A potential donor (thinking in his mind): I’m thinking of donating something towards a social cause, but who do I approach? How about an NGO? No, I think that’s not a good idea. My donation may go to the salaries of the staff or admin cost of the NGO and for me it doesn’t make any sense. I would want my contribution to reach the needy people and not into the pockets of the NGO staff or the NGO itself. I think I should first scrap my old clothes and toys of my son and give it to one of the NGOs and then think about rest of the things.
A representative of an orphanage (thinking in mind): Finally we are done with accounting of the donated material. Now that the inventory is ready, I can inform the donors that the current requirement for stationary, grocery, clothes etc. is completed and now what we require is funds to sustain our projects. We hardly have any funds to even think about expanding our reach or to sustain the current projects. Our teachers, caretakers may not stick around for long if we can’t pay them for several months. So I think, it’s time that I should focus on sending funding requirements to the potential donors.
This is a common thought process of both these stakeholders, who are absolutely correct if we try to empathize with them. However, the perception about NGOs today seems to have been diluted and soiled. Thanks to a few set to NGOs who have been caught doing illegal activities, the genuine Non-profits are being generalized for running a business or doing frauds, especially with the funds.
Contributing to the social causes through volunteering is of utmost value; however, not everyone can possibly do that. So people try and donate to other people who are working for a social cause. When it comes to donating to the non-profits, most of the contributors wish to donate stationary, clothes, food, grocery etc. A lot of non-profits like orphanages, old age homes, schools run by NGOs receive an enormous amount of grocery, toiletries, stationary, and food and thanks to the donors that the burden of buying these things reduces for the NGOs. In addition, the donors feel satisfied that they have contributed to some cause meaningfully and their money has been utilized for something tangible. But as donors we also need to think about something that’s not momentary. Donation of material is a one-time activity and it is something that is temporary though is important.
However are we thinking of sustainability of the NGO-initiatives? What about awareness and education of the beneficiaries, their healthcare, teaching them values, making them ready for being independent, working on the root causes, training them to give back to the society when they grow older? What about community development, working towards human rights, public policy? Who would take these tasks up? In as busy century as the 21st, do we, as donors or social well-wishers have the time to look into sustainability of the beneficiaries or strata of the society that is underprivileged in any way? Can we take out time and contribute physically? We may not. So why not help those who are doing just that? Who are these people? Well the answer is staff at the NGOs and one of the main professionals working at the NGOs is a ‘Social Worker’.
Social work is a professional field which is a lesser known fact to a lot of us. Our society has been seeing engineering, medicine, law, IT etc. as mainstream fields and may fail to see the other professions that are classified under humanities, may be with a thought that these professions do not need expertise and are for people who are soft and sympathetic at heart. But let’s clear some air here. Professional social workers are well trained to empathize with clients, and maximize the opportunity for a change in them or in their environment. It’s as technical as creating a software or carrying out a surgery, in fact it requires technicalities coupled with a compassionate heart so that he/she can dig into the root cause, pacify the beneficiary and create a ray of hope to improve his/her situation. Community based work or working with beneficiaries at NGO centers is a hardcore job which is not even close to easy. They need to available 24/7 for the welfare of their clients and also for the growth of the Non-profits where they are working. Working with human beings is an extremely daunting task and very few people have the guts to dive into it and swim till the end. A lot of students of social work leave their jobs, and change their professions as the job is extremely demanding and exhausting. It also needs skills and techniques along with cognizance of the needs of the clients. But do we really think about social workers as any other working person? Have we really accepted them equally? Have we really thought of how their personal life would be?
Well the truth is that social work is still not being taken as a profession and paying the social workers or staff at NGOs seems to be a fraud in the minds of a lot of us. Yes, when the era of non-profits started, the focus was to have volunteers come together to work towards a social cause, but as every concept needs to evolve with time, so should be the concept of NGOs.
NGOs need experts in humanities and also some technical professionals like CAs, admins, and fundraising managers in this era of CSRs and sustainability oriented goals of the NGOs. We can’t have the professionals as volunteers at all point of times and so the only option and a basic need is to hire employees. This is also required so that the initiatives of the NGOs are continuously supervised, planned well and are growing so as to reach out to more and more clients in need. Also this is the only way we can show the donors that the fraud must be happening in the NGO sector, but they can visit the said NGO at any point and figure that out for themselves.
CSR companies, individual donors, funding organizations do not see a point in including salaries of the staff or admin charges being included in the donation amount and stress on the fact that their money has to reach the actually needy people. But unless we do not pay our staff, how are the Non-profits supposed to take their services to the beneficiaries? How are salaries or admin charges not important? And if they are important, where do the NGOs pay it from?
As donors, we expect the NGOs to work even on weekends so that we according to our convenience would visit the NGOs, scrutinize their work and then at the end decide to donate food or stationary to them without even taking into account the requirements of the NGO. Moreover, when we hear the word ‘Funds’ we lose the comfort in our thoughts. There are NGOs who are loaded with notebooks, pens and pencils because that’s the only donation they get. But would the beneficiaries know how to use the books and pens without the staff teaching them that? Are we contributing to the bubble of a belief that all NGOs need is stationary and food?
I guess it is time that we have compassion for the NGO sector, accept NGOs as any other company that needs to take spaces on rent, employ experts, pay them salaries (that are not even 20 % what other professionals earn)or consistently volunteer to offer your expertise, so that the non-profit can sustain their impact and earn profit that is not monetary but is reflected in the impact and satisfaction of their clients. If not, all the best for being in the bubble!
– Shraddha Deo