Role of Employees in a Non Profit And a Social Enterprise

Employees are Ambassadors

Most of the projects which an ngo gets are time bound. So its difficult for  it to retain good employees on a long-term basis. Therefore the ngo’s tend to lean on consultants and interns. This was one of the reasons why Conserve India decided to set up  a social enterprise called Conserve hrp. We wanted to grow and we wanted our employees to stay but without a project its difficult to sustain them. We needed a project which was market driven, profitable and sustainable. The project we developed was Handmade Recycled plastic and the enterprise was called Conserve hrp.

Creative Community

We chose our core team with care. Besides being well qualified, they were sensitive to our constituency which was the community of rag pickers. Not everyone can work with a non-profit, you need to fit into it.

At the end of the day a social enterprise is a business, you do not achieve nirvana or paradise. Its a tough world and I saw several leaving the Ngo disillusioned by the system, let down by the community they were toiling in. Working in the unorganized sector is difficult – these are people who have been betrayed again by again by just everyone.

Bonus for Employees versus Social Good

I remember an incident . We were running a slum school. it was a free school and about 100 children were enrolled in it. We had the regular overheads like salaries of the teachers, rent of the building, water and electricity bill, school supplies for the children and a mid day snack. We were low on grants and were facing a difficult financial situation. it was new year time. the time we used to give a small financial bonus to all employees. Because of our stressed financial situation , I asked the employees to donate their bonus to the running of the school, otherwise we would have to close the school till we could arrange some funding. Most of the employees refused. And I can understand . They themselves have so many needs and desires. Managing their family expectations.

Luckily we got a grant from one of our donors for the school . So the employees got to keep their bonus. But this incident brought us closer to each other. We could talk frankly with each other and support one another. This kind of atmosphere is not possible in a corporate. Its a difficult decision. It did lead to a lