ROADMAP SERIES: BUILDING HEALTHY TEAMS: MENTAL HEALTH AS ORGANISATIONAL PRACTICE BY TANYA GINWALA

Tanya Ginwala is a clinical psychologist by training and has experience ranging from rehabilitation for substance abuse to corporate facilitation programs on experiential learning. In her last post, she managed the daily operations of a non-profit that used adventure sports to promote inclusion for Persons with Disability. Today, she is the Indian representative at the International Adventure Therapy Committee and has founded Qualia Mental Health, where she channels her passion for the intersection between adventure, nature and mental health.


Tanya started by explaining the goals of the session, with the hope that by the end of the session, attendees would have an understanding of how mental health impacts organisations, teams and individuals. How could we support and sustain the emotional well-being of those around us?

Tanya opened the session with a series of polls aimed at better understanding the audience. The first poll displayed a set of images on screen; with attendees being asked to choose the one which best described their feelings at the moment. The second poll mapped the professional roles of the attendees and the third asked them what brought them to the session. She followed up the polls with an activity, asking participants to take a piece of paper and do as they pleased with it barring tearing and writing on it. Asking them to return it to its original form, she asked them what differences they could observe on the paper. Responses included references to neatness and cleanliness. She pointed out that the world is unlikely to be the same after the lockdown, with COVID-19 bringing different challenges and creating a new normal. As leaders, the task then becomes to chart the course through these cloudy times while supporting and still sustaining the well-being of the emotional health of the people around us.

Tanya divided her presentation into “What”, “So What” and “Now What” for ease of understanding.

WHAT

Given the audience’s basic understanding of mental health, Tanya focused on what can be done in the current scenario. According to the Indian Psychiatry Report, there has been a 20% increase in mental health issues since the outbreak of COVID-19. Today, 1 in 5 people are suffering from mental health issues. The Keiser Family Foundation working with Mental Health and Mental Health Policy in the US found that nearly half of Americans report that the virus is harming their mental health.

There is also an increase in anxiety, depression and stress disorders, and suicide rates. Given the insufficient availability as of now on COVID-19 specific data, researchers are also using data and models from environmental conditions like natural disasters, and terrorist attacks to study the effects on mental health issues now. The shadow of the economic recession and the unpreparedness of healthcare systems also have translated to collective trauma that will impact mental health beyond the duration of the pandemic itself.

In the social sector, people are worried about going to the field and volunteering, especially in high contact environments. Many organisations are also dealing with funding uncertainties and economic consequences of this. This in turn leads to downsizing and cutting salaries of the team which makes it a high-pressure environment to work in. In some cases, the overall morale is low or people are juggling multiple roles simultaneously.

SO WHAT

This section spoke about what these problems mean to us and what we can do in the face of them. As a leader, it is really important to wake up to the emotional and relational needs of your team, even changing organisational culture to address them. The cultural shift can be done through introducing interventions like workshops. An individual’s fluidity, flexibility and a willingness to adapt can have a larger impact on the organisation as a whole. Given that everyone is in survival mode, this phase is the “survival of the nurtured.”

Social media is filled with conversations on productivity and coping mechanisms. Some people need to do different things and be engaged all the time while others need to rest. Tanya reminded everyone that the pandemic situation is new to everyone and thus, productivity is likely to take a hit. Tanya stressed the importance of taking care of our mental health, arguing that productivity would soon follow. With everything going on, we need to focus and be connected to a purpose, to each other and to what gives us meaning.

Tanya then talked about the work of Dr. Brene Brown, a social science researcher who studies shame and vulnerability. She touched upon Dr. Brown’s definition of a Daring Leader, spending some time describing what courageous leadership is not:

  • Not knowing how to have hard conversations
  • Not attending to fears and feelings
  • Steps and setbacks
  • Problem-solving and action bias
  • Inclusivity, diversity and equity
  • Corroding trust and disengagement

The final takeaway was that “courage is teachable, observable, and measurable, and starts by letting go of your armour.” This armour is made of perfectionism, scarcity, always knowing, and cynicism,weaponising fear and hustling for validity. Instead, courage is characterised by rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust, and learning to rise.

Tanya asked the attendees to answer some questions on their piece of paper as a way of
reimagining the current scenario. The questions were:

  • What are your hopes for yourself, for your organisation, for the people you are meant to serve and support, and for your organisational culture?
  • What are some things you have learnt about yourself during this time? (Resiliency)
  •  When were you/your team at your best during the past few weeks? (Possibility, new learnings)

She touched upon this exercise as a tool for enabling circle time in organisations and amongst teams.

NOW WHAT

This section dealt with hands-on takeaways to address issues of mental health. First and foremost, Tanya stressed the importance of reducing stigma and prioritizing self care by conducting workshops, inviting professional trainers into the workplace and speaking about mental health. Leaders also need to create spaces where people can talk openly about their struggles. Employees should also have access to resources such as 24-hour helplines as well as accessible counsellors in order to seek the help they need.

Looking at more preventive measures, Tanya spoke of coaching as the best means at an individual level. Peer group training and creating buddy systems can also inspire more bonding, collective learning, and collaboration over competition.
Tanya also called for leaders to not shy away from being an example. She asked them to seek the help they need, go to therapy or consult a psychiatrist if necessary, and be vocal about receiving the support. This becomes an effective way of reducing stigma.

She reiterated the difficulties and struggles of this time, stressing on the need to share vulnerability and create an environment that is more empathetic. By means of conclusion, she urged team leaders to start meetings with ‘circle time’ to check in with people and how they feel.

RESOURCES

 

QUESTION & ANSWER SESSION

1. Sometimes team members disclose they have mental health issues. What are the ways in which we can respond without getting swamped with something we cannot handle?

I understand that there is a fear of handling people with mental health struggles in our organisation and there is some uncertainty with regard to steps that need to be taken in response. This is why it is important to redirect them to somewhere they can seek help. It is not necessary to take on each other’s mental health challenges but to create a de-stigmatized environment that helps them open up. Just because they are going through mental health challenges, it does not mean you need to take care of them personally. We just need to direct them to people who are trained to support them better.

2. With limited resources (the situation of current environment), how can we deal with
insecurities about jobs among employees?

It is really scary and that insecurity is also real. The fear of losing our jobs is real and there is no simple or easy answer. Maybe all we can do is hope that we use this time to skill ourselves in other ways which are relevant in the current scenario. Like I talked about adapting to new scenarios, we also need to adapt to this new normal that exists.

3. We have done a lot during the pandemic and now we are exhausted and feeling hopeless looking at the number of challenges that are coming forward. How do we keep our hopes up and energy going among the team?

If we get into the habit of asking each other questions [like we did in the session] that open up alternative narratives and other stories, we may be able to keep our hopes and energy up. If we only focus on the problem, it becomes very overwhelming, and that’s when we feel completely drained and all of these hopeless thoughts come. It is important to create those spaces to touch base, connect, have these conversations and remember what brought you to this work in the first place. Remember the times when you felt hopeful.

4. What is the difference between coaching and therapy?

Coaching is more in the field of wellness. It is more preventive. The training is also entirely different. Therapy deals with mental health issues, mental illness, diagnostics, etc.

ROADMAP SERIES: WORKING IN EDUCATION: IN AND AFTER LOCKDOWN SRIRAM NAGANATHAN

Sriram Naganathan has been associated with educational entities such as UpSchoolProject (USP), Ignus and ThinQ. He currently works with a team of professionals in improving the quality of education for marginalized children across selected schools in India. Trained in Business Journalism at the Times Research Foundation in Delhi, Sriram was a Reuter Fellow at the University of Oxford, UK. He also works with Venture Intelligence, which tracks deals in the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India.


Sriram started the session by explaining how technology is playing out for the marginalized community, particularly the children. In his experience, he has seen that illiterate parents, income-earning women and students enjoy the benefits of technology. For example, smartphones are extremely useful for the illiterate population because of ease of use. They can associate a picture with a number, without having to read the name. In case of women, there are examples of groups of women using technology to earn income and become more financially independent. For example, they can market and sell products through smartphones. This enables them to earn independently. With regard to high school students, during this lockdown, teachers send them lessons and question papers and ask them to correct the answers themselves. Teachers are thus implicitly trusting them, as they have control over the correction. This also has an effect of increasing student confidence.

Sriram and his team are also working on a new free-access platform named ‘Chachi.app,’also known as quarantine school. Anyone who has a smartphone can access this platform. This generates a number of activities beyond academic curriculum across subjects including home science, geography, critical thinking, mathematics and creative storytelling. These activities also cater to an audience across all age groups and are available in several Indian languages.

