A piggy-bank no NGO should break!

Human beings are biased towards action. When we are approached by a hungry child or a request to leave our change in a charity box, we (naturally) assume that our contribution will make a difference to the beneficiary’s situation in life. When faced with uncertainty, we prefer to act with the belief that we made an impact.

This bias towards action happens with decisions related to financial investments, impulse purchases, food and even giving to charity! Most of us give one-off donations to NGOs and don’t reflect about it later. Yet most would be surprised to know how minimal the impact our money has had. More importantly, we do not release that if given strategically, the same sum could create a larger impact.

Donating to an organisation’s corpus fund is a great way to help an NGO sustain itself in the future. A corpus fund is like a permanent fund that an organisation cannot dip into except in emergencies. The corpus fund and the interest on it act as an internal source of funds, as opposed to grants or donations that are one-offs received by an organisation. Additionally, a corpus fund can be created out of internal accruals and surpluses as well.

A healthy corpus fund can be a good indicator of an organisation’s sustainability. In 2013, The Akshaya Patra FoundationThe Leprosy Mission Trust IndiaHelpAge IndiaSri Chaitanya Seva TrustISKCON Food Relief Foundation had the largest corpuses of all 550 NGOs on our site. These organisations are well known, have been running impactful programmes for at least five years, and have among the highest spend on programme expenses in the latest available year.

Large Corpus = Long Term Sustainability
NGO Age Corpus Int to Corpus to Investment Int to
(All data pertains to FY13)   Rs mn Tot Inc (%) Tot Liab (%) to Tot Assets (%) Cash + Inv (%)
Akshaya Patra Foundation, The 15 756 1 55 10 4.9
Leprosy Mission Trust, The 146 346 1 62 5 4.3
HelpAge India 37 339 2 55 68 2.8
Sri Chaitanya Mission Trust 17 339 25 98 28 10.3
ISKCON Food Relief Foundation 11 303 1 79 14 5.5

You would be surprised to know that a number of ‘known’ NGOs are living a hand-to-mouth existence, overly reliant on the goodness of strangers to continue the work they are doing. Dependency on external donors makes it difficult for them to plan their activities in advance. A day-to-day existence also makes it hard for an NGO to innovate or scale programmes to benefit more people. Would Akshaya Patra be able to feed 1.3 million children if they were trying to cut corners at every step? HelpAge India provided 1.23 million free treatments through their mobile vans in 2013, the kind of scale that requires large investments.

NGOs tend to run their programmes as per the funding they receive. However, programme funding only covers the expenses of running that particular time-bound programme. An organisation with a healthy corpus fund is able to prioritise spending. As an example, interest income earned from the corpus could be a guaranteed source to finance the annual rent paid by an education NGO for the space they use to educate their beneficiaries.

A corpus fund in a legitimate organisation can go a long way towards supporting beneficiaries and programmes. Therefore, if you’re considering donating to an organisation you like, we’d urge you to reserve a part of your donation for the organisation’s corpus fund. What’s more, you’ll know your money won’t be misused. Here’s why:

  • A corpus fund is strongly regulated: Under the Indian Income Tax Act, an NGO cannot transfer more than 15% of a year’s voluntary donations towards the corpus fund. At least 85% is to be used for programme expenses which ensures that an NGO doesn’t forego programme activities to build up its own corpus[1].
  • Donations to a corpus fund are regulated: A donor has to include an explicit, written statement specifying that the donation is for the purposes of the corpus fund.

Watch out for:

  • NGOs that have built up large corpus funds and high interest income without corresponding spends on programme expenses, staff costs, overhead expenses or earmarked funds over two or three years. A donor should explore why an NGO is building up a corpus when no charitable work is evident.


Continue reading A piggy-bank no NGO should break!

Our 2015 wishlist (it doesn’t hurt to hope!)

We’re in contact with over 500 non-profit organisations across the country and speak to individual and corporate donors to design custom services for them. Based on our interactions with them and everyone on the other side of the fence, we present our wishlist for 2015:

  • Technical solutions for NGOs: “The power of algorithm is extraordinary. It can make the society a better place”, said Narayan Murthy at a global hackathon tasked to create software solutions for NGOs. Software, programmes and apps have revolutionized the world this decade, and we see no reason why they can’t be brought to the NGO sector as well. There has been a start – NGOs like SNEHA have used software and handheld devices to collect data from surveys and monitor beneficiaries in programmes, while Operation ASHA uses a tablet-based e-Compliance system to track tuberculosis patients’ treatment.

