Photo Credit and Copyright by: Moyan Brenn on Flickr

The Crowd Fundraising efforts by Make A Difference (MAD) started in November this year, for raising funds for our kids at shelter homes, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life, teaching me some valuable things. But before I share those, let’s quickly see what crowd fundraising at MAD is and what I felt earlier before starting it.

Crowd fundraising is nothing but an effort by everyone at Make A Difference, from volunteers to employees, to raise funds from people in their network. What we do for this is get in touch with people who know us, explain them about MAD and the work we do, and ask if they would like to donate for the cause. When I started my own efforts, I wasn’t too sure how it’s going to turn out. Some of the thoughts running in my mind were – Who all can I get in touch with? Will people believe in the cause? It might be a little weird speaking to people whom I haven’t been in touch lately, right? What if someone is uncomfortable donating money, or doesn’t believe in the cause? Will it be awkward for both us? How do I strike a fine balance between being my true self while pitching to people and using a few tips and tricks to maximise the chances of people donating? Well, these are some thoughts which probably run through every volunteer’s mind before they start off with their efforts, and the same happened to me. But not only did I get answers to all of them soon after I started, I also figured out so much more about life, people and myself, something I never thought I would have. In just about 2 weeks post the kick-off War Room event, I had contacted more than 50 people in my network and raised ₹1.76 lakh. The amount is definitely decent, but the learnings that came with it are more valuable to me. And so, without further ado, here are my 10 key learnings from this endeavor.

1. You realize your true self-worth not by what you can get from the society, but what you can give to the society

We had a city-level event called the War Room in November, which acted as a kick-off to the fundraising season, where all the volunteers in the city got in a hall together, made calls to people in their network for 30 minutes, and raised pledges for donations. It was literally a mad wall-street-like scene seeing around a 100 people in a single hall calling at the same time, wandering from corner to corner, trying to find a peaceful spot to make their pitch. But the madness helped. In just 30 mins, we got more than ₹7 lakh in pledges collectively, and I think I got around ₹50,000 in pledges myself. The moment we stopped, I got this feeling of ecstasy and anxiety and accomplishment, something I hadn’t had ever before and one which I cannot truly explain. But one thing I do know is that I realized my self-worth after that feeling, knowing I had it in me to make a change for the betterment of the society around me.

MAD volunteers during the War Room, where we raised more than₹7 lakh in 30 minutes

2. Many people donate because they believe in you, and hence they believe in the organization

When people agree to donate after having a 3-minute conversation with you, more often than not, they agree to donate because they believe in you and hence know their money is in good hands. I’m not saying that they don’t believe in the organization, but just saying that it’s impossible to understand everything about an organization in 3 minutes. A few times, when I was about to explain about MAD in detail, a few people actually told me – “It’s okay man! I know you’re working there, so no need to explain about the organization!”. And it’s an amazing feeling to see your friends and family believe in you like that, which gives you another reason to keep going.

3. Many people also donate because they ‘truly’ believe in the organization and the cause

Here’s the other side of the coin. A lot of people are happy to spend more time knowing about the organization, its working model, and the impact it makes, before donating. And then they tell you about their own personal experiences and why they truly believe in the cause. It’s a great reminder that there are still a lot of people who care about such things.

4. Outside of the comfort zone is where the magic happens

I mentioned before about some of the questions that run through your mind before you make your first call, because after all, it’s asking for money, and it’s natural to feel a little uncomfortable. I think this initial feeling of slight discomfort is something that is not just unavoidable, but also essential, in your own learning and development. I slightly hesitated during the first few calls, but it only got better with each passing one, helping me grow in confidence seeing everyone’s response to it. Having stepped outside the comfort zone now, I feel elevated and inspired. And I’m sure this feeling has broken the barriers to so many future endeavours of mine.

5. Being grateful becomes a 2-way street

While I felt grateful to all the donors after they donated, I realized that many of the donors too were grateful to me for letting them be in touch with the social side of themselves. This is something which I never would have imagined until I actually saw people genuinely thanking me for giving them an opportunity to help the cause. And so, I started contacting as many people as possible, because I realized that many of them out there would love to help, but just need an opportunity to do so.

6. It’s inspiring to see the potential of collective effort to make change happen

Here are 6 slides that our CEO, Rizwan Tayabali, showed us during the War Room event before we started making the calls.

One of the core objectives of the fundraising season for MAD was “collective participation” from every volunteer, for together we are stronger. When we all raised money from our networks during the War Room, it made me realize the potential of how much we all can do as a collective. Many times before, when I used to think of world-wide problems like poverty, lack of education, health, or anything for that matter, they seemed unsolvable because of their sheer magnitude. But this experience showed me the power of acting together as a collective and gave me a reason to believe that revolutions are possible.

7. Pitching doesn’t seem like pitching; it becomes a normal conversation with a friend

Like I said before, the first few calls may be a little uncomfortable, but soon, you realize that you don’t need a pitch script anymore. Asking for money becomes a very informal activity, where you just ask people if they would like to donate, and then you explain to them a little more about where the money will be used, and that’s pretty much it. So simple!

8. Crowd fundraising season is as much about creating awareness as it is about raising money

Even if a potential donor is not able to contribute to the cause – whether he/she is financially uncomfortable at the moment, or simply doesn’t believe in the cause – it’s absolutely fine and a win for you. Here’s why. The awareness that you spread during your interaction is equally important to the organization (and the social sector as a whole) in so many different ways. Here are some examples from my own experience. Out of so many people who could not donate, many people have become interested to join MAD as volunteers from the next session while a few others said they would definitely like to work for the social sector soon in their life. Imagine even if some of them do contribute their part in the future, your interaction with them would have probably played a significant role in their decision-making, and that’s wonderful.

9. It became a season of catching up with folks!

Instead of seeing this just as an activity of asking money from people, which could get uncomfortable, I saw it as an activity of catching up with friends. When I started treating this activity in this light, I found myself contacting more people, and whatever the outcome was – whether the person agreed to donate or not – I did not even remember about it at the end of the conversation because we both were so busy catching up about old memories and the new things happening in life.

10. It’s the smile that mattered the most!

When I think back of how I raised the money, it makes me feel proud of my efforts and the hustle that came with it – running from offices to homes to cafes, meeting people late on Saturdays and Sundays, going to print out shops to get more donation forms and so on. But what I’m most proud of is that behind each and every rupee raised is a smile of a donor who feels happy about the donation. Ensuring this is most important to me. At the end of the day, one should just spread happiness and joy, and this fundraising activity gave me an opportunity to do just that.

And here’s a special ritual I did – I made sure I took a selfie with all my donors whom I met personally. And the ones whom I couldn’t meet clicked photos on their own and sent it over.  This small activity made me really happy as it brought a smile on my face (and my donors’ too). Well, why don’t you meet my wonderful, smiling donors.

All looking cute, right? I think so. Thanks a lot guys for the lovely pictures!

So these were my learnings from this experience. Overall, this initiative did not just give me an opportunity to make a difference to the society around me, it helped me connect with other people, and myself, on a much deeper level. It also gave me a reason to be optimistic in today’s world, and made me realize the power of the collective. I believe that great things happen when you want them to. So starting today, start believing and start doing. Play your part in making the society a better place to be in, in whatever capacity you can. Because it’s people like you who can make a difference.