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The Art Of Asking For Money

This article first appeared in BusinessWorld on September 25, 2018

All NGOs need to raise money. Unfortunately most follow the same cliches and “best practices” of raising money with the result that their fund raising strategies often do not work as well as they would like it to.

The most popular theme these days seems to have the following structure: “For just ₹ xxx, you can help us educate a child.” Just replace “educate a child” with your cause and change the amount you are asking for.

Many years ago tren 200, CRY and some other organisations like UNICEF used to sell greeting cards to raise money. This strategy is currently out of favour. Then about a decade ago, NGOs, started asking people to run in marathons for their cause and use that to raise money. This strategy is still in vogue.

The “best practice” these days is to show happy beneficiaries to show the end result of what your money can do. Gone are the days of heart wrenching images in ads. Although these images aren’t gone forever. We can still encounter them on social media e.g. the image of the little boy crying next to the body of his dead sewer cleaner father. We also encounter them in cases where money has to be raised for a disaster e.g. Kerala floods.

A common thread among all communication that aims to raise money is that it tries to evoke pity for other people and thus encourage you to be generous. Pity is, of course, a valid emotion and it often works. However, when you are asked to pity too many people too often, one feels a bit drained and hence less generous. It is in this context that Daan Utsav is called “The Joy of Giving festival”.

Giving is not only because you feel pity for those less privileged than you. Giving is not just meant to make you feel guilty about having a better life than others. Giving actually makes you feel good about yourself. Also giving is not necessarily only for people less well off compared to you. You get joy when you give to any other human being – their relative status is irrelevant.

I feel that fund raising campaigns have focused for too long on the other. It is time that more NGOs focused on the inner benefits and feelings of givers.

A qualitative study conducted by the research agency, The Third Eye, for Give India, found that there were at least three internal motivations for giving. The agency labeled them as Committed Givers, Cause Givers and Case Givers.

Committed givers give because it helps define who they are. Many of them are motivated by religious reasons, but all target to give a specific portion of their income. Cause givers care about specific issues. It may be the environment or health or education. For example, some people give to cancer NGOs because they lost a loved one to the disease. And finally case givers are the people who have pity for a specific person or people and give to benefit that case.

So, when NGOs only use the pity emotion, they end up not targeting the other two major segments. Of course, the above are not the only reasons for giving. There are external reasons that don’t have to do with the cause. For example people give because others in their peer group do. Behavioural scientists call this the social norm.

Art has to be unique. That’s what makes it valuable. Else it is an imitation. And imitations have limited value. It is the same with the art of asking for money. Innovation and creativity helps you reach deep into the pockets of donors.

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