Monday, July 21, 2008

Who doesn’t like a good cause?

Nonprofit Organizations (NPO) and Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWO) are everywhere. They support endless causes, but now their sustenance is threatened as their long-term visions aren’t supported with the right infrastructure.

An NPO needs a blend of sound management, strong governance, and a persistent dedication to achieving results, along with a vital mission, clear lines of accountability, adequate facilities, reliable and diverse revenue streams, and high-quality programs and services.

The Problems

Common problems which threaten their sustainability are namely,

  • low volunteer retention rates

  • obsolete fund-raising ideas

  • insufficient IT knowledge

How to attract sufficient resources to sustain a nonprofit organization is a question that has been popping up all over the world.

Once these organizations are set up, especially for disaster relief purposes, they do not know which direction to head in after the catastrophes have been addressed. Should they disband? If yes, what do they do with the finances they have left? Can they pump it into another cause?

Many ethical questions would arise in such a situation. The 9/11 tragedy victims received millions of dollars in aid. The Red Cross attempted to divert some of its 9/11 relief monies to more under-funded projects (long term programs, including terrorist-attack preparedness). This caused public outcry, leading to hearings at the US Congress. The Red Cross then pledged all the proceeds to people directly affected by the 9/11 attacks and even offered to refund dissatisfied donors.1

If an NGO has to close down for some reason then it would be a waste of all the resources they spent in rehabilitating the people. Possibly, the responsibility could be passed onto a government organization, but how efficiently would it be followed up? If our government organizations were that efficient, then the NGO would not have been setup in the first place.

The search for an 'Economically Viable' Model

The best option for nonprofit organizations is to devise an economically viable model of functioning, preferably one that is self-sustaining. This can be achieved with proper planning, management and multifold working. The Worth Trust for the disabled, Tamil Nadu, India, is a good example.2

The organization has two divisions- one for training and rehabilitation and the other for employment. In a nut shell, the organization offers training to the disabled and then employs them in their production wing. A percentage of profits from the production are then pumped back into the organization.

Lack of human resources

The social service sector is a vast one but with limited human resources. Countries should invest in creating awareness about the demand for human resources in this sector and set up institutes to give youth the necessary expertise. The governments also need to list guidelines and offer special plans and programs to support NGOs.

There is also a dearth of civil engineers, tackling which could help bring down our dependence on NGOs for aid. After all, it is the government's duty to its people to provide every citizen with रोटी, कपड़ा and मकान (food, clothing and shelter). However, only 200 of the1700 engineering colleges approved by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) offer the course.3

A little PR goes a long way

Nonprofit organizations need to attract resources. As the old saying goes, "you can catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar." This means that these organizations should have well-planned, positive public relations campaigns to reinforce their goals and pull in more people support.

Regular newsletters and good PR will go a long way. The organizations will have to create more awareness not just about the 'just cause' but about themselves, as well. To reach the masses, they need to first get into their homes, not necessarily through TV slots, but also through pamphlets, meetings with like-minded persons and organizations, etc.

The communication needs to be multi-pronged – it should grasp the big guys with the bigger pockets, as well as, the little guy who lives down the lane.

  • Make it personal. Everybody should be able to relate to it.

  • Narrating the story of a victim is a better approach than throwing statistics at people, but don't make it melodramatic.

  • Bringing in the human angle loosens purse strings and brings a lot more volunteers forward.

  • Pick an audience that would have been affected directly or indirectly by the cause. If the victims are similar to somebody the donor knows, then the support will be more forthcoming as empathy kicks in. For example, friends of somebody who has died from AIDS are more likely to support AIDS victims.

Crisis Mentality

Another issue that needs to be tackled is the crisis mentality. Most people respond to sudden crises rather than chronic conditions, because emergencies stir stronger emotions. This outlook needs to be changed and programs supporting sustainable development and long-term goals need to be boosted.

According to a report, private donors spent about $ 1,839 (Rs 78,000 approx) per person affected by Hurricane Katrina but only $10 (Rs 400 approx) per person suffering from AIDS. Similarly, the victims of 2005 earthquake in Pakistan each received about $37 (Rs 1,400 approx) but only $3 (Rs 100 approx) was donated for each person with malaria.4

An analysis by the World Bank and the U.S. Geological Survey showed that during the 1990s, some $40 billion in preventative measures would have reduced economic losses from the world’s natural disasters by $280 billion.

In China alone, the World Bank estimates that $3 billion in flood-control measures spared the Chinese from $12 billion in losses. Such analyses suggest that every dollar spent on lessening risks saves as much as $7 in relief and repair expenditures.5

There's more…

The NGOs also need to build a pool of the right talent – persons with an in-depth understanding of the legal system of the country and state, as well as, an unending reserve of energy and enterprise.

Plus, they have to protect themselves against crimes, manipulation and, of course, corruption. They can achieve this with up-to-date accounts maintenance, regular audits, fixed core personnel, an established payroll system with the necessary insurance coverage and an overall fundraising plan.

Micro-fund raisers

Micro-fund raising is another strategy that nonprofit organizations can employ. Instead of spending huge sums on advertising, a little networking and good word can haul in lots of support.
Micro-fund raising works on the principle of 'inclusivity.' It turns strangers in to friends, friends into donors, and donors into fundraisers. It builds goodwill and your 'brand image,' if you properly equip members with the tools they'd need to collect support for the cause.

Democratic formula = Empowerment

The credo "of the people, by the people, for the people" applies not only to democracies. It is an ideal motto for any institution. Thus for an NGO, it is essential that they change their image from that of a 'charity,' into one of a 'Socio-Entrepreneurial Investment.' From – a body of people trying to scale a wall separating humans from humanity – to – a movement that tunnels through that wall to see the light at the other end.

People should participate first hand, to build the brand. Not something commercial, like Pepsi or Reebok, but a brand of a new generation of ideals that strives for a better future.


1, 4,5

No comments: