Founding Intro Letter

Please note that apropos our founding plans and strategy, the entire infrastructure to bridge the gap between the people sector and citizens who want to be the change has been created by iCONGO in the past few years after being founded in November 2004 (Check Today iCONGO has created impact and built huge movements with humble but powerful ideas and implementation. These ideas include the omega ratings which is encouraged and validated by citizens. The only thing we have not promoted is the direct sales agencies, as there is an absolute lacking of ethics and transparency with these operations due to various players who have made it a mercenary money making racket. This letter itself will tell you how the Direct support operations have been made into mercenary fundraising machines and hence we decided not to promote the concept we had pioneered. This intro letter is also posted in its original form and nothing has been changed to retain our original thoughts and authenticity of our intent at iCONGO. This intro letter was written in mid 2005 as a follow up to the founding concept note after registering iCONGO. From the very word GO, we at iCONGO have been adding value and within 6 months of being formed had facilitated over 2 crores for various charities through our Bangalore marathon. Over the past 6 years we have now facilitated over 100 million USD for various causes and mentored & monitored the impact and accountability. When this note was written in 2005, India had 1.2 million NGOs. Today there are over 3.3 million NGOs and most of them are not worth their salt as they are mere fund chasers and not change leaders.

Sub: Explaining the rationale for a selfless catalytic facilitator collective citizen movement & institution like iCONGO.

Greetings. I write this letter to share with all of you about how and why iCONGO- Confederation of NGOs came into being. On January 14th 2002 after 15 long years in the corporate sector, I moved and joined as the Director- International Fundraising and CEO of ActionAid India/ Society. I joined the NGO sector as I felt I could contribute with my learning and experience in the corporate sector. After joining the sector I learnt a lot about how NGOs work and also got familiar with the culture that prevails in the sector.

I felt that there was a lot that could be done with proactive marketing strategies for fundraising and getting supporters involved with the cause not just as donors but active partners to advocate for the cause. It was my boss then at ActionAid Harsh Mander who inspired me to think of different avenues to get people involved with cause. It was he who told me the amount of money given by an individual is not important but what is important is how involved the person gets with the cause. It was he who told me that we should try to gather a large supporter base who give small amounts but become the voice for the cause.

Within 2 months of joining ActionAid the Gujarat carnage happened and I was given the task of raising funds for the carnage victims. At that time we educated people about what really happened at Gujarat by using a mainstream ad campaign that has now reached far and wide (DIWALI RAMZAN) and other TV campaigns like Saeed Mirza’s Unheard Voices and Rohena Gera’s Stop the Hatred. People logged on to our website read “CRY, The beloved Country” Harsh’s piece that was an eye opener about what really happened at Gujarat. We also organized music concerts, art auctions, movie premieres, book reading sessions and reached out to people far and wide to take a stand against what happened at Gujarat. Thus we managed to raise indigenous, Indian funds as our foreign funds were being questioned as we had taken a tough stand.

This set me thinking and I realised that fundraising is not just about money but about getting people involved with the cause and getting them to understand what they are giving for. This is what we promoted as Philanthropy for social justice and this became the bedrock of our fundraising strategy. I also realised that mostly fundraisers in India joked about fundraising as going out with a begging bowl. Thus mostly people in development organizations in India held fundraising in disdain and rightly so as they were used to the SPENDING culture as the moneys came in from international headquarters and they had no clue what it took to raise these funds. Also because it was a SPENDING culture the funds were not effectively and efficiently used in the programs thus leading to high administration costs with little IMPACT to show on the ground. Research conducted by NGOs and research agencies also proved this as most charities specializing in fundraising in India, use the child’s face as the emotional provocation, have high administration costs going up to 85% and no impact to show, due to which the donor base in India has not grown.

Research also showed that people had no faith in the sector because they felt we talked more and delivered less and although people wanted to help did not know how and whom to give. My international colleagues pushed me to raise funds with the Child sponsorship model but I refused to do so as research showed that people felt that this was a big farce and the moneys did not reach the child. There were also insider reports in the newspapers about how child sponsorship funds were mismanaged and misused with allegations that at times the photo of the same child was sent to several donors.

Personally also I felt that if we needed to get people involved as holistic supporters who understand the cause and proactively advocate for it, Child sponsorship was not the right medium as then I would be only sending direct mail and writing for the funds to come in and not really promoting the concept of involving people for social justice and action. Thus after almost 16 months of research and planning we launched Karm Mitra in September 2003.

The thinking and idea was simple. We chose to create direct selling agencies (or face 2 face agencies as they are called in the US and Europe) to reach out to people and sensitise them to communities dying because of hunger and deprivation in their INDIA SHINING. We thus partnered with ICICI, Reliance Infocomm, Kotak Mahindra, Times foundation to pioneer and promote a network of Direct Giving Agencies (as we called them) across India in 12 states

The Karm Mitra model was simple. The Direct selling agencies showed people in Urban India a film titled “The joy of giving” which introduced marginalized and impoverished communities to these people. Community members spoke with working executives through the film and sensitised them to their issues. The working executives seeing this film were not even aware that these communities existed leave alone knowing about their issues. After showing this film where the community asks them to join Karm Mitra and support them we asked people if they would like to donate an with this process we created tens of thousands of new donors for ActionAid and for the sector as some of these people had never given to social causes in their life time.

Thus having tasted success with our direct giving model we (as announced when we launched it) were ready to share our experience with other players in the sector. Other players in the sector had also started approaching our agencies to employ them to work for their orgnaisation and thus began the rat race where the agencies were offered high commissions @ 65% (while we were paying 20%) and we lost some agencies as they wanted to take advantage of us.

The fact that funding was mismanaged with little impact & empowerment to show for the community, is when we started thinking of an orgnaisation like iCONGO that would create some standard processes and norms that would be followed by charities and the DSA’s especially as this was spoiling the movement to create a large base of supporters for social causes as agencies were not informing donors about what commissions they were retaining.

After various consultations and discussions with over 200 people from the sector and outside we formed the strategy for iCONGO with learning from the various experiences we had at ActionAid where we had created some cutting edge formats for sensitising people and raising funds. Thus was born iCONGO to create a collective infrastructure comprising of exclusive DSA’s , Retail shops, Online giving, Payroll to promote the agenda of iCONGO member organizations to help them raise resources through the infrastructure we create. We also realised that as a collective we would need to stay neutral and above board thus we should not raise donations for ourselves from any quarters or retain any percentage from donations that we facilitate. We decided to be a pure facilitator that would only link donors to the cause dear to their heart through an iCONGO registered NGO (Refer to background note on iCONGO).

The idea is to be the first orgnaisation of its kind that raises funds for by offering supporters a bouquet of causes through pre screened charities that adhere to norms that are desired by donors for effective social investment and are pre screened by professional audit partners. We also realised that to make this process absolutely transparent and accountable we would base the norms on feedback from individual supporter and legitimized by a managing committee comprising of people from all sectors. We adopted the initial credibility norms as set by the sector but needed to go beyond the sector to make the norms acceptable by all. Therefore the audit process shall be conducted by a panel of international and national management firms to make it absolutely above board and create necessary checks and balances. We also are driving the idea of a maximum of 20% as administration cost as a dipstick research shows that individuals are comfortable with 20% administration costs on their donations and social investments. Only when organizations adhere to all these norms set by all sectors and you the people who are the supporter for the cause would we accept NGOs as members.

It’s been a long journey since we registered the Confederation in November, 2004 and started operations effectively in January 2005. In just 3 months of forming the organisation we partnered with Crossover Events for the Bangalore International Marathon and facilitated over 2 crores (20 million rupees) for various charities (again we did not retain any moneys or percentages for iCONGO). We have over 150 charities as members today and various in waiting to go through the audit process. We have some international NGOs and some big brand NGOs but our focus is to get supporters acquainted with small grassroots NGOs/ Charities who are silently doing excellent work on the ground for marginlised communities, environment, animals, wildlife and other causes that individuals would like to support. Most big brand charities may not be in our system if they do not agree to adhere to the credibility norms, set by you the people who are the supporter base and social investors for leading a change in society.

In the long term we want to make NGOs self sustainable by driving effective profit ventures to fuel the not for profit work and various members believe in earning moneys through hard and smart work rather than just taking donations. Some fine examples of this work are Ascent, War wounded foundation and others who have excellent business models for empowering communities. The support we require as resources is not just money but your time, understanding and involvement as only when you are proactively involved with the cause, you can advocate change. That’s our idea of social investment where you do not just give money sporadically but invest by understanding the cause like you study shares, mutual funds, real estate markets before putting moneys there. Why this is important is explained in the attachments with this letter and also do browse through this website to get more details.

Therefore our overall focus in a nutshell is to mainstream various causes in a hip and happening way to get the individual citizens of India involved with the cause dear to their heart by making social investments, through a credible, transparent and accountable charity organisation, audited and pre-screened by reputed international and national management firms to adhere to credibility norms set by you the individual supporters. We firmly believe that the people of India inherently want and need to support social causes and that by coming together as ONE, we can RIGHT every WRONG.

Thanking you with warm regards-

Jeroninio Almeida (Jerry),
Founder & Chief Volunteer

The real situation in the NGO sector: There are over 1.2 million registered NGOs in India. Most of these are paper tigers or NGOs that are only registered on paper and not doing any commendable work for community development or the larger common good. These are NGOs that are registered purely with motives and the mission of siphoning huge government funding and foreign aid that has to come in through State Governments. There is a huge Government NGO nexus and most of the funds never get used for the agenda that the funds are to be used for. The ministry of Social justice and empowerment disburses around 240 crores every year. In a light hearted way bureaucrats with integrity in the ministry say that every minister in the ministry has 10-15 NGOs that are in the names of family members and even the peons in the ministry have 4-5 NGOs. Most ministers in various states also have 1 crore given to them that is earmarked purely for development. However this fund gets used for all other purposes but development. Foreign Aid that comes in through government is huge. For example the big players like DFID and ECHO come in with millions of GB Pounds and Euros and most of this gets lost in the Government – NGO nexus

Various NGOs that have the proviso for giving 100% tax exemption through 35 AC and 35 1 & 2, misuse this proviso for money laundering and tax evasion in collusion with various corporate businesses. There are companies who call NGOs with promises of huge funds in exchange for a 100% tax receipt and 50-60% of the moneys to be returned after tax clearance. There are big brand NGOs and charities who are also indulging in this malpractice. The recent TIMES NOW expose showed that more than 1/4th of the NGOs registered in UP were not doing any development work at all but just registered to siphon funds.

Various studies have proven that just probably 3-5% (some say its less than 1 percent) of the registered 1.2 million NGOs are probably doing good work on the ground. These include some international and national NGOs but mostly includes low profile grass root NGOs that are working with communities directly on the ground. Research also shows that big brand NGOs have poor efficiency in fund management and administration and marketing cost of donors’ moneys go up to 80- 85% thus depriving the communities of the funds truly donated by compassionate supporters as they receive only 15% or lesser than the donated amount and donors are misinformed about the fund deployment with creative accounting and well created reporting that sometimes send pictures of 1 child to over 50 child sponsors.

There was a need to address this and that is where iCONGO (CONFEDERATION OF NGOS) steps in. We want to address this and create a collective of these lesser known but efficient and effective charities and mainstream their agenda so that citizens can support them knowing that we would monitor them and ensure that the administration cost does not exceed 20%.

For years the NGO sector has been operating in a very slip shod manner. As discussed there are 1.2 million NGOs out there most of which are liabilities. Other associations have tried to organise the sector earlier and have failed. The reason for the failure was because they were trying to create an apex structure that dictates terms to the NGOs while not giving them anything tangible as benefits. We are trying to fill in that gap and after extensive studies have realised that there is a need to sensitise people in India to become supporter that drive accountability, credibility and transparency in the sector as the donors have the right and privilege to do so. So in a nutshell the individual donor drives the credibility, transparency and accountability.

iCONGO’s mission in a nutshell is to create in the short, mid and long term a collective infrastructure for the 3-5% of pre-screened NGOs doing good work for community development and other causes. We would create a DSA program for face to face fundraising from Individual donors. iCONGO is confident of creating an exclusive network as the founders have done this before and pioneered face to face marketing for fundraising in India while at ActionAid. We would also be creating retail shops for selling NGO merchandise

iCONGO as first in the world does not raise funds for itself but raises funds as a facilitator and an advisor only for member NGOs that are pre screened and have to adhere to a credibility rating system. iCONGO is formed by NGOs and is a membership driven institution for the NGO sector like FICCI, CII, NASSCOM or any other apex bodies. iCONGO as statement also does not retain any percentage of funds raised for member’s organisations from individual donors.