Even though the lowest common denominator for technology seems to be the smartphone in Tamil Nadu, in states like Bihar where some do not even have a phone, this is not the case. The question of which medium to use to reach the public thus becomes important in such circumstances. Examples include people taking lessons through radio, working on the knowledge that every village will have access to at least one radio thus making it the medium of choice for remote villages. Another option is the community radio, an option for any NGO which is at least three years old and will broadcast content for at least two hours a day.However, this is limited by a geographical radius of 15 kilometres. Additionally, the community radio has a cost attached to procuring the license. People in places like Madurai and Nagapattinam have successfully used the medium of a community radio in the space of education. Another example of successfully using these channels is Kodaikkanal FM. As Kodaikkanal is at a higher altitude, the radio channel is able to service the whole valley.

One of the main challenges of this lockdown is the accessibility of technology for rural students. Most schools servicing these students are not equipped with the technology to reach students during the lockdown. Further, a majority of the children do not have the access to technology or the internet. Most get pulled into working with their parents, especially on the farms. Technology-based interventions are thus dependent on shared resources, with a common radio or one smartphone being used by multiple children.

There are many NGOs that are running one-to-many interventions, where one person from an urban environment uses smartphones to interact with 10-15 students in another geography. However, we are yet to find a mechanism to reach the lowest strata of society where there is no sort of technology available.

Question & Answer session

  1. What are the differences in technological innovations and interventions in urban versus rural environments?

Speaking broadly, in urban contexts, what is taken for granted is that there is an increase in bandwidth and accessibility of the internet. In the rural context, what we trying to do is to figure out what technology we can access in the lowest bandwidth available. The connectivity in rural areas is not always where we would like it to be. A lot of people also approach technology-based learning as the end product. The end product is instead the learning outcome. The key question should be can technology make a student a self-learner?

  1. If we are to take into account using technology as a means and not the end, how would this reflect in curriculum creation?

We all believe that curriculum is something that is made and given to children. Instead, it depends on what children take from whatever you offer. The subjects that children are interested in become a curriculum, not what is created by experts in a big framework that may be or may not be liked by children. For example, there are a number of topics that are related to the lockdown situation that can be discussed in groups.

  1. Are there any specific experiments on successful models of teaching children via Whatsapp?

Sriram was not sure if there were any successful models of teaching.  He is, however, dealing with government-aided schools where they have the advantage of better paid teachers who often have access to smartphones. Sriram and his team are thus encouraging teachers to form Whatsapp groups where they share and discuss activities with other teachers. They are then encouraged to figure out how to engage the children in these activities. Often, teachers in government-aided schools have very good relationships with children as well as parents.

  1. How are teachers affected in this scenario? What should they do during the lockdown and after the lockdown is lifted?

This is the opportunity for teachers to think about activities that are beyond the curriculum. It is important for teachers to figure out how they can interestingly communicate an academic concept. It is fair to assume that no child is missing textbooks in this lockdown. It is important for teachers to make lessons in textbooks more interesting by using technology. There are enough resources available for free. For example, there are video channels of educational organisations like Tamil Nadu SCERT channel etc.

  1. What may learning look like when work spaces open up and parents have to resume working while children are at home possibly without access to technology (their parent’s phone)?

This is a very tough situation and a structural issue. In the lower strata of society, they leave their children with their grandparents, neighbours, tuition teachers, etc. and go to work. Children can manage households really well if only their parents trust them. Parents need to trust their children more.

  1. How can we ensure productivity among children during this lockdown?

Productivity is dependent on age. If they are teenagers, they will take care of their own productivity and we can’t do anything about it. If children are younger, rather than pushing them to participate in certain activities, parents need to understand what they are interested in. These interests do not need to be limited to academics but can include music, fieldwork, farming etc. Every child is gifted and we do not know where that gift lies. We try to figure that out within the very narrow scope of the school syllabus. This need not be the case. Within a framework for safety, let children explore different avenues.

ROADMAP SERIES: COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES: TALKING THE TALK BY YASHASVINI RAJESHWAR

Yashasvini Rajeshwar is the Founder and CEO of AuxoHub, a Chennai-based social sector consultancy. She has several years of experience working in social sector organisations across the country, specifically contributing to their communications strategy and content. She also has over 12 years of experience as a freelance journalist, with bylines in publications including The Hindu.


