among the urban wealthy. Which city millionaire these days contributes a fraction of what Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy or Jagannath Shankar Sheth did to civic or social causes?

So, are today's wealthy Indians tight-fisted? Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman and group CEO of Bharti Enterprises, who figures among the world's top donors, doesn't believe there is any need to fret. "For Indian corporates, wealth creation is a relatively new phenomenon and as they become more comfortable with their sustained wealth creation, they will take up philanthropy in a more meaningful way," he told The Mag.

NGOs are also working on new approaches to raise resources. From easy and painless monthly charity to focussed micro-giving, a slew of innovative methods are ensuring that Indians, especially the growing population of young, well-heeled professionals, open up their purses. "How, when, where can we reach our potential donors — we need to constantly rethink these questions," says Kapil Kaul, country head of Helpage India.

Give as you earn This works beautifully for the lazy philanthropist. If the trouble of writing that cheque and handing it over to a charity regularly is what stopsyou from giving, Charity Aid Foundation and Give India have formulated something that works like a billing system. Every month the fraction of your salary you are willing to give away to a cause close to your heart is deducted automatically.

"Inertia, not lack of generosity, is one of the greatest blocks to sustained philanthropy. There is no deadline to giving, you can donate whenever you please, so you put it off forever. But NGOs need regular inflows to plan ahead. Sporadic giving cannot sustain large projects," says CAF India head Amita Puri who says that salary deduction is becoming increasingly popular among professionals. Microsoft, ABB, Sri Ram School, Dominos and PriceWaterhouse are organisations where employees have signed up to regularly donate from salaries. Employers too are encouraged to match this giving.

(With inputs from Kareena Gianani)

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