When we discuss giving and charity, many tell me that they worry about how their money will be used. The primary concern is that money may not be spent on the cause but on the organisation and its activities. Valid but hugely overstated concern.
Administrative and other costs are invariably incurred when a charitable organisation is set up. Many worthy ones keep these costs to the minimum, and also disclose their incomes and expenses to enable donors to review their work before funding them. Income tax concessions are granted only when the organisation spends a sizeable portion of its funds on charitable activity for which it was set up.
Donors ask to see and know what is done with their money. Instead of being a pool into which money is dropped, there is the craving to know the specifics. Many organisations try to enable this through sponsorship of specific people, activities or projects.
If one does not care much about the tax concessions and the accounting, but likes to share with the less privileged the benefits of the wealth they have accumulated, there are simpler ways to reach out. One needs a huge dose of faith and empathy, and the ability to trust the other. Here is a list to consider:
There are many people around us, working hard to get their children a better life than their own. They are proud and self respecting and do not seek favours. But their lives are impacted by their inability to deal with at least three things: higher education of the children— the choices and decision making and the costs; hospitalisation when ill or hurt—disease and accidents set them back severely; the desire to own a home and have a small roof to call theirs—most cities don’t have spaces the poor can afford.
By stepping in to help, you can make a difference. However, you must not be the lazy donor who simply signs a cheque. You should be willing to spend some time and energy and become involved. Making it known to the network of maids, drivers, guards and other service providers in your vicinity that you will fund the higher education of their children is the first step.
It will amaze you to find how many will need help with the application process. You will also meet young shy children with big dreams but a heavy hesitation about making it happen. Place yourself as the mentor in their lives. Bring together a few like-minded people. Pool resources. Involve the privileged children in completing the paperwork.
Soon enough, you will find that a network has been created where one is monitoring the other and you get to know about grades, dropouts and success and failures. But the responsibility the children will take to pull themselves out of their situation and move ahead will keep you inspired.
You can extend your help by pooling supplies like used laptops, phones, tablets and even simpler things like bicycles, books, clothes and shoes. Make these the gifts that children persisting with their academic goals can look forward to. You will find this engagement immensely rewarding.
When someone meets with an accident or falls ill, families like ours have insurance to fall back on. We also have wealth to back us up and perhaps hold a job that pays us even through our break to return to good health.
A poor family is severely impacted when the earning members fall ill. The income is immediately affected and there is nothing to draw from while incurring the treatment expenses. They invariably borrow at usurious rates from friendly networks. Then they spend a lifetime struggling to repay the loan. Many families do not recover from the setback created by the illness.
You can make a difference by chipping in to meet the hospitalisation expenses. You can pool with friends if you wish. Most of them will seek treatment at government hospitals. However, the medicines, transport, and such incidentals as well as the nominal fees can be easily met by your donations. You can also support the income of the family until they recover.
Donations and involvement of this kind is direct and most impactful. It can be done at a low scale. But its joy is that it is local. The people around you know you are willing to step in and that gives them great courage and confidence. You are able to hear, understand and empathise. You can extend your work based on what you see as important needs.
Many of the working class does not have access to the formal financial system. They hardly have money to save. They borrow informally a high costs. They now have a bank account. You can help them access the various schemes of the government for insurance and retirement. You can help them build a credit history so they can take loans. As confidence builds up, you can help them with investments and smaller loans that improve their standard of living.
There are innumerable ways in which to make sure the money that is a surplus with you, reaches those that need it more than you. You can tip the taxi drivers, repair crew, delivery men, restaurant servers and service providers. We are needlessly smug about these people around us, as if they are overpaid and that they will be spoilt by our gestures. Kindness won’t hurt. Offer a drink to the delivery boy, and a tip that tells him that you understand these are tough times.
When you step up and use the services of people around you, you let them know you will support their economic activity. When you stand up to get involved and fill in with donations and money for uses that matter the most to them, you will make a difference. Don’t allow yourself to think that you will be fooled, taken advantage off, or ripped. You have the money and you thus have the power. Make it work.
There is one level of donating which is the easy and lazy act of signing off a cheque. The idea that one can best contribute money, rather than time and effort is the simplest way to donate. Those that can make the effort to engage, can do it directly. The interactions, experiences and the understanding and empathy you gain are priceless. Try it.
(The writer is Chairperson, Centre for Investment Education and Learning)