Yashasvini started the session by stressing the importance of communications in the social sector, even while recognising that it is often ignored. In this session, Yashasvini explained what can be done to make communication more effective.

By way of introduction, she explained AuxoHub’s attitude towards communication. Instead of seeing it as advertising, the team tries to work with their clients to give words to the work that they do. This helps the work speak for itself and makes sure on-ground work reaches the intended audience.

Yashasvini went about explaining the different reasons why organisations may communicate.
1. To make others understand the work they do: To pique interested in people about projects, communities and/or initiatives

2. To adhere to procedure: As a part of due process, such as annual reports, donor documentation etc.

3. To attract resources: To attract funders, volunteers, sponsors, grants, etc.

4. To document internal processes and procedures: To ensure organisational knowledge, lessons and learnings are recorded for generations to come

What makes for good communication?

For this section, she took an example from Swiggy’s fourth birthday emailer, using the poster to illustrate good communication. She pointed out the factors that contributed to its effectiveness.

1. Use of logo and brand (Swiggy logo)

2. Use of colour patterns which is similar to brand (orange)

3. Use of language which is simple and fun (Happy Burpday!)

4. Use of words that involve the audience building conversation.(Eg: You’re invited to the party, we couldn’t have done it without you)

5. Use of communication channels to keep in touch, even outside of business relations (no call to order from Swiggy, instead invitation to “join the party”)

The second example she mentioned was the “Corona Song” which was trending on YouTube and other social media platforms. This is a Vietnamese song which is simple and has a catchy tune.

Yashasvini used three frames from the song which portrayed why the song was an example for good communication.
• In the first frame, there is a boy and a girl in a living room watching news of Covid-19 on TV. The frame established a certain relatability. Having both a boy and a girl ensured basic diversity as well.
• The second frame introduced corona virus as a monster. The self-explanatory picture
established the evilness of the monster.
• The last frame was from the chorus of the song and was a line that translated to “wash our hands, rub, rub, rub.” It was a line that occurred multiple times in the song. The simple, catchy chorus was sure to stay in every listener’s mind. It showed how repetition helped in branding and message recall. The use of subtitles ensured that a Vietnamese song was able to reach a universal audience.

How can we plan a good communication strategy?
1. Characteristics
Consistency: Particularly when it comes to social media campaigns, the one thing worth
remembering is consistency. This does not come overnight. Communication is anchored on consistency, irrespective of the different platforms used.

Attention to detail and personalisation: This is something that is often forgotten but goes a long way in establishing relationships. Key areas of personalisation include the names of the people, names of organisation, spellings, capitalization of names, etc.

Storytelling: All communication is storytelling. Most effective storytelling is a combination of emotions and facts, and this is worth keeping in mind when creating content.

2. Actions
Choosing platform: While communication may be undergoing a major shift towards digital platforms (websites, e-brochures, etc.), it is important to recognise that this may not be always necessary. Choice of platform should be undertaken after considering your project and specific stakeholders.

Networking and offline activity: Most NGOs often neglect this mode of communication. However, it is very important to take as many opportunities as we can to speak about our work in person.Examples could be at networking events, conferences, etc.

Photography: Photographs are great tools to grab attention. However, we have to make sure that the pictures we take are ethical and sensitive, especially when dealing with vulnerable populations.

Internal policies: Communication policies can range from a single pager to a multi-chapter document.While the length depends on what is most relevant to the individual organisation, it is key that all employees and/or volunteers share the same message when representing the organisation.

Templates: It is good to have basic templates and pages (for example, ‘about us’ and ‘current projects’ as well as donation amounts) that can be used for different communication purposes.

3. Things to avoid
Tendency to standardize: The difference between templatization and standardization is an important line to keep in mind. Standardisation, even in communications like emails, must be avoided. Standardised content reflects very little effort has been put in reaching out to your stakeholders.

Typos/Misspellings: It is crucial to avoid typos and misspelt names. It is good practice to double check the mail or document again for errors before sending them.

4. To keep in mind
Factors: When deciding communication platforms and strategies, it is important to consider your audience. How much access to technology do they have? Who is your audience in terms of age, gender, education levels, etc. and does that influence the way they consume content? What language best suits your needs? Do you have a budget for communications or are you choosing organic messaging?

How much communication strategy do you need? As a team, it is important to identify what is most relevant to your organisation. Do you need a posting calendar? How active are you on social media? How active do you need to be? Do you have formal ethical guidelines in place? Also, who would be best suited to act as the single point of contact for all communications-related matters?

5. What tools can be used to make your process more robust?
There are a variety of different tools, many of them free and easy to access.
• Google Calendar – for scheduling and reminders
• Trello – For project management
• Grammarly – for spell checks and basic grammar correction
• Canva– for design

Questions & Answers
1. How can we draw a powerful impact story without playing around stereotypes or sensationalisation?

As there is a need to attract attention and get people to feel the core of the work, there is a struggle to maintain the balance between the both. In Yashasvini’s experience,in case there is a need to “dramatise”, what helps is drawing on the situation or externalities. For example, in case of Covid-19, it would mean playing up the pandemic itself instead of individual people and their stories.

2. How can we translate the pointers to offline communications? Like workshops?

In offline spaces, it helps to be more inclusive, accessible and interactive. For example, having translators in spaces where language is a barrier and ensuring multiplicity of perspectives could help in offline spaces. In Yashasvini’s experience, people in the social sector have found it easier to communicate offline perhaps due to the comfort of doing projects on the ground.

3. How can we improve recall value in offline spaces?

Follow up and completing the circle is very important. The last mile is often problematic in the Indian context, with teams losing steam after the pinnacle of the project. It is important to push that last mile, complete the communication loop and create reasons to keep in touch.

4. Do you suggest all organisations need a documented communication strategy? Does AuxoHub help prepare the strategy and how much would it cost?

Yes, we do suggest that all organisations have a documentation strategy because anything on paper makes it easier for everyone to access the information. It does not, however, need to be a complicated document and can cater to the individual organisation’s needs. This is primarily to reduce individual dependency and build organisational capacity. AuxoHub does help prepare such documentation and we are happy to discuss costing once we better understand the scope of work.

ROADMAP SERIES: NETWORKING AND BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS WITH FUNDERS BY AKHILA RAJESHWAR

Akhila Rajeshwar is the Executive Director of TiE Chennai. She has decades of experience working in the corporate sector, including as the CCO of a city hospital. In her present role, she has led TiE Chennai towards successfully securing the Best TiE Global Chapter Award (2018-19). She is the perfect mentor to budding social sector organisations looking to make their presence felt among funders.


Akhila Rajeshwar started the session by broadly outlining the ways in which non profits can build a relationship with funders. The critical factor of “trust building” was the major theme of her session, as she reiterated how trust formed the foundation for all relationship building. She drew on the methods used by TiE Chennai with regard to communicating with funders/ sponsors. As TiE Chennai’s motto is “Serve First and Scale Next” the main focus is that even before asking funders for anything, they focus on how they can help and serve their donors and members. They believe that providing help for their donors is the perfect way to keep in touch with them and associate with them. For example, if the donor is an entrepreneurial community, TiE helps them with idea validation, coming up with their business plan, business model canvas, mentor connects etc. Staying on top of the minds of the people we engage with is extremely important before approaching them with funding needs. TiE Chennai’s aim in that regard is to build a relationship and brand recall to such an extent that it is automatically the first thing that comes to mind in relation to the term entrepreneurship.

Akhila also emphasised the need for going above and beyond. She pointed to how it is important to go the extra mile to serve funders/ sponsors. Irrespective of the outcome of the relationship for the organisation, making sure that you do whatever it takes to help your donors and members/beneficiaries ensures that you are on top of their mind. This in turn helps in building trust and loyalty among the funders. Similarly it is important to make sure that they get value out of their relationship with your organisation and come back for any sort of services. Once the trust is built, they would eventually come to your organisation for every service. Even if you are not capable of carrying out the services yourself, connecting them to others, helping them in reaching out to others who may be able to help them are ways by which you can show that you are putting extra effort to fulfill their needs.

Akhila Rajeshwar is the Executive Director of TiE Chennai. She has decades of experience working in the corporate sector, including as the CCO of a city hospital. In her present role, she has led TiE Chennai towards successfully securing the Best TiE Global Chapter Award (2018-19). She is the perfect mentor to budding social sector organisations looking to make their presence felt among funders.

