Friday, August 6, 2010

Generosity and How It Happens

Are people generous by nature or does it need to be taught? And why are some places noted for philanthropy and others are not?

I've been thinking about these questions a lot as I work toward achieving our current goal of raising 40 lakh rupees by the end of September.

One of the ideas we came up with to raise money locally was borrowed from something I have seen  in Delhi - many restaurants there collaborate with voluntary organisations by placing cards on each table informing customers that to support the work of Organization XYZ, they have added 10 rupees to the bill. Customers who don't wish to contribute can ask their waiter to remove it.

In practice, almost no one does so. 10 rupees is such a miniscule amount that most people hardly even notice it, let alone care. In a busy restaurant, the income can be as much as a thousand rupees a day - nearly four lakhs a year! Painless!

So we thought we'd give it a try here in Dehradun.

Here's our card, which we thought was very clever and attractive:

Card in hand, off we trotted to meet the owner of one of the best-known restaurants in the city (which shall remain nameless), ready to make our pitch and add his restaurant's name and logo - convinced that rupees would begin pouring in in a matter of days.

We were shocked when the owner reacted with horror.

"I can't do that," he said. "I'd lose my customers. Oh they'd let it go the first time - no one wants to look cheap - but they'd never come back. They'd accuse us of hoodwinking them."

Let's assume this gentleman is correct, that he knows his clientele and has accurately assessed their response. Then why is the Delhi clientele different? In one of the restaurants where I have seen these cards, the clientele are regulars, repeat customers who come in over and over and among whom, according to the manager, there is at most one a week who objects to the idea.

So what's up in Dehradun? Because it's not just about adding a measly ten rupees to a restaurant bill.

When we sell the calendar, for example,  the rate for India is Rs 200 apiece. Here in Dehradun, it has to be Rs 100 - or it simply won't sell. I can't count the number of people here who have carefully explained to me why it isn't right to charge even 100 when clearly, the cost of printing the calendar cannot be more than 50. "IT'S TO RAISE FUNDS", I try and explain back, but it's like talking to a wall.

The per capita income in Dehradun is higher than most cities in the country. We are flooded here with think tanks, high-end schools and major institutions whose staff earn good salaries and have a wide range of perks like housing, low-interest loans, medical care and education for their children. So it's not a question of not being able to afford it.

Is it something deeper? Or is it simply that people here have never been taught about the joy of giving?

Last year we had two dynamic volunteers - Merrow and Ashleigh - who designed a brilliant plan (they called it B.U.I.L.D.E.R. ) for school fundraising for us, the core of which is turning students on to the excitement, creativity and sense of purpose such activity engenders. More than the money, the project is about commitment, teamwork and leadership development - all qualities our future leaders need if they are ever going to bring about positive change in this country.

Both our volunteers had been involved in similar endeavours in their own schools and colleges - in addition to raising significant amounts of money for the good causes they were working for, they learned enormous amounts about event management, PR, finance, budgeting, decision-making and how to work well as part of a team. They also learned a great deal about the specific cause they were working for - if you are going to convince someone to donate, you absolutely need to be well-informed enough to be persuasive. And in the process, it dawned on them how satisfying it is to put your heart and soul, your talents and your time, your passion and your energy into something meaningful, something with purpose, something that is about more than a paycheck or a career move.

Fund raising is about working for a cause. Donating is too. And believe it or not, it feels great. It's a wonderful and liberating thing to be generous, to open your heart and your wallet and share what you have.  And I feel sorry for the people of Dehradun because - perhaps - they haven't been given enough opportunities to do that.

Our other effort this week was going to school principals to ask them to allow us to introduce the B.U.I.L.D.E.R. project to their students. So far, it's been a resounding NO. We've been told we cannot "use" students this way, that parents will object, that they are busy with important things like exams, that if they say yes to us they will have to say yes to everyone and anyway, how can we even think about asking???

And yet again, all I can feel is pity for what these children are missing out on: the joy of giving.

Time and again, when we do an awareness workshop, at the end of the session, the first, second, third and last question the students always ask is: How can we help? They are eager and ready and so much more than willing. And we, as adults, as their teachers, tell them to put that impulse away, focus on the exams, study more, think less, don't reach out, don't take risks, don't care.

And then we wonder why Dehradun's citizens don't want to give.


Bharathi said...

Hmm,, I don’t fully agree with you Joe. When a restaurant asks for a donation, even ” a meager 10 rupeee” you are still suspicious. One, how do you know they are going to give the entire collection to the charity? Two, how do you judge the credibility of the charity? Those of us who know about the work of the organization might probably be donating to it directly. It is somewhat like taxes I think, we crib because we know that much of it goes to line the pockets of the politicians and corrupt people and find means of circumventing it.
That said, may latika vihar have a stupendous fund collection  good luck.

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

I know what you mean. This is why we were only approaching restaurants whom we felt we could trust - people with whom we have a long-standing relationship and whose reputation in the town is solid.

As for people already donating to us - I don't think such people would mind adding an extra ten rupees every now and then. And those who DON'T know us at all - well, again, that comes back to the credibility of the restaurant: would they offer their support to a shady, no good VO?

And yes, it IS like taxes - but here the hope is that with fewer steps along the way, the money WILL end up where it's meant to go. Also like taxes, you pay because it's added - and I agree there is a risk of alienating people who, like our restaurant man said, may resent the element of "extortion". But what to do when the work needs to be done for the community but the community is too kan-joos to support it????

letitbe said...

Its funny and frustrating at the same time but there 2 things about this ofcourse is the pace at which the outlook of people changes in different cities and countries ...ngos in delhi must have faced this 3 years back and london might have seen this 8 years ago...but ultimately it happened in delhi and so you will get a positve response in doon maybe some time later.You are the first one here and soon this will be the trend ...
Another thing could be ,comparing dehradun to Delhi ,the density of NGOs and VOs is really high ;every next door is an ngo nowadays so the value of such good initiatives go down when everyone is asking for donations someway or the other.Everything seems like a gimmick.

Here is a phenomena ,usually what is distant earns more credit and anything local or nearby is just ignored.In short''ghar ki murgi dal barabar''. People shell out money for distant charity ;forgetting that charity begins at home.
I have seen people not giving a penny to a shivering beggar on tube station in london but they donate a tenner easily at oxfam store for education of african child; or even here one might not give anything to their domestic help's child but will buy a Helpage Card for good cause or send money to tibet- not knowing what happens to their money there.
So if you go by this phenomena you should keep your cards for donation at restaurants in delhi or Chandigarh or a distant city and you will surely get more donations than the one's who are in delhi .esp when they see Dehradun (a small hilly town and good cause combined).
Not pleasing but practical I guess.

Entropy said...

I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one.

The fartherest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list.

The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves–we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together.

We are each other’s destiny.