Misadventures in Fundraising

Date : Jun 19 , 2021 | Stories

Vatsala Mamgain, Director of Resource Mobilisation at CRY, shares two of her most memorable fundraising experiences.

My First Fundraising Experience

I was maybe eight years old and visiting my grandmother in Dehradun along with a gaggle of my other cousins. My uncle (mum’s cousin) lived some distance away, and this one time, my grandmother sent a whole bunch of us kids to give him some kheer she had made – apparently his favourite.

He lived in one of those old Dehradun homes with a long driveway and a garden, with the home set far inside the property. They had a fairly vicious dog at that point – this chap was famous for taking outsized bites out of all visitors’ ankles. So clutching the kheer ka dabba we were at the gate and sort of clanging it hoping to catch the attention of a human while still keeping a metal contraption between us and the vicious dog. My uncle saw us from his verandah, which was set off from the gate by a good 100 metres or so, and not being the most sunny-tempered of people himself, came charging at us with his stick literally chasing us off his gate, shouting and spitting.

We were stupefied; as children you know adults are always mysterious and act so weirdly, but this was something else – I can still remember being gawp-faced watching him tearing down the driveway shaking his stick yelling, “Bhag jao! Hum kisi ke liye chanda nahi dete!” Get lost! We don’t want to donate for ANYTHING!

From the verandah he hadn’t recognized us and thought we were a gaggle of kids raising funds for some neighbourhood do-gooding activity and he was very subtly letting us know that he wasn’t all that keen on participating.

Somewhat unbeknownst to me, that was my first fundraising experience. I must say that in all the years since then, so much has changed. And so much remains exactly the same.

My Weirdest Fundraising Experience

I’ve had so many – in my next life I want to be a fundraiser for whom this never gets weird. But this one time we had gone to meet this person, hoping to be able to get a decent sum from him. I had never met him before, but I was assured by a lot of people who had met him that he was a tough negotiator, and not exactly the straightest arrow. But sometimes if you managed to get all the random ducks that controlled his giving behavior in a row – bingo, you could get lucky.

So we show up and he has this sob story all ready about how he absolutely cannot spare a penny and so on and so forth. Then he says to us, I may not have a cheque for you today, but I do have advice.

(As an aside here, can I say to all you funders and donors out there, that’s the first sentence of the fundraiser’s prayer, i.e., please dear God if the funder does not have a cheque, please may he not then have some advice for us)

But what could we say? We just simpered and said insincerely; of course, we would love to hear it. So he starts off on how we can raise enormous funds if we simply start making paper products that have a demand; not just things like cards etc which no one wants. “Have you thought of calendars?” he says.

“Yes, we do have calendars – with tribal art and children’s drawings and modern Indian art, etc.” I began to chunter.

“Oh no, that’s not the sort of calendars that have a demand!” he cuts me short. “The ones that will really really sell and earn you millions and you will thank me for the idea and I will say I gave it to you free –  is those Kingfisher calendars. Now that – that has demand!” Yes, those Kingfisher calendars, featuring swimsuit models for every month.

I will never ever forget ushering ourselves out of his presence, all the while muttering on repeat the second line in the fundraiser’s prayer, please dear God, if it has to get weird, please can it not get Kingfisher calendar weird?

Vatsala has worked in advertising for close to two decades on clients like J&J, Unilever, LG and Maruti. She has also set up a design portal, run a successful home catering business, worked as a textile consultant, and is a published writer. She believes that every single person has limitless potential and she hopes that her work at CRY will help India’s children realize theirs.

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