Sreelatha Menon: Faithfully yours

Last Updated: Sat, Jan 12, 2013 18:41 hrs

When Indians go through a crisis, even as minor as missing a train or reaching the office late, what is he or she most likely to do? Often, many would plead with god and promise to light a candle at their favourite chapel, or offer a lamp to their favourite deity at the temple, or promise a chadar at a dargah, or donate a specific amount at any of these places. If it is a more serious matter, then there are different options — weighing oneself against milk or sugar or bananas or sesame or even coins and donating it to the temple, or funding a day’s pujas, or feeding the poor at a temple or a gurudwara. A visit to any temple, especially in south India, can give one an idea on the vast variety of options available as religious offerings. For many, these acts are guarantees against trouble.

While some will make a promise to give alms to a poor on the streets, how many will think of making a donation to a non-governmental organisation (NGO)? A recent survey on the nature of charity in India has found that 71 per cent of the 9,000 people surveyed donated for religious causes, while only 12 per cent for reasons not linked to religion.

The India Giving report – which claims to be the largest survey ever undertaken on giving in a single country – found that philanthropy in India has the potential to soar in the next decade, with more than half a billion people giving for religious and charitable reasons each year.

The study, carried out by the Charities Aid Foundation, with market research agency IMRB, found that India has the potential to become a “global philanthropic powerhouse”, despite the finding that only 27 per cent of the people gave to an official charitable organisation in the year before being interviewed.

The most popular causes people want to support include disability (18 per cent), homelessness (12 per cent), the elderly (10 per cent) and education (eight per cent). Religious causes were chosen by 21 per cent of the people.

The report found that many people want to be sure that donations to non-governmental bodies make a direct difference to people’s lives. It also showed that they want NGOs to be more transparent about their work.

Nearly three quarters of people (73 per cent) want charities to improve their communications, while more than half of donors (52 per cent) believe that a “lack of transparency hinders donations to NGOs”. The survey found that 70 per cent of donors prefer to donate directly to beneficiaries. The biggest barrier to giving, cited by 32 per cent of people, is not being able to afford to give. According to Meenakshi Batra, CEO of CAF India, “Philanthropy in India is destined to soar over the next decade, as the economy grows and people’s prosperity with it. That will build on the instinct to give which is part of the ebb and flow of people’s daily lives and is as ancient as the country itself.”

“As India grows its economy and wealth, we need to build the role of charities and not-for-profit organisations and change attitudes, so people can give more to charities in ways that will transform the lives of millions of people,” says CAF that promotes charitable giving around the world.

The board of CAF India is chaired by industrialist Arun Bharat Ram, and the company’s vice-chairman is Isher Ahluwalia. The charity organisation has been trying to raise funds mainly from corporate social responsibility funds of companies for non-profits.

CSR funds to NGOs have also not been huge. It has ranged from Rs 200 crore a decade ago to about Rs 6,000 crore in recent years, according to another CAF report. It is a pittance, as Helpage India CEO Mathew Cherian says.

If industrial givings were to reflect the pattern followed by individual givings, then many temples, mosques, churches and gurudwaras must be getting several times the money the companies spend on corporate social responsibilty. Of course, there is no way to capture that. The only proof is the wealth of our temples and shrines such as Tirupati and Sabarimala. Maybe, NGOs must turn to god too, or at least the wealthy shrines to tide over their trouble.

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