The post-independence era witnessed the dawn of the new age in India where intellectuals, think-tanks, activists, and media amplified the voice of the people through social growth discourse, campaigns and research. The civil society or the third sector gathered a strong footing through mass mobilization, thereby redefining the meaning of non-violent advocacy. Their eminence over the decades could be understood by the large numbers in which they are spread over the country, with over 4 NGOs for every 1000 people in Urban areas and 2.3 NGOs for 1000 rural population, according to the Central Statistical Organisation of India, report 2015.
The third sector made huge contributions to the society, excavating existing lacuna in policy implementation; showcasing innovative development models and reaching out to the most disadvantaged section. A national-level policy change and report findings published over the last decade, negatively impacted their working, leaving behind deep scars from which many are still recuperating. The new Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010, made the process of getting foreign funds not only complex in nature but also brought out short-comings in the functioning of the NGOs. This move coincided with the leak of the Intelligence Bureau report in 2014 that accused foreign-funded NGOs acting as a tool for foreign interest. Several licences were cancelled under FCRA. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, more than 13,000 NGO licenses were cancelled in the past three years, with approximately 4800 in 2017 alone. Since then, foreign contributions have also allegedly dwindled.
The civil societies are still recuperating from this impasse; struggling with disengagement and mistrust from both the public and the government. Thankfully, Corporate Social Responsibility, (CSR) which concurrently came into being in 2014, made it mandatory for companies to invest their profits in the social sector. While CSR and institutional funding seem to the safest bait, they are equally susceptible to external changes and internal policy revisions. According to the Indian Philanthropy Report 2019 by Bain & Company, 15% of the average CSR budget was unspent in 2018 while private funding (Individual donors) grew at a higher rate than public funding between FY14-FY18.
Despite the gloom that currently prevails, the silver lining is individual donors, who remain the strongest segment of this growth story. Individual philanthropists, currently contribute 60% of the total private funding. However, grass-root NGOs are still struggling to utilise this segment either due to lack of know-how, or what we can call as ‘Single Donor Dependency Syndrome.’
As drivers of change, we need to come up with innovative ideas to attenuate this dependency and replace it with sustainable strategies and build the capacity of NGOs.
NGOs need to first harness individual donations within the local communities in which they function. Local communities are mostly untapped or underestimated. However, they can add outreach value, as they understand the local problems. Community engagement strategy can involve them beyond the conventional donor-recipient bond. Door-to-door fundraising, collaborating with local theatre groups, mobilising educational institutes and teachers, will add to the sense of societal responsibility. While strategies are being designed to keep local problems in mind, it is important to align your goals with the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 set by the United Nations.
Charity begins at home
While making fundraising strategies for small and medium-sized NGOs, it is imperative to reassess individual strength within the organisation that goes beyond job responsibilities. Board members are a crucial component, and mapping out their contribution beyond an overseer, will give the edge. Augment your fundraising strategy through your board by tapping into their network of Ultra High Net Individuals (UHNIs). An inclusive board is the strongest ally at home.
Use the power of many to empower one
Currently, internet penetration in India stands at 560 million users, with the second-largest online market next only to China. This presents us with epic opportunities to amplify the reach of grass-root level NGOs. Many find using technology as a challenge or the right words to showcase their work, but identifying these weaknesses will help NGOs address them head-on. Digital marketing is not just a tool to get donors but offers a whole spectrum of services to engage, empower, build and learn. While costs for advertisements might vary from platform to platform, the digital space offers more flexibility than traditional modes of advertisements like newspapers, hoardings etc.
Having said that, it is important to remember that all fundraising strategies are built through trials and errors. While the path is not paved, determination to stick with your vision and the courage to ideate and innovate despite let-downs and defeats is what makes your success story Sustainable.