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Leveraging technology in giving
Lim Siew May 
Giving isn’t just a religious or societal tenet – even science endorses this act of generosity, and proves that it makes us happier
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Most religions and cultures extol the virtue of giving. Interestingly, giving isn’t just a religious or societal tenet – even science endorses this act of generosity.

Apparently, prosocial spending or spending money on others really does bring us joy universally, even for those who live in relatively poor countries, observe the authors of Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.

The authors reference The Gallup World Poll, which reveals that donating to charity had a similar connection to happiness as doubling household income.

For some, they don’t just give away part of their hard-earned money to a cause they are passionate about. They contribute time and effort to lobby for support with the aid of technology, particularly online fundraising platforms.

Here’s a tale of two local fundraisers who leverage on fundraising platforms for a cause dear to their hearts.

 

Ruby Chak

Donors appreciate those who ask them for help personally, says Chak

In 2015, World Vision Malaysia Bhd employee Ruby Chak was raising funds for children with limited access to clean water and proper sanitisation facilities in Baganuur, Mongolia. At that time, she had been working at the child-focused humanitarian organisation for a decade.

She had participated in a number of World Vision Malaysia project visits to many other countries including Mongolia, which allowed her to see real transformation taking place before her eyes.

Having sponsored a child from Mongolia for over 10 years under the World Vision Child Sponsorship programme, participating in a cause that benefits the country resonates strongly with the mother of two.

She opted to use the SimplyGiving online fundraising platform due to the partnership between SimplyGiving and World Vision Malaysia for their Together for Every Child (TFEC) campaign at that time. Through this partnership, fundraisers like Chak can leverage on the SimplyGiving platform to raise funds.

The convenience of technology, however, didn’t stop Chak from using a conventional way of fundraising, which was asking for donation through a donation card. Both platforms, according to Chak, have their merits – the conventional way was effective for donors she met face to face, while the SimplyGiving platform extended her reach beyond the former group of people.

Technology, in particular, was a great tool for a self-proclaimed introvert like her to ask for donations without the need to meet people face-to-face.

“I am very much an introvert and I am not used to asking people for things, what more donations,” she says. “I used WhatsApp and Facebook to reach out to my friends and relatives. And SimplyGiving provided the platform for them to donate online,” she says.

“I was able to reach out to people living in Sabah and Sarawak, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and even the UK. Donors can just donate their money online and they are able to view their donation listed on my page.

“The only minor setback is that there is a fee which is charged and deducted from the total amount. Having said that, SimplyGiving does give the option for donors to pay the fee themselves,” she explains.

Chak, who spent around three months raising funds for the cause, had 34 donors who supported her cause, some of whom donated anything from RM30 to RM1,500. She successfully raised RM8,050 for the cause, beyond her original and revised target of RM5,000 and RM7,000 respectively.

According to her, most of the donors were her friends and relatives. Interestingly, she doesn’t even know one of her most generous donors, who was a sister to an ex-colleague. “I believe if the cause is right and if you have built up enough trust with your friends, they will be willing to give,” she says. 

Online fund-raising eliminates the need to ask for a donation face to face – 123RF


June Moh

June Moh, social media and corporate communication manager of a fintech company, has always enjoyed planning and executing community development activities. She finds herself happiest when her actions have a positive impact on a community.

“The amount of the donation, however small, has power. These small amounts made up 50% of the funds I raised,” says Moh

After quitting her job as a journalist in December 2015, she made her fourth visit to Nepal to volunteer her time and skills to those in need. In 2016, she identified a cause she was passionate about – she saw that while it had been almost a year since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, the trauma was far from over for the residents.

Hence, she initiated a project designed to care for earthquake victims who were still living in open-air makeshift camps in Nuwakot district for the coming summer and monsoon seasons, by providing each home with two mosquito nets to prevent malaria and dengue fever.

She used YouCaring to aid her in her cause, mainly because the online fundraising platform does not charge a fee for funds raised by a campaign, unlike most of the charity crowdfunding sites. She also likes that YouCaring has a great website interface, which makes it easy for users to navigate, and that the platform is well-designed for campaign organisers to keep donors updated.

“For example, all I have to do is post an update on the page, and it will simultaneously be posted to different social media sites and donors’ email accounts. Donors can also report a suspicious fundraising campaign via the page,” she adds.

On the downside, she can only share a limited number of pictures on the platform, which accepts payment only in US dollar. “The platform accepts donations transacted via WePay and PayPal only. When donors donate via PayPal, for instance, the online payment system provider charges a high fee for each transaction. When people donated US$1 (RM3.90), I only received US$0.66, and for US$50, I only received US$47.50.”

She approached her fund-raising work seriously, just like how an aspiring entrepreneur would conduct his due diligence – she conducted field study, interviews and observed what the beneficiaries needed. She spent one day writing her fund-raising proposal, one month planning with her local partner and carrying out fund-raising activities, as well as three days on aiding the distribution of mosquito nets.

Moh had 82 donors who supported her cause – they mainly consisted of friends, former schoolmates, ex-colleagues, contacts in her professional network, and people she had not met from the US, Australia and even within Malaysia itself. Her most generous donor donated as much as US$1,000. She exceeded her target by raising US$4,718 for her cause.

A strong sense of self-belief, combined with positive actions brought her fruitful results. Moh attributes her success to being professional in what she does, believing in herself, the power of kindness, as well as her diligence in exploring all possible means to promote her project. “I told them my story, I think this is why they can relate to it because what inspires you, inspires others,” she says.

The concrete steps she took included writing a thoughtful proposal that inspired people to take action. She was also proactive about lobbying for support and did not take rejection personally. “I asked ex-colleagues and contacts in my Facebook network to share my fundraising project on their page.

“I had friends who wrote a summary of the project in Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia for me to share it with their network of contacts. I also told the people I approached: “(You can) just share, you don’t have to donate. Some people ignored me but that’s ok,” she recalls.

She believes that her strong sense of accountability also played an important role. “I promised that I would be going to Nepal to distribute the nets, and that I would send a report to every donor upon completion of the project. I constantly updated donors on the work in progress.”

Fortune, they say, favours the brave. Through the help of her friends, the project was spread through word of mouth. It was featured on the Facebook page of NPOst.tw, a Taiwan-based platform for charitable causes. The project also got a helping hand from some of her friends who assisted her in raising funds.

Lessons in charitable giving

Our two fund-raisers discuss the valuable lessons they learnt while raising funds for a worthy cause.

 

#1: Personal touch is important

Sharing your cause with the contacts on your Facebook account is easy and efficient, but according to Ruby Chak, getting many likes on your Facebook post doesn’t translate into actual donations. “It was disappointing to see that the “Likes” were not yielding results even after I posted and re-posted repeatedly. If I were to do it again, I would have messaged the people personally right from the start,” she says.

Chak also believes that one needs a “thick skin” to be a successful fundraiser. “What I learnt is that messages sent in a group chat or posted on Facebook do not reap a lot of results. Yes, there were people who gave, but the donation only trickled in. Just a handful and it stopped,” she recalls.

Chak then sought the advice of a friend who was successfully raising funds for the same cause. After taking her friend’s advice to heart and sending personal messages to her list of friends and relatives, she started yielding a more desirable outcome.

The personal touch is important, because people appreciate the fact that you ask them personally, observes Chak. “It shows that you respect them by taking the time to message them and not taking them for granted,” she says.

Beyond this, she stresses the importance of always providing a report after the completion of your project. Six months after Chak’s fund-raising project ended in March 2016, she sent a report to all donors.

 

#2: Don’t underestimate the significance of small

June Moh believes there’s power in small. Even tiny donations can compound into a significant sum, she observes. “The amount of the donation, however small, has power. Half of the funds were collected from people I did not know with amounts as low as US$1, followed by US$5, US$10 and US$15. These small amounts made up 50% of the funds I raised,” she reveals.

Similarly, small charitable gestures beat inaction every time. “It is easy to think you can do nothing to help others, and convince yourself that you do not have time or money to do so. You have to start somewhere, start small. Always maximise service, not profit.

“You can never measure the return on investment (ROI) of the smiles you receive from the people you have helped,” says Moh, who has an ongoing project in Nepal and will continue to organise projects in that country.

 

#3: Be resourceful and adaptable

Point #2 leads us to the next point – a good giver doesn’t have to be blessed with abundant wealth, but she has to be resourceful and adaptable. “Being resourceful means using your skills to give back to people in need,” she says.

Before she started raising funds for mosquito nets for the Nepalese, Moh, who lived in Nepal for three months, had organised two small projects where she collected used clothing in good condition from city folks and distributed to villagers at Chitlang, which is about 30km from Nepal’s capital city Kathmandu.

“The country was going through a tough time due to the economic blockade at the Nepal-India border in one of the harshest winter seasons. That was that best I could do within my capacity because I was travelling on a shoestring,” she recalls. “Initially, I had no idea where I could distribute the used apparels, I asked people I knew, and the local students brought me to Chitlang.”

When she went to Chitlang for the first time, she brought with her five bags of clothing. The second time, she went in a van full with clothing as she worked with a local non-governmental organisation (NGO).

“As it turned out, the village’s water and irrigation system was damaged. They didn’t need clothing but desperately needed people who could help them to repair the water system. This experience taught me that you have to do homework before starting a project. Do not rush. Collaboration with a local is highly recommended,” she says.

 

#4: Balance compassion with wisdom

Kindness is a virtue, but you want to ensure that your hard-earned money is going to benefit those who really deserve it.

Unfortunately, based on Moh’s experience, there are opportunists out there who would exploit the donation and take advantage of other people’s kindness. “For example, the supervisor of the earthquake victim camp told us there were 303 families in the camp, but there were only around 260 families, as the rest had moved out of the camp,” she says.

After encountering similar experiences with different people elsewhere, she learnt not to look at all situations through rose-coloured glasses. “Look deeper into the issue and say no to inappropriate requests. Be accountable to your donors and the people you are helping because sincerity, transparency and honesty go a long way,” she sums up.



This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 273.