Bengaluru-based Rishabh Lalani, a fundraising consultant in the nonprofit sector, anticipated bleak days ahead when a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 was imposed by the central government.
As a fundraising consultant, Rishab's not-so-glamorous yet crucial work involved acting as the link between the donor organisations who are looking for associating and extending aid to the NGOs working at the ground-level to solve real issues.
With the entire world brought to a standstill by the pandemic— millions were pushed into poverty, several lost jobs, the means of livelihood were forced shut for many. The number of people reaching out to help multiplied a hundredfold in India as well.
Several reports highlighted that people were forced to take up odd jobs to make ends meet. Meanwhile, the NGOs burned the midnight oil to arrange funds amid the financial crunch and halted CSR activities to conduct COVID-19 relief programmes.
Rishabh, during this time, helped in raising funds to the tune of ₹5.3 crores for as many as 53 different causes through a number of donor foundations and corporate organisations — free of cost. To ensure the less advantaged receive timely help he emptied his fixed deposit account and contributed ₹1 lakh to help the needy.
Narrating an experience that hit him hard, Rishabh said, "I was focussing on working with the organisations but one day I received an SOS call asking for monetary assistance for a child who had met with an accident in Bihar. The child's father had lost his job and had started working as a vegetable vendor while the child who was out-of-school due to financial constraints was helping his father sell vegetables. While moving the cart, the boy suffered a major head injury."
"Lakhs of rupees was needed for the boy's surgery. Fortunately, we were able to raise more funds than we actually needed and the leftover amount was utilised for another emergency case that came up during the treatment.
Watching someone going through a crisis being generous to another soul in crisis rekindled my belief in humanity," Rishabh told The Logical Indian.
He further said that although there was a change in human dynamics of 'save yourself first' during the lockdown, there were people who stepped up to help the community without a second thought.
"A few individuals provided funds for almost 60 per cent of the organisations I was intending to help. Vikram Lal, founder of Eicher Motors; Nitin Kamath and Kailash Nadh, chief economic officer and chief technology officer, Zerodha, generously contributed for the majority of the initiatives. Reaching out to the donors and getting a grant takes a substantial amount of time but these two donors cut down on the time and other formalities facilitating a quicker response mechanism," Rishabh described.
The consultant said that social media played a key role in the entire process. While Rishabh was helping the beneficiaries find prompt financial assistance, he was also curating a list of all such people and organisations seeking help while posting information about the relief activities on social media.
"I used to share information about the aid on my social media handles and people started responding to support requests. A few told me that they were looking for genuine beneficiaries and contacted to extend support. From raising two-three lakh in a week to raising over ten lakh during the same time as possible due to networking and online communication amid physical restrictions.
I wrote to the big and small players in the industry and luckily they came forward to donate, and at times it was straight from their pocket.
I also started conducting webinar sessions in collaboration with another company to keep the people engaged with the COVID related-relief work. People from the social sector and philanthropists were invited for the sessions to let the society know about the real situation and the help that was being offered by capable entities," Rishabh said.
He also informed that a number of NGOs were able to raise funds because they paid attention to the transparency aspect. The social media platforms and the website were updated with on-ground information, pictures and videos which restored faith in the institution and eased the fund-raising process.
"Many who could donate directly proposed to conduct online classes such as storytelling and cookery to raise funds for the causes I wrote about on social media. It was about furthering the circle of trust," said Rishabh.
Lack of access to more people was one of the major obstacles faced by Rishabh. He further went on to explain an important point about sustenance in the nonprofit sector.
"We earn our livelihood through the work that we do in this sector. There is a lack of awareness among donors, especially first-timers, that the people engaged in relief work or distribution activities need to be paid salaries. There are logistic expenses involved in transporting the goods and people are not open to letting their money be used for such overhead expenses."
He also mentioned that most of the nonprofit organizations are still operating under 50-80 per cent pay cut.
"This was a great time for the nonprofit sector to change the existing narrative about itself because these organisations fed more people than the government did. The perception that NGOs are inefficient and corrupt has been changed and is still going through a transition."