THE festive season is here once again! As families come together to celebrate a variety of festivals from Navaratri, and Durga Puja to Dussehra and Diwali, consumer spending traditionally skyrockets. To harness the excesses of consumerism for good, #DaanUtsav, literally the donation festival, kicks off in tandem with this celebratory period, encouraging people to give their time, money, skills, or materials to those in need.

While the notion of individual philanthropy is gaining traction in India with the rise of the middle class and mandated CSR giving, there is still a persistent belief by many, internal and external to the nonprofit community, that fundraising is like “begging people for money”.

I think this is due to a variety of reasons, but mainly it stems from two.

One, the mentality of potential donors that these services they are being asked to support are ones that the government should be providing their citizens. And two, the fear of those working in nonprofits that they will be perceived as someone who always has their hands out.

As someone who grew up in the US, there isn’t a stigma around asking people for money.

Essentially, the first reason doesn’t apply. Our economy is built on capitalism and the “American dream”. Which, of course, isn’t always a fair system and dreams don’t always come true.

So, we are inculcated to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves, because, there aren’t the social safety nets and mechanisms in place in the US that so many other countries take for granted. Thus, we don’t expect that the American government will step in to support people struggling to make ends meet.

Giving back starts early for many Americans. I was introduced to the concept through my church who taught that everyone should pay a tithe, or 10% of their income (many churches use those funds to support missions locally or internationally).

As kids, we also held bake sales and sold gift wrap for our schools’ Parent Teacher Associations to pay for educational items that weren’t provided by state funding. Those of us who participated in Scouts, also sold cookies or popcorn to fund troop activities and support worthy causes in our local communities.

As someone who spent many years stewarding or soliciting gifts, I also think reason number two is a misconception. Donors just don’t equate charities to beggars.

I personally look at fundraising as an opportunity to connect individuals with their passions. I genuinely believe people sincerely care about what happens to those around them, be it in their local community, a vulnerable population, or a cause halfway around the world.

However, the truth is, people are busy, and it’s hard to find ways to help.

Providing someone an easy way to support an effort they care about, not only helps the beneficiaries, it also helps the donor feel as though they are making a difference in the world.

As a working professional, I spoke to friends and family about the mission of NGOs that I worked with or volunteered for and explained why I was compelled to support them. I hosted many an event and fundraiser for these organisations, from selling fair trade jewellery and household items made by African artisans to collecting items to help refugee families start over in their new communities.

While these techniques may not seem so nuanced and come off as more of a direct sales approach to fundraising, many young Indians are also embracing this method of giving.

One 30-year-old requested friends to spend the money that they would normally spend on birthday gifts for her big day on a project she was passionate about, providing trafficked girls with employable skills. With a target to help 30 girls on her 30th birthday, Trina Datta’s friends gave 110% towards her goal.

Another woman, distraught by the images she saw of Kerala after the flood, decided to host an online “rummage sale”, #ShopForKerala, of accessories and clothing amassed from her years in the fashion industry. Her passionate plea inspired others to donate products to the cause, which led to ₹2,00,000 in sales in just three days.

All proceeds from Karuna Ezara Parikhs and Sienna Cafe and Store’s sale supported campaigns providing medicine and women’s hygiene products to those affected by the flood, helped animals in Kerala, and supplied disaster relief kits to flooded communities.

Just because you don’t have money to burn, doesn’t mean that you can’t support causes that pull at your heartstrings. Talk to your friends and family about what inspires you. Ask them to donate to an NGO of your choice for your wedding, birthday, or special occasion.  Donate to a campaign during #DaanUtsav to maximise your gift’s impact.

Shop responsibly by buying fair trade, handmade home décor, organic supplies, and gifts for all occasions from self-help groups, artisans, NGOs, and social enterprises from Shop for a Cause. Make FREE donations while doing your regular online shopping when you download the Sumara extension.

Featured photo: Courtesy Clare Arni

Micah Branaman-Sharma is a freelance consultant for US-based nonprofits and international development agencies with more than 15 years’ experience working with organisations of every size, from grassroots to multi-national. She is passionate about empowering people to help themselves, working to ensure human rights for all, and raising awareness of the plight of those outside the bubbles of our immediate communities.

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