Are you widening your donor network enough to make your fundraising campaign infectious?

By G.K Swamy – Founder & CEO, Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS)

The Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS) is a charity dedicated to enhancing the lives of disadvantaged rural youth through free and yet holistic education.

Alka and GK SwamyWe have over the last 15 years helped enhance the lives of underprivileged rural children in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, through holistic care, which includes complete daily nutrition, comprehensive health, and required medical attention. To achieve this purpose, we manage a central board day boarding, where through a 10-hour programme we work with these children to ensure they have all the support needed to help them enter prestigious professional programmes, beyond school.

We have numerous success stories to share.

As is my habit, I committed myself to a large project in February 2015, a new hostel building to accommodate 60 girls on our campus, without assembling any of the funds required for the purpose. We needed to execute the proposed project on an urgent basis, since there was a pressing need – to complete the residential building by the next academic year – April 2016.

Rs. 1.2 crores of funds had to be raised in 12 months, to finish the building as well as getting it adequately furnished.  All this appeared impossible to onlookers, but we at PYDS were determined to make it happen. We went ahead and committed to all the requirements, assuming the physical facility would, in fact, be available on the designated date!!

Secret number 1: Visualize the accomplished results, be convinced of its presence and go forward with conviction.

Many folks said crowd funding was a great option to assemble resources. I had attempted crowdfunding in the past, without much success. Yet, I decided to revisit the attempt, now that I had read you could plan better and succeed. At the end of the day, we learned that it isn’t enough to just depend on crowdfunding platforms to provide us collection support. They are merely an agency which redirects funds raised by us and our supporters. Besides, in our experience crowdfunding platforms are expensive and there are issues of delay in payment, in some instances payments didn’t land into our account, until we aggressively followed up. We could just as easily have created our own payment gateways.

Where we had, greater success, was through a programme of voluntary campaigners acting as our Mascots. For this fundraiser, we identified 3 Mascots with each spreading the word around to their many friends. Whilst these contributions were small, they had a viral effect. Total collections through this route were not significant but we received massive ‘word of mouth’ publicity. Converting many individual supporters to the cause in due course.

Lesson learned here is that we need to scout not merely for donors but for essential campaigners. We cannot do all the work ourselves and need others to do it for us. So, we developed campaigners’ kits and kickstarted initiatives to educate supporters, about our Mission.

Secret number 2: find passionate campaigners and educate them well about your cause and the campaign.

An alternative route to raising the required funds was through our annual participation in Delhi’s Half-Marathon event. We made a major push to highlight the event and raise money. Again, our campaigner friends served to enlist participation in the marathon and the campaign took off in earnest, yielding a fair amount of success. Motivated individual donors paid more money than prescribed as sponsorship by participants. A lesson here, the motivation for the cause happens if we can make a campaign that is infectious.

The impact of our multipronged campaign was that it reached a few ‘High Net Worth donors’ with offers to fund us partially. The icing on the cake was an offer from a Corporate. When their offer arrived, there was already a Project under implementation, the good word about us had already reached them through sources unknown to us.

Secret number 3: invest in making the campaign infectious

I also wish to add a word about our Resource mobilization strategies. We have a dedicated office and teams assigned with responsibilities to address individuals, corporates and foundations. They do all the research and track donors, providing us continuous information so that everyone is in the loop. Donor retention and additions remain their primary concern.

I might conclude by mentioning another discovery. This campaign did not exhaust any source of funding for us. On the contrary, it widened and improved our ability to ask for more.

We could raise Rs. 1.60 Crores within a period of 14 months.

Many other individuals and corporates, came to hear of our work’s impact.  We are currently implementing yet another major Project.

Our top 5 lessons:

  1. What succeeds is the purpose and its appeal. If you find a good purpose, the means will follow.
  2. Sharp and clear timelines are important. There needs to be a sense of urgency for people to contribute impulsively.
  3. The more support you garner in terms of people campaigning for you, the better. Building campaigners and networks that speak for you is an essential. Widening the donor network is therefore critical. The donation contribution that comes through them may not be significant in the context of the total budget but their ability to speak for us is critical. I, therefore, commend the effort to assemble a campaign kit and get people to use it.
  4. The passion with which the Mission is delivered is very important and donors need to see evidence of the Passion. I also suspect that they wish to see an element of sacrifice on the part of the social entrepreneur. Of course what appeals most is the evidence of the “good” that our work will result in. Telling case studies are therefore of great help. Build as many of them as possible and present them well. While doing this, however, remember that people have a short attention span.
  5. As I mentioned earlier, while large donors(Corporate/Foundations) can provide big money for our support, it is the large number of smaller donors who finally save the day for us.

G.K Swamy – Founder & CEO, Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS) is a recipient of the ‘Fundraiser of the Year’ award by the Resource Alliance India at the India NGO Awards 2016.

Mr.Swamy has a Master’s degree in Economics from the Madras University. After a long and successful career as an Economist spanning 35 years, he chose to spend his retirement years in the verdant Himalayan foot hills; in 1997 he relocated from Bombay to Uttarakhand. With time on his hands, the former economist started teaching local children at his home in Purkal village almost 20 km from Dehradun city, while his wife Chinni ensured that the children had enough to eat by cooking meals for them. Soon, more and more children started flocking to the couple necessitating the home classes to shift to a nearby building where the children were given after-school tutoring.

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