Fundraising on the streets of India is a great learning experience. We are a diverse country and as a fundraiser, you engage with people across all states and ethnicities, especially if you are based in any major metro city.
You approach hundreds of people every day and you should be able to have at least have 10 in-depth conversations about your charity organization with passers-by.
Imagine the numbers- If you work 20 days in a month (excluding weekends and other holidays), that’s 240 days on the street. As a Fundraiser who started in Mumbai myself, I would have approached close to 24,000 complete strangers and would have spoken to at least 2,400 people every year.
I always enjoyed the process of stopping random strangers, talking about issues, especially the ones that are not very popular in India, and asking people to donate their hard earned money to the cause. Surprisingly a lot of people do.
Over the years I’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly. I’ve seen it all and below I classify a few of these conversations by type of prospect. I am sure that many of you will be able to relate your own fundraising conversations with some of these classifications:
The Ignorant Prospect:
S/he is our common woman/man who is busy trying to make ends meet. They take the early morning ‘local’/train/metro/subway to work and are blissfully unaware of what’s happening in the world. They have not heard or thought about issues such as climate change, displacement of tribals or issues of gender-related violence. They are willing to give you time though and listen to what your charity is doing to fight these problems. They are supportive and your initiatives and you can see that they feel otherwise helpless in making a difference. More often than not, with the little money they make, they do want to give a small amount so that they feel they have played their part.
When you hear about the spirit of Mumbai it is these people that we are talking about. They inspire you.
The Cynical Prospect:
These are people who have seen everything in life. Some would have even engaged in local issues in their neighborhood with not too much success and are tired of the system and the way it works. They will tell you about how useless it is to work on anything and no matter what you do nothing will change. Everyone is corrupt and none of us can do anything to bring about any positive change. You can feel a bit let down after engaging with them but don’t lose hope and keep going.
The Angry Prospect:
They are very angry about everything. They will call you names such as ‘anti-national’ without giving you any facts. They will argue that global warming is not real. They want people to be hanged and believe that the death penalty is the only solution and torture is ok, undertrials should be kept in jail and civil society organizations and NGOs have no place in society. While our justice system preaches ‘ innocent until proven guilty’, they believe in the opposite. They feel that all the NGOs are corrupt and should be banned.
They can drain a lot of your energy and there is no point in engaging with them as they won’t listen to you, a bit like trying to debate our Arnab Goswami.
Deep breathing will help you in overcoming this experience.
The Moral Support Prospect:
They have great things to say about your organisation and the work it does. They will congratulate you for working in the development sector and will shower high praise. However, they will only extend their moral support and will not donate to you. Moral support is welcomed and required in the times we live in, but someone please tell them that organisations can’t function on moral support alone. We need the money.
The Intellectual Prospect:
I have enjoyed my conversations with intellectuals and academics I have met. They know more about your organisation than you do! Conversations with these prospects can be long and eat up your productive hours, but it’s okay as there is something to learn when you engage with them. Where do you find them? Book festivals, literature festivals, Kala Ghoda art festival, international movies festivals etc.
The Career Counsellor Prospect:
They feel bad for us fundraisers. They believe that NGOs have brainwashed us and we are wasting our future by working with them. They want us to lead a “normal life” where we don’t stand on the street and ask for money, but do a “respectable job” from 9 to 5 and live a life of dignity.
The Kind Prospect:
They are rare to find in today’s world where no one has any time to spare. They are kind and will offer you water, juice and sometimes drinks if you are meeting them after working hours. They feel inspired by meeting fundraisers and have hope that change is possible. They will open their wallets for your charity and will donate money, but will also go out of their way to help the organization in other ways as well.
Please note that these experiences are personal and in no way is intended to offend or stereotype.
There are many more kinds of prospects on the streets of India that I could have added to the list, but I will leave it for a day when I decide to publish a book!
Remember — Every conversation that you have is a learning experience and I have mentioned this in my earlier videos that Fundraising is not just a job but an institution. Every conversation will make you more informed and knowledgeable.