Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's all about the money, honey!

The doorbell rings. A smart, young girl stands there pitching an NGO to me for donations. I ask for an identification and she flashes a card that says she is a representative of the NGO, but… here it comes… is employed by an outsourced agency under contract to solicit donations on behalf of the NGO.

I ask her for more details and she gives me background information on the NGO and the various projects that they run. I persist and ask for more details on the organisation, the agency that employs her and what's in it for them, the payment structure etc. (I might seem excessively cautious, but hey, if I am to donate I would like to know where my money is going). She starts faltering, it seems like she has run out of her sales pitch. Soon, she beats a hasty retreat telling me that I can contact the NGO directly or go to their website for the information. At least to her credit she leaves the requisite information behind for me.

More often than not, as it happens, busy schedules, other priorities take over and the contact details of the NGO pushed to a corner and left for some other time.

A few weeks later, while talking to a friend I discovered she had a similar experience except she actually called the NGO for more details. What she discovered was:

(a) contracted agencies are paid on the basis of the donations they generate

(b) the 'sales' agents do not get any salary, at least not a fixed one. They are paid a commission on the donations they solicit.

(c) Almost all NGOs, especially the ones with a national presence (and some of the larger local ones) do this on a regular basis now.

My friend was also told that the reason this is a popular method of collecting donations these days was that it helped the NGOs rapidly increase the number of donors by tapping all those who wanted to donate but never had the time to get around to it (like me probably). And as far as costs were concerned, it was less expensive for the organisation to outsource to these agencies than to run their own marketing effort to gather more donors.

All this stuff got me thinking. Even if I did accept the rationale the organisation gave about costs, reach etc. (having worked in marketing, I am inclined to believe) what left me cold was the 'sales' pitch, the fact that the she (from the agency) wasn't able to articulate more info on the NGO and the lack of information on the financials (again I stress that if I am donating, I want to know!). Also, wondered if there were more of her about who were trained as much (or as little) as she was, what kind of an impression were they leaving behind of the NGO? Certainly didn't build any trust or give me the feeling that my money would be utilised as well as it should be.

Would it not be better to just run your own set up within the organisation? The employee 'sales' agents could be better trained, would feel more inclined to know and understand what their employer was doing and feel more ownership for the work they did and for whom they did it. In the long run, even if the costs were higher than that of an outsourced agency, it would be justified by having more people trust the organisation, a better perception of what the NGO is about and simply a more pleasant experience overall of donating. I could be completely wrong, but I do feel that NGOs could take a leaf out of service industries especially if they want repeat customers… oops! repeat donors, I mean.

Despite these weighty thoughts, my dilemma on making that donation still persists, should I donate to an agent (once I do my background check on the NGO, of course) and get it over with, no stress of making time to post/courier the cheque off or should I cut the outsourced agency out and take the trouble to reach the cheque directly to the organisation?

Hmm… maybe I'll just look for them online and donate. Now, why didn't I think of this before?

(pic courtesy:

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