Yasmin Riaz

Deputy National Director Fund Development and Communications SOS Children's Villages in India

Winning them all!

Adhering to the demands of all the stakeholders in a workplace is always difficult, but still needs to be done. Thus begins my story of winning over all the stakeholders.

It seemed almost impossible
Fundraising in SOS India has seen a consistent growth of 28% over the last 6 years. While we have received many bouquets for pulling off this feat, we have constantly had to face brickbats for not being able to acquire committed donors who pay by direct debit.  While the GSC Asia team and IO were constantly reminding us to build this sustainable channel of committed donors, our board and management cautioned us about our increasing expenses for outsourced fundraising agencies. Added to this was the complete apathy of the in-house team towards recruiting committed donors. It was almost impossible to persuade them away from acquiring high value one-off sponsorships of acquiring high value one-off sponsorships.

….more challenges stared us in the face
While this was like being caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, more challenges stared us in the face. The cost of acquiring committed donors through outsourced agencies was and continues to be prohibitively high. Our internal systems were not robust enough to support the direct debit process. The banking processes of the country were not geared up at that point. Also, the few committed donors that we managed to recruit did not stay for the entire term. Lapsing rates were high. My own team was not convinced that we should invest our time and energy in this process.

Building on existing professional experiences
So while I lost a slot of sleep mulling over these problems, it strengthened my resolve to find a solution and to pilot a low-cost scalable model to acquire committed donors. The agency model in the insurance sector (where I worked before joining SOS India) leverages the natural market of the insurance agents. Basing the idea on this fundamental thought, I came up with a plan to run a month long “internship“ for 15-20 year-olds during their summer vacations to acquire committed donors. Since high school students and undergraduates seek recommendations and service certificates for volunteering with non-profits for their university admissions, most of them are very willing to volunteer.

Projections for cost and revenue were made and, luckily for me, I had two new members in the team who were willing to work on the project without any preconceived biases. My supervisor was also supportive and gave me the necessary budget approvals.

The energy was infectious
And so the campaign named “SOS Buddies” was launched in June 2016. 25 high-energy youngsters from good socioeconomic backgrounds were recruited from the top schools and colleges of Delhi. Written permission was taken from the schools and parents. Special collaterals were created which could be used by the interns. A proper 3-day training was organised with a field visit to the local children’s village. Mock sessions and role plays, negotiations and objection handling: the youngsters mastered it all. The energy was so infectious and I was relieved to see my team members also feeling upbeat and investing their energy in the project.

Fun was vital in driving results
The group was split into five sub-groups of five members each. Each group was given a name. Contests were launched to encourage individual and group performance. A WhatsApp group was formed and a high level of engagement was ensured. Back end processes and system readiness were built. A gamified system of points for every lead generated and every donor converted was created and the entire process was run like a fun game played to win by scoring top points. This element of fun was vital in driving results without building any competitive pressure.

My joy knew no bounds
When results started coming in on day one. After a fortnight, we saw some encouraging results. The Buddies were leaving no stone unturned in trying to convert their own family members, neighbours and friends into SOS donors. They reached out to people in malls, neighbourhoods, yoga camps, gyms, parent teacher meetings and ladies clubs and even to the employees in the corporates that their parents worked for. The energy and zeal was palpable and infectious.

The activity was a complete success with 152 donors acquired in one month at a cost of 8%. Of the 152 donors, 115 were committed donors who paid by direct debit. Revenue of Rs 16 lacs (approx. 21,300 euros) was raised at a cost of Rs 1.3 lac (1,700 euros), a return on investment of 12. About three interns left the group as they could not cope. The per person productivity for committed fundraising worked out at 5.2 donors per person which was unmatched by any other channel. Other than the funds raised, around 4,000 leads were generated and awareness spread on social media to at least 10,000 people.

We wrapped up the project with a gala celebration which was attended by all the senior management team members and the secretary general. The youngsters deserved every bit of their glory as they had managed to deliver what seasoned fundraisers find difficult to do.

This project helped in breaking the mindset of my team about committed giving. Some other insights gained are as follows:

  • The quality of interns hired is critical to the success of fundraising
  • Effectiveness of collaterals[1] through a first-hand feedback from donors
  • Market/donor pulse[2]
  • Insights for strengthening the pitch
  • Importance and criticality of end-to-end planning for the project (recruitment, cost, activity plan, reporting formats, operations, communication and servicing, reward and recognition, mapping challenges and opportunities)
Although the pilot has been successful the actual success will depend on scaling this up and implementing it across many locations and at greater frequencies for maximum impact.
In an environment with not many options to innovate channels of fundraising, the intern pilot proved to meet all the demands of all the stakeholders and helped in winning over all the different stakeholders.

[1] Marketing collateral is used to support a company's primary advertising message to consumers or to communicate important information to channel partners about a company's products or services. Digital media has enabled marketing collateral to assume formats beyond printed material to include Web content and point-of-sale electronic devices. (https://yourbusiness. azcentral.com/marketing-collateral-3222.html, Nov 2017)
[2] Market Pulse is a continuous monthly tracking survey of household purchases in urban and rural India. Established in 1974, it is India's only household panel study that collects information about household purchases. (https://en.wikipedia.org, Nov 2017)

Yasmin Riaz

is Deputy National Director  Fund Development and Communications  at SOS Children's Villages in India.

After spending 18 years in the corporate world, Yasmin accepted the assignment at SOS India and sees this as the best decision of her life. Interactions with the children keep her focussed on the goals and the vision of the organisation.

Joining SOS Children’s Villages made her more conscious of her own family.  Yasmin sees her family as a great blessing and a place to share her happiness and sorrows. She is married and has a twenty-year-old daughter. Yoga practice helps her to manage stress. She enjoys reading and gains diverse perspectives about people and places through travelling. Music is her resort in difficult and happy times.
For Yasmin “India is one nation, but many worlds”. Four world religions originated here. Once known for its mystical traditions and depressive poverty, the country has emerged as a leading economy. As the largest and youngest democracy with 1.2 billion people, India’s recent developments are significant. Life expectancy has more than doubled, literacy rates have quadrupled, health conditions have improved, and a sizeable middle class has emerged.