Like most Indians desiring to contribute, I am utterly confused. The havoc caused by the coronavirus has been direly matched by the cyclone and our checkbooks are beating faster than our hearts. Equally, the aspirants for soliciting funds have increased dramatically, we frankly do not know who will do finest justice to our contributions. It is time to apply some hard-core brand thinking in order to smoothen this bridge between cash and relief.
Firstly, a necessary survey of the potential recipients, evolving as rapidly as the extent of the crises. The government is the oldest institution, national and state funds appearing stoically like DAVP advertisements, officious and distant. NGOs are clearly in two categories, the first being the legacy sector like Bharat Sevasram Sangha, handling such calamities for decades. Then, there are the digitally-enthused new-age NGOs, run by smart millennials, who apply marketing stimuli to expand the corpus, investing in proven P2P techniques. Increasingly influential are the individual Robin Hoods or housing societies or community clubs, usually with limited geographical reach but proven penetration, impact acknowledged by people we know. Finally, the directly known sufferer, a driver whose house has been ravaged in the Sunderbans or the dhobi with no money to feed the family.
In this maze of post-liberalisation options, the donor community, small or large, has developed definite impressions. The government has lost credibility as a high-integrity disburser, the politician becoming an unholy beneficiary. While the legacy NGOs lack sheer branding sheen, their unsophisticated appearance mistaken to be unprofessional. Exactly the contrary reason why the sharply-packaged new-age fellows (GiveIndia, et al) seem like progressive corporations, with a repartee of lifestyle cues driven by celebrity patronage. But the biggest gainer in all this has been the local and identifiable beneficiary, the donor increasingly observing the Law of Inverse Distancing.
Inverse Distancing very simply means that lesser the distance (physical and emotional) with the beneficiary, the greater the intent and extent of contribution. A donation to the housing society means that the plumbers and housekeeping staff can send money home, while restoring the rural habitation of a maid will lead to instant measurable feedback. While this leads to a perception of accountability, there is a far greater benefit which accrues to the donating citizen. Which is the visible first-person appreciation, that grateful look in the eyes or that call from the village according divinity status to the restorer of the home. This appreciation ensures a contractual continuity which is smartly transactional but also makes us feel superhuman in many ways.
In sub-human circumstances as now, we are all looking for that elusive touch of superhuman-ness, as motivation and inspiration for normalcy. So, if that tangible impact on people we know can amplify such an emotion, everybody stands to gain. We will be motivated to give more, and life seems a lot more purposeful and meaningful. Now, pause for a moment and consider the deficiencies of the larger institutional recipients in this aspect, be it governmental or private. There will be structured acknowledgement, but the specific impact of our rupees cannot be articulated, however valuable it may be. Like many, I too am deeply tempted to divert every charitable rupee to a near-and-dear cause, instead of being a drop in the ocean.
Therefore, the large institutional entities must be inspired by donor insights to devise a new branding strategy – where the emotional payoff will be as sharp as the accountability. Emotional payoff, as in a bias towards visible last-mile influence and not simply responsible citizenship, goaded by tax sops or a well-known intermediary. For this, technology and performance marketing tools can dramatically help the large NGO, by precision tracking of the exact sphere of influence. It seems like a lot of work, but it actually is not, just a necessary sharpening of the value proposition to remain relevant.
Imagine now a donation to the cyclone-ravaged areas of West Bengal, a cause closest to my heart. I can either send money directly to people I know or route the same through any form of organised charity, as mentioned earlier. The latter will say thank you, send me a tax certificate and possibly, share some macro reportage. Now what if the charity were to ask for a specific location as per GPS map, customisable as per operational capabilities. My money is then clearly allotted to that region and I get a village or town-based impact analysis. Most importantly, once lines are restored, a short video clip from a local resident arrives in my phone inbox, with a name and number I can store. Subsequently, I am free to forge a personal relationship, under the auspices of the intermediary. All of this easily achievable through technology 1.0., a totally automated process that will greatly increase the appeal of the fund aspirants.
Like so many other businesses, the fund-raising ‘industry’ is in urgent need of disintermediation, from both government bureaucracy and social networks. The sooner we get closer to the final recipient the happier we will feel about ourselves and continue to contribute. It takes a smile from a real face and not a thank you from an automated hub to make us act superhuman.
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