Another key factor to improving communication with funders is staying connected with them. We have to make sure that we are constantly communicating with them and asking them if they need any help or services. Organisations should not make the mistake of waiting for their donors to initiate communication and approaching them only at the time of funding requirements. It is important to keep in touch with them and ask them what they need frequently to be on top of their mind. In order to do this, even small things matter. For example, remembering their birthday or their organisation’s
anniversary can be very helpful in staying connected. In this way they will understand that the organisation is genuine and reliable. This would also bring a personal touch to the communication.

Akhila also stressed on how it is always important to keep the person in front of us at the centre of any communication and listen to their need rather than to be focused on asking what we need. It is important to listen and be present fully in all communication, and all communication must be as clear and crisp as possible. A common mistake that many of us make is that, during the conversation, we tend to stop listening and start thinking about the next thing to say or how to respond. This may in turn lead to nervousness and inability to convey the need properly. Therefore it is important to simply listen to the donor and understand what they need.

With respect to clear communication, Akhila mentioned how this clarity is very important when going to donors with asks. When talking about what you need, organisations need to be upfront in telling donors what it is that they want from them. Until and unless you tell them what you need, they will not be able to help. You must take care to not be overly concerned by what others would think or their judgement on your asks. The communication should be clear ut not demanding. It is also a good practice to tell them what is the benefit in it for them so that it helps in capturing their attention and
moving forward with the conversation. Clarity is the key in good communication.

Finally, Akhila concluded by noting how relationships with human individuals, whether it is friends, family, funders, sponsors, members are all important. Human interaction is important in building relationships. The focus has to be building those relationships whether they are funders or not. It is not ideal to only look at them as funders/sponsors when building relationships. Constant interactions can create good relationships and these interactions will lead to trust which is more important than receiving money.

Question Answer Session
1. What are the service offerings of TiE Chennai for social sector organisations?

There are several entrepreneurs who work in social sector and are part of TiE Chennai. TiE also has social sector special interest group where these social entrepreneurs come together and discuss ideas, exchange notes, network etc. TiE also offers mentorship, help in idea validation, taking ideas to execution level etc. TiE is also planning on coming up with directory of entrepreneurs which includes all sectors. However it was very difficult to collect information therefore the plan is still in progress.

2. How do you keep funders from dictating/ opposing themselves into the decision making while holding the money as basis for the entitlement to make decision related to your organisation?

The capacity to negotiate with donors depends entirely on the trust and relationship with the funders. At TiE, we have said no to donors if it was required. If an organisation is principle centric and very strong about the values they follow, they should be able to say no and over a period of time people will understand what are the ethics and ethos of the organisation. It may be a difficult decision to take but others will understand that your organisation is consistent, and value centric. This eventually circles back to trust and relationship building with the right people. Once the relationship is cemented, then there is capacity for some liberty of decision making.

3. Fuders are often quiet rigid with regard to what they are willing to fund especially with regard to CSR. How do you suggest we build these relations when there is often power or rigidity to take into account?
The ability to build a relation essentially boils down to doing nice things for the other party. Even if the donor may hold the power, or be rigid, as an organisation you can offer your help, be visible in other areas in their periphery so that they notice your work at some point and then start building the trust and relationship. It is also important to look at the situation from the funder’s point of view as well. They might have reasons for their rigidity. It is important to take these into account and do things that will build their trust, and get their attention and appreciation. There are several methods/ approach that can be taken to establish these relationships. Simple phone calls, message and proactively approaching them to ask if they need any help all form part of this.

ROADMAP SERIES: FUNDING MATTERS-HOW DO WE GO ABOUT IT? BY GIRISH ANANTHANARAYANAN

Girish Ananthanarayanan is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He moved from a corporate career at McKinsey & Company to being COO of Peepul, an education-focused non-profit. He is successfully leading the operations of this well-established organisation.


Girish started by pointing out two problem statements that were discussed in the session:

1. Funding Cycle: Few criterias to look out for with regard to funding
2. How do things need to evolve, especially in this situation of COVID19? How can the NGOs go back to funders and talk to them about the shift in programs?

With the current situation of COVID19, pandemic and lockdown, society as we know it is undergoing a transformation. It is evident that everything we do and decide now would have a lasting impact. It is necessary to engage in activities that are a priority right now rather than sticking to what had been originally planned. However it is also important to understand the different methods to be taken based on the type and vision of the NGOs. The second part is, how do we come to the funding part of it? Since all the funders are now focused on COVID related funding, how can we approach them with our program and take the conversation forward?

