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Case for charity: How to be a good giver

Everyone has helped someone in the pandemic. Would you like to do more, more often, but don’t know how? Tips on being a smarter, sustained Samaritan.
UPDATED ON JUN 04, 2021 09:18 PM IST

All through the pandemic, there’s been a swift, clear uptick in individual donations to charity. People like you and me, stuck at home, relatively safe, have watched disaster after disaster unfold and decided to help. We’ve contributed to feed migrants struggling to get home. Footed mobile-data bills for underprivileged students attending virtual school. Paid towards oxygen supplies, monthly rations and medical bills. It’s made us realise that much more can be done and done better. Here’s a quick guide to being a smart, sustained giver:

Acknowledge your motives: India ranked a lowly 82 on the World Giving Index 2019, placing lower than Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It’s probably because we see charity as a value-driven act rather than a social responsibility. Turn this in your favour, says Deval Sanghavi, co-founder of Dasra, a non-profit that helps philanthropists, other NGOs, corporations and the government work together. “Ask yourself why you’re giving: is it to earn social capital, build a legacy, impact more lives or save tax? All of those are good reasons. So choose a charity that matches your intent.” A Covid-related project, for instance, will impact lives, but not be the best place to earn fame. Many arts foundations, on the other hand, are better for building your profile, even if they aren’t tax-deductible. Find a charity that speaks to why you want to donate, and chances are you will be more involved, and stay involved longer.

Realise that every bit helps: The India Giving Report 2020 indicates that a good 84% of polled respondents were involved in at least one charitable activity in 2019. The median amount donated or sponsored was 5,000. First-time contributors are galvanising Dasra’s Back the Frontline campaign to raise funds for Covid-related non-profits. “After one fund-raising email, we got close to 500 contributors,” says Sanghavi. “About 480 of them had given [to an organised charity] for the first time.”

Factor in location: It’s satisfying to support a non-profit in your neighbourhood, where you can see the good they’re doing. Dasra’s report however, says that this leads to a disparity in resource distribution across the country. Most donors to organised charities tend to be from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. Little of that aid reaches poorer states or faraway districts. “If Covid has taught us anything, it is that anything can be done remotely,” Sanghavi says. “If you’re a small contributor, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to drop in on even your neighbourhood NGO in the pandemic.” So consider one further away that needs you more.

Commit to a cause: In India, philanthropy focuses heavily on education and healthcare. Support these sectors, by all means. But the India Philanthropy Report 2021, brought out by management consultants Bain & Company and Dasra, says that India is further behind on gender equality indicators than on education and health. Are you moved by LGBTQ issues? Wildlife conservation? Heritage management? Menstrual hygiene? Choose a cause to which you’re personally connected and you’re more likely to keep giving. Conroy D’Costa quit as a manager at Ketto last year to start Mission Samatva (Sanskrit for Equality), an initiative supporting the transgender community. “Transgender people don’t qualify for most government schemes. Locals don’t even want them near communal water taps. But they need help, not handouts,” D’Costa says. Mission Samatva has started simple. It helps trans people with groceries so their households keep running while they learn vocational skills and become job-ready in the lockdown.

Build two-way accountability: Donors have every right to know how their money is being used. In fact, transparency helps the entire ecosystem. So ask to see project updates and other accounts. Tread lightly, though. As Sanghavi points out: “That a middle-class Indian can be stuck home in relative safety and comfort, and write a cheque to someone risking their life out there, often with family and team members dying from Covid, raises a different idea of trust. The question is not ‘Should I trust this NGO?’ but ‘Why did I not support them sooner?’”

Break it down: It seems counterintuitive, but most organisations prefer a series of small contributions to one large lump sum. It’s easier on donors, for one. “And the fixed amount coming in regularly helps charities plan, set realistic goals, and develop the legitimacy that attracts more potential donors,” D’Costa says. “Remember that students have to be in school for at least 12 years, and that even after migrants get home, their struggles haven’t ended,” Sanghavi adds. “The lives we’ve lived came from consistency. And change takes time.”

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