When it comes to donating there is no dearth of causes that deserve attention and support. This is why raising funds even for a philanthropic cause can be a daunting exercise. Everything counts — from the idea, the way its urgency is established and how attempts to reach out to potential sponsors and contributors are made.
While traditional fundraising activities, such as advertisements, events like carnivals and donation drives are still largely relied on in Pakistan, social media and technology is also being explored for its potential. Social media, in general, seems to be at the forefront of innovation in most fields — here too, it has emerged as a cheap method to catch attention and reach out to interested individuals. According to The Guardian, £2.4bn was donated online and via mobile in the UK alone in 2013. In Pakistan as well, charity organisations are using technology to help generate funds.
Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center, for instance, sends out text messages that interested individuals can reply to in order to make a donation. In addition to providing options, such as sponsorship of patients, projects and equipment, giving zakat to the hospital, donations (of money and food), redeeming reward points on credit cards and donating an equivalent sum of money to the hospital through just a phone call, SKMCH & RC also take orders for greeting cards — the proceeds from the sales of these cards are utilised for the treatment of cancer patients.
Despite these developments, some still believe that Pakistan lags far behind in terms of adopting unconventional and modern methods of raising money for charity. There is a lot of focus on traditional forms of advertising to get the message across — this involves making tv commercials, using billboards and hoardings, buying space in newspapers.
While these forms of creating contact with the desired audience may be more popular and perceived to be more successful, the costs associated with these make it difficult for a charity or philanthropic venture to dedicate all its resources to social uplift. This is not to underplay the fact that effective marketing that creates an impact is what helps generate funds by attracting attention, informing the audience, creating desire and calling them to take action. What must be stressed is the fact that in some cases, heavy reliance on traditional methods of advertising can cause organisations to lose focus.
“All the big names in the world of philanthropy use the money that can be utilised to bring about tangible social change but on glossy marketing campaigns — heavy printing and the like,” says Mishalle Hira, chairperson of Rah-e-Mashal, a non-profit organisation that works for women empowerment, education and support to the less affluent.
“So there is a lot of focus on superficial things which is a very expensive pursuit. In my case, I have largely sought support through family and friends. I have collaborated with the corporate sector for corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaigns, with brands and that has worked out just fine,” she adds.
During the month of Ramzan when people in Pakistan are more likely to pay money to charity, one cannot help but notice organisations that rely on it, struggling to gain the ‘share of mind and heart’ (marketing jargon for creating brand awareness and developing an emotional bond with the target audience).
All at once audiences are bombarded with formula ads. The most cost effective method is employed is using a schedule which entails maintaining low advertising levels all year around and heavy advertising during periods when more donations are anticipated.
With so many causes unfortunately having to compete, there is a need to explore other non-traditional methods of seeking funds. “I have not come across many great innovations. Methodologies are typically adopted from larger organisations in the world most of which are Western: social media, events, donation drives. Nothing radically innovative is coming out of Pakistan,” says a former employee of Akhuwat, an organisation that started off as a philanthropic venture to assess how micro-finance would work in Pakistan.
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Though this holds true, the fact that Pakistan has boarded the e-commerce revolution bandwagon fairly recently must be taken into account. Online banking and initiatives like EasyPaisa, and broadly speaking, the shift towards e-commerce in general all around the world has made it easier for people to donate money to charitable causes. People are more confident and trusting of such methods of contribution than before and this has to do with the fact that more and more organisations are realising the convenience and low costs associated with these.
The director of communications at a social enterprise, Hammad Anwar, realises the power of raising funds online. “Sometime back, we needed to generate about $10,000 worth of funds for a project. We used Indiegogo (a very popular fundraising website) to get the word around. The results were great; we were able to reach our target and receive funds from all over the world. The internet has made it a lot easier for both — organisations and potential sponsors/donors,” he tells TNS.
His organisation, Rabtt, aims to establish a connection between the upper and lower tiers of society by bringing students with distinctly different demographics together through a series of workshops and trainings.
So, while Pakistan may be a few steps behind in terms of technological advancements, it seems to be on a promising path. There is on some level, a realisation that we need to tweak the technological innovation happening in the West to suit our environment and needs. In the field of philanthropy, particularly with respect to generation of funds and marketing of ideas, we can expect the emergence of interesting methods in the future since a lot of small organisations have come up in recent times.