Managing Funding

There are primarily three parts to managing funding:

1. Lead Generation:
There are most commonly four types of donors–Individuals, High Network Individuals, CSR and International Foundations. An NGO first needs to identify its donors based on the funding strategy of the organisation. Given that the economy is currently in a down-wards trend, there is a possibility that CSR funds would shrink, therefore this is an opportune moment to reach out to individual donors and in-kind donations for funding. An important factor to bear in mind while identifying potential funders is that all the funding methods are difficult, therefore it is important to understand the area of work before approaching the funders.

2. Funding Conversion:
Girish Ananthanarayanan is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. He moved from a corporate career at McKinsey & Company to being COO of Peepul, an education-focused non-profit. He is successfully leading the operations of this well-established organisation.
The second part of managing funding is can be broken down into three sub-questions:
• What do you take to a funder?
• What is the funder looking for?
• How do you have the funding conversation?

Girish emphasised on the need for NGOs to identify the narrative of their work before approaching funders. It is imperative to have clarity on what their “product” is. In addit ion to helping present acohesive and crisp pitch to potential funders, this clarity also helps to refine the organisation’s programs and approach. The second part of the conversation is how to take the pitch forward. It is important to understand what the funders are looking for rather than simply focusing on what the NGO needs. It is critical to spend adequate amount of time on research into the funder before pitching in order to understand their vision statement, mode of operations and their previous donations.

Girish also mentioned an important factor to keep in mind while pitching, that there is no such thing as a “no”, it is always to be considered as a “not now”. This means that even though the funder’s vision may not be in line with the NGO’s objective right now, there should always be a scope for a diversion which would allow for pushing the conversation forward.

3. Donor Management
It is important to keep the communications active in this period of lockdown. However, it is also important to keep the communication with potential funders short and crisp. Collaterals (website, pamphlet, brochure, etc.) used for the pitching should have adequate information as well as clarity of thought. There should be consistent branding that portrays the core vision of the organisation. The second part of the donor management is reporting. It is important to update existing donors regarding the program their funds are beingused for and promptly update them if there are any diversions in the same.

Question Answers session:
1. How do you manage funding sources?

The focus is on two parts: How do you receive additional funding? How do you use the funds you have in the best possible way? There are cases where we get funding and there are cases where we get in kind support where you will get people to cover certain line items. With regard to receiving funding from Government, it is understandable that it takes a lot of time and there is often a requirement to go through a tender process. This may affect the timing and impact of the project in the community.

2. CSRs prefer providing funding to specific project. How can an organsation build contingency funds or a corpus to handle situations like this where planned projects are no longer running but more immediate concerns need to be addressed?

Once the fund budget is allocated, it is important for the organisation to split the fund for the different line items in the program. Although most corporate donors prefer providing restricted funds, a percentage needs to be allocated for overhead costs to properly run the program. It is important to communicate to the funders why that percent of the fund is being allocated to administrative expenses. In most cases, funders are cooperative and understand the need for this allocation. In the case of individual donors, they are usually not averse to providing unrestricted funds, which can be utilised to build a contingency or reserve fund to deal with situations of uncertainity like the one we face now.

3. How can organsations come together and collaborate to scale impact of the project?

There is a lot of positivity in working together however the question is whether there exists the bandwidth required to build the collaboration and work together. The first step is to identify the network and the possible collaboration partners. Second step is to understand what are the right things to be created and resources that can be pooled in a common way. The third is to identify each partner’s strength and split the work accordingly.

4. What can NGOs do to prepare themselves once they emerge out of the quarantine? How can they avoid competing among themselves for the limited funding available?

Once the lockdown is over, the first thing to do is survive. The first instinct for non profits is to go out and help others. However it is important for organisations to step back and make sure they are stable, their staff and employees are alright, and to take care of their primary beneficiaries. Once these basics have been covered, the focus can shift to expansion and transformation activities. It is also important to reduce even the minor cash burns, as these small measures can support the organisation in significant ways. Largely however, once the current pandemic situation ends, competing for funding will be quite similar to how it was before. The only difference would be that there is now a smaller pie of funding available so NGOs need to be strategic in how to use their existing funds, avoid fund leakages and build new donor relations.