What we’d like to see: NGOs embracing technology to reduce their own time, stress and labour costs. A number of software services ‘predicted’ or at least estimated the Ebola outbreak earlier this year. Google’s disaster relief app came in handy to many during the Kashmir floods. There are several other ways in which NGOs can use technology to save the world, and we hope that list grows longer next year.

  • Focus on underserved sectors: Philanthropic activity tends to follow the 80-20 rule: 80% of all donations go to 20% of sectors. A McKinsey study found that around 90% of donor contribution was concentrated in 10 sub-sectors out of 50[1]. Sub sectors seen as having a direct impact – like mid-day meal programmes, tend to attract the most funding. However, indirect needs like staff salaries or support for advocacy-based activities are less likely to be addressed. While it is difficult to measure impact in these intangible sectors, investing in human capital, organizational resources like a corpus fund are necessary as well.


What we’d like to see: We wish people would give to underserved sectors like the arts, governance and human rights. On a positive note, the McKinsey study indicated that donors support more complex work as their giving cycle reaches greater maturity. We hope to see the arts, animal welfare and governance benefit from this learning.


  • More support for volunteering programmes: One estimate states that Americans spend over 15 billion hours volunteering a year, at an average of 5 hours a month[2]. In India and elsewhere, NGOs find volunteers a valuable addition to their teams – V Care Foundation is entirely run by volunteers. Animal loving volunteers help In Defense of Animals rescue and rehabilitate animals. Volunteering and mentoring the underprivileged is encouraged by workplaces, with offices often giving employees flexible working hours to volunteer. Corporates in India too are increasingly spending time with NGOs. Amit Chandra of Bain Capital, for example, spends up to 35% of his time on philanthropy, while Sanjay Nayar of KKR India spends 10-15 days a year on philanthropic endeavours[3].

What we’d like to see: More interaction between the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors, and more support for volunteering programmes from corporates. The gains from such a relationship are immense, and are just waiting to be tapped.




[1] Mangaleswaran, Ramesh, Venkataraman, Ramya ‘Critical gaps across sectors with donor focus limited to a few, Designing philanthropy for Impact: Giving to the biggest gaps in India, October 2013, Pg 13


The biggest philanthropy trends of the year!


The Chinese are not known for it, Americans tend to splurge on it at year-end, and India has taken to it but is reticent about it. We’re talking about philanthropy, of course! Every nation has its own philanthropic identity. While Indians do give to charity, cultural norms have dictated that it be private and unknown to others. Norms like “the left hand should not know what the right is doing” dictated silence on sharing details with others.

The philanthropic sector in India is in the midst of a slow and inexorable churn. There’s been a shift towards discussing philanthropic activities in public, which is a trend we’re very happy about. We give you a bird’s eye view of the changes in the space, with our predictions for 2015!

  • Personality and philanthropy come together: The #ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is the best embodiment of individuals supporting charities through social media in addition to money. Crowdfunding for charities and payroll giving programmes are on the rise in India. Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge has found traction in India, and there’s a lot of soul searching on how to align personal values with charitable ones. Engaging with philanthropy has become more fun and more personalized, and could soon become a necessary expression of one’s identity.

We predict: Whether it’s the local Rice Bucket Challenge, running marathons for charity or Daan Utsav, giving back will become a bigger (and more enjoyable) part of our lives. With the CSR Bill coming into effect from this year, more companies will look for causes they can identify with and support.

  • Getting social: Media coverage through shows like Satyamev Jayate have played their part in institutionalizing discussions on showcasing social issues and encouraging people to engage with them. Social media platforms have made it easy for individuals to advocate about causes they care about and share information with their friend networks. In a nation known for sweeping issues under the carpet, these networks made it possible to openly discuss sensitive topics like child sexual abuse and suicide, publicly.

We predict: You can’t put this genie back in the bottle! Now that people are more aware of the issues around them, it should definitely increase sensitivity and motivate people to react to injustice.

  • Crossover leadership: Another trend we’re big supporters of! Several leaders from corporate India are rolling up their sleeves and putting considerable weight behind non-profit organisations. We’re not talking about CSR spends, which are mandatory, but voluntary commitments of time, money and expertise. Amit Chandra has not only committed 75% of his income to charity[1] but also mentors organisations and is a member of several NGO Boards. Rohini Nilekani has been involved with building two large nonprofits – Pratham Books and Arghyam over the last fifteen years. Azim Premji’s Foundation now impacts thousands of lives, and has settled itself for the long run.

We predict: Planned philanthropy will rise. Several of India’s richest have established their own mission-driven foundations. Others choose a sector they want to see impact in, and work towards set goals. Charity is about more than writing cheques out at times of disaster. When leaders of industry apply their considerable acumen to solving social issues, change is sure to follow.


