Venkat Krishnan N. graduated from IIM-Ahmedabad in 1993 and started his career with the media, working first at The Times of India in various corporate and brand management functions. He then helped set up Sony Entertainment Television in India as part of the core management team. In 1996, he set up and ran the Eklavya School which used innovative pedagogical approaches to help children learn rather than be taught. In 2001, he co-founded Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd, a company that works on improving quality of school education in India. Venkat set up GiveIndia in 2000, to create a "giving culture" in India and transitioned out in 2008. In 2009, he, along with several other volunteers, conceptualised and launched DaanUtsav, a festival that aims to bring India together to celebrate giving. Held from October 2-8 every year, DaanUtsav is a platform that allows everyone from India's poor to its wealthiest to give back to society.
The Joy of Giving week started on October 2, and will go on till October 8. In this daily blog series, we will take you through seven habits of effective givers, one habit at a time, to help develop a culture of giving.
In the end, effectiveness is a pretty elusive thing to look for. A famous movement called “effective altruism” identifies some non-profits as “the most effective at using the marginal dollar”. And yet, even they would agree that a dollar spent to help raise say, $10 (or even $2) for their movement would be more effective than a dollar given to one of their non-profits directly.
Unlike the business world, where we have been able to convert everything to one set of metrics (return on investment over time), it is difficult to do that in the philanthropic sector. How do decide, for example, whether it is better to provide functional literacy to 10 children or a high quality school education to one child? Worse still, how do you decide whether educating a child is better than saving another from malaria or easing the pain and loneliness of the elderly? At some level, it boils down to what aligns best with your values and beliefs, which is why Habit 1 and 2 – arriving at what impact you want to see, are critical.
Having engaged deeply with an organisation or cause, chances are that you will have a deep sense of satisfaction with your philanthropic work, as well as a feeling of joy and abundance, one of meaning and purposefulness in life.
Habit 7 is about recognising, though, that no matter how good you are, there is scope to be better. Not in a negative or self-flagellating manner, but in a constructive happy journey of “how can I keep getting better at this and get even more joy?”
Build the habit of reviewing and reflecting on your work every once in a while- could be once in six months or annually. Bridgespan offers a wonderful set of “6 questions to more effective philanthropy” that you can use for this.
Assuming still, that you are able to spend not more than 20 hours a week or 50 percent of your income, and unless you are a billionaire, here are some benchmarks to keep looking at:
> At an organisation level, support no more than two-three organisations, if your intent is to create significant impact through the work of those organisations
> At a cause level- try your best to stay with one cause or at most two.
> if you’re not tied to any organisation or cause, but to a specific approach (e.g., building capability of organisations, creating a talent pool for the social sector, etc.), try to stay with one at most.
These are guidelines based on the principle that the more you focus, the more you learn and build depth and competence, which are critical for effectiveness. The VC/PE industry is also discovering that focusing on two-three sectors at most (and 1-2 at the level of an individual partner) is probably the best way to go, even with the huge resources at their disposal.
At a personal level, ask yourself how much you are enjoying the work you do - do you look forward eagerly to the time you will get to spend on your philanthropy? Is that extremely meaningful and rewarding to you? Do you feel you are having an impact? Are you proud of the contribution you are able to make? If the answer to any of these is “no”, probe to find out what is the ‘missing element’ that is eluding you.
And then, based on your learnings and feelings, revise what you are doing. Small tweaks maybe. Or if you aren’t really happy, maybe a drastic change of course, by going all the way back to Habits 1 and 2, and checking if you are in the right space at all.
Keep abreast of what is happening around, not just in the causes and organisations you are supporting, but in the philanthropy space at large. Attend conferences, meet other philanthropists and exchange notes, subscribe to a whole bunch of newsletters, periodicals and material that will help you stay in touch. All of which will help you keep reviewing, reflecting and revising your approach to philanthropy.
Help Others with their Giving
They say teaching is the best way to learn any subject, and so it is with philanthropy.
Help them find the cause they are deeply passionate about. You can help them find the right organisations to support and approach that is right for them based on their strengths, values and resources. Share your philanthropic journey with others too.
In doing so, you will come across a few questions. Am I really doing all of this myself? Am I doing it right? Is it really working or am I deluding myself in my own cocoon? Should I write all of this down and invite someone to “evaluate” my philanthropy? And the most important question of all- Am I getting better at this after every review?
In writing this series of seven habits, I too have had a chance to revisit these questions for myself.
Wish you a lifetime of joyful and effective giving.
Daan Utsav, the Joy of Giving week begins on October 2, till October 8. Over the next week, we’ll delve into each of these habits and help you with tips and methods to become an effective giver.
The author set up GiveIndia in 2000, to create a "giving culture" in India and, in 2009, he, along with several other volunteers, conceptualised and launched DaanUtsav, a festival that aims to bring India together to celebrate giving. You can write to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.