As a social worker in my first job, I would often see donors visiting us to donate toys for our kids at school. Usually, these were McDonald’s happy meal toys. At times, even used and broken. Donors would bring in these toys expecting our kids to be overwhelmed with joy. Our kids would often find these toys of no use to them.
Let me tell you that this is not something specific to ‘a school in India’. I realised soon that non-profits across sectors faced the same issue in different forms. I have strongly believed ever since that ‘giving’ should not be a mindless act or about giving away something that one does not need.
Giving is as much about the recipient as it is about the giver. While the act of giving always creates a fulfilling experience to the giver, little thought goes into who it is impacting and how.
The next aspect of giving that I am often troubled by is the expectation of impact from the donors.
We need to face the fact that Rs 100 or Rs 500 or Rs 5000 in an individual’s life will bring about a small change but substantial investments of time and money is required from several stakeholders.
Their contribution can bring about some amount of change but it is not enough to improve their life forever. We need to get very real about the kind of problem we are trying to address, the kind of contribution we make and what kind of impact it can bring about.
I am happy that in our social investor community, we have been able to bridge that gap to a very large extent.
Many of our initiatives aim at bridging the empathy gap and bringing our social investors closer to the problem. We host dinners for our leading social investors, we host Rang De Box Office events to see documentaries/films pertinent to poverty alleviation and we have organised Rangdezvous events where we have invited leaders of rural development organisations to talk about the work that they have done and the challenges they have faced.
A little bit of empathy in non-profits and donors will go a long way in solving problems holistically.
Take the example of this amazing donor group that we are associated with — Caring Friends. They are a fantastic example of the wonders that empathy can help create. Unlike other donor groups, Caring Friends cares to understand what the organisation or the community needs and provides them with exactly what they need.
Unless this changes, a lot of non-profits will struggle for resources. A lot of communities will end up getting some things that they don’t really need. And there will also be a section of people who keep thinking so much resources are being pumped into the non-profit sector but nothing is really happening. The kind of impact they envisage does not happen because we are giving people something they don’t need.
So what can we do to bridge this empathy gap?
1) Non-profits need to be brave enough to share their failures & challenges just like they share success stories with their donors
2) There need to be more initiatives to bring donors and volunteers closer to the problem they are facing through trips, get-togethers and other means
3) We need to create channels for healthy dialogue with stakeholders to bring about a better understanding of the problem
At Rang De, we are always ready to reach out to various segments of the population — corporates, non-profits, rural organisations, media personnel etc.
It is only through collaboration and cooperation that we can solve a problem as vast and complicated as poverty in India.
Smita can be reached at email@example.com for any media or related enquiries.