[1] http://forbesindia.com/article/philanthropy-awards-2013/amit-chandra-brings-a-portfolio-approach-to-giving/36639/1

Continue reading The biggest philanthropy trends of the year!

Website analytics: The numbers don’t lie!

Everyone loves the sweet smell of higher recognition. Marketing and fundraising activities are recommended strategies to achieve this goal. But not every NGO has a clear idea of how much bang you can get for your buck. How much money could you earn from a well-designed website? Here’s some data that could help you calculate how much time and money to invest on the web.

US-based group M+R has released their 2014 Benchmark Report that analyses NGOs’ marketing activities. An exhaustive study of over 2 billion emails, 5.6 million donations and 7.5 million actions online[1] by U.S. based NGOs shows how much effort it takes to convert users into donors and keep them coming back. We’ve presented key factors that may be of interest to NGOs. Don’t let the data paralyse you! Use this report as a benchmark to measure expectations for your own campaigns. The NGOs they surveyed have a much larger reach than most Indian NGOs, so do keep that factor in mind as well.

  • Website traffic: Website traffic for NGOs increased overall by 16% from 2012[2], as did social media reach. Medium-sized NGOs reported the highest increase in traffic

Remember: Make sure to have a responsive website. People accessing your website are not necessarily going to be sitting at home in front of a computer. Make sure your site and newsletter are easily viewable on a smartphone or tablet.

  • Online Giving: Online giving had increased, with nearly all sectors they viewed reporting an increase in online revenue between 2012 and 2013[3]. Small NGOs saw a    drop of 3% in their online revenue, so if you’re a small NGO make sure that’s not you!

Remember: A donation page is a great way to accomplish fundraising goals for your organization. The page gives donors the satisfaction of having supported your NGO. Donation pages in the sectors they surveyed had more than 12% conversion rates. Look to have a payment gateway on your website, and direct traffic from your newsletters/emailers and social media campaigns towards it whenever relevant.

[1] Pg 2, The Big Picture, M+R Benchmarks, http://www.mrbenchmarks.com/, accessed on 19th November 2014

[2] Pg 36, http://www.mrbenchmarks.com/, accessed on 19th November 2014

[3] Website revenue per visitor, Pg 38, http://www.mrbenchmarks.com/,accessed on 19th November 2014

Has your NGO mastered Google Analytics yet?

Digital measurement tools are not exclusive to for-profit marketing managers! With online fundraising on the rise, a sharply designed website is a great tool to showcase work and encourage donations. However, NGOs often adapt web strategies in a haphazard manner, and find it difficult to measure the outcome of their online work.

While there is a whole world of paid media and services, we’ll focus on two free tools that NGOs can use to analyse their online reach and performance – Google Analytics and Page Insights on Facebook (covered in the next piece).

Google has provided a free, easy-to-use analytics service that helps measure how users are interacting with your website. Google analytics provides tools to see if more people are visiting the website, trying to donate or discovering your organisation online. While there is a paid version, NGOs can benefit with the free version which provides sufficiently deep insights. Caveat: Procuring an analytics id provides Google with access to your website performance data. If this is an issue, a private service provider could be considered.

Here are five simple steps to get a better understanding of your website performance:

  • Ensure that your site has a Google Analytics ID: The ID is a unique 8-digit number generated by Google on which data for your website is stored. Getting and placing an ID on all your web pages requires some amount of technical expertise. If you’re not comfortable trying it out yourself, ask someone with a tech background to do it for you.
  • Block your own IP addresses from Analytics: Once set up, Google Analytics will record each visitor to your website and add the numbers up for you. Make sure you block your own IP (internet protocol) address as it will count the number of times you visit your own website, skewing your numbers. If there is a shared connection in office, you could block that as well.
  • Measure, measure, measure: Now that your data is clear, you can start overviewing it. How many visitors do you have a day, where are they from and what pages are they viewing most? Do a lot of people click on the donate button but not complete a transaction? Your analytics numbers give you a tentative idea about what interests people most and is a cue for the kind of content you should promote through your newsletters and other social media channels.
  • URL Builder: The URL builder feature allows you to mark website links that you send other people. This feature allows you track how many people have clicked on links in your email signature, donation emails and more. Using the URL builder is an indirect way of measuring donor interest.
  • Align your content with your website: Once you’ve set up Analytics and learnt how to tag your links, you can mark content from your social media channels, blog or newsletter when it is redirected to your website. Google Analytics will measure this as well.

Remember: Tag all your content with utm links so that you can track what kind of content is most likely to get people back to your site.