We only bridge the gap between donors who we want to call social investors who want to support a cause dear to their heart and good credible pre screened NGOs. If NGOs want to use the network and infrastructure we create they have to adhere to norms set by our external auditors. We remain above board as we do not take any donations for ourselves or even keep a percentage of what we raise for others. Thus with donors we become selfless catalysts who are only creating gateways for them to get involved with their cause through a good, accountable charity that does not spend more than 20% on administration.

So pray how we survive. Like Mother Theresa once said “God is my budget” we at iCONGO firmly believe we will find the money to create the infrastructure. iCONGO would also raise money through cause related marketing campaigns, sponsorships and events.

iCONGO’s focus is to expand the individual donor base for social causes in India which today stands at a dismal 400,000 people compared to the 5 crore tax paying universe. The people who become supporters through iCONGO shall in the long term become the lobby to drive best practices within the NGO sector and also to make government and foreign funding accountable. In Europe and USA all individual donations are matched by government funds thus enabling the individual donor to hold the state accountable along with the charities they have donated to. iCONGO aspires to promote this practice in India. However to do so and introduce a NGO rating system iCONGO needs to give some advantages, benefits and recognition to the NGOs and that’s exactly what we are doing with the collective infrastructure that we are creating (Read the power point and background note on the tangible benefits to create sustainable resources for member NGOs to adhere to the norms within the rating system) and also with the certification program we are creating for NGOs, Corporate and SMEs.

iCONGO’s target audience is not just high net worth and mid net worth individuals. We want to get everyone who can afford to support a cause to become social investors. We do not want to just have people giving 1, 00,000 or 50,000 or even 1,000 or 100 Rs. We want to create a movement where people can just get involved with the cause by giving 1 Re. a month and knowing that in an organised and efficient manner this money is being utilized for the cause dear to their heart. We want the citizens to be come proactive supporter, understand the issues and advocate for bringing in a change. Everyone has the privilege in a democracy of asking questions and speaking out to bring about change. Imagine the opportunity for your cause if each 3 of the 5 crore tax payers start giving 1 Re. every month. That itself is a 36 crore opportunity. If another 1 crore people give 100 Rs. every year that’s another 100 crores and if the remaining 1 crore give 1000 Rs every year that’s another 100 crores. Now hypothetically speaking this as a total fund of 1,136 crores is almost 10 times the budget of the Ministry of Social justice and empowerment thus the people of India can do a lot to improve societal conditions for various children and their communities, wildlife, environment and you name the cause.

Recognition is very important and the idea is to make the iCONGO certification very coveted, trusted and absolutely above board (like ISO) with the right checks and balances. As a FIRST step we decided that we should do this multi laterally and not just as iCONGO unilaterally. Thus we have strived to create an alliance that would promote this rating and certification program with partners like the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, FICCI, FISME (apex body of the SME sector), AIESEC (international student body), Centre for Media Studies (SMS) and TISS. We have brought in 2 international management houses MERCER and GRANT THORNTON and an Indian firm called PROGNOSIS as the process and validation partners. We would launch this entire program on November 24th, 25th and 26th with the social justice and action conclave and awards.

Your feedback as a citizen supporter would be pivotal to make these certification norms the most credible and suggestions from individual donors would be paid attention to make this a people movement. It is you and we the individual supporters who would drive this certification process and if charities want citizens to be their long term supporters they would have to adhere to the norms suggested and set by you. iCONGO and others are mere facilitators working on your behalf to put this entire system together. This movement would be led by the people who want to support causes but are currently in a dilemma as they do not know who they should give to and who they should not. Thus the peoples and citizen movement would work as only when you get involved and ask for accountability and transparency would it be adhered to a 100% by the charities that you are supporting. That is why as a conscious decision we at iCONGO decided not to raise any donations for ourselves or retain any percentage for our costs as we want to efficiently earn our moneys from profit ventures to support not for profit community work. We also are promoting the concept of creating livelihood opportunities to make communities self sustainable by training them for specific skills thus creating a skilled workforce. We have some members who are fine examples of this like Ascent, War wounded foundation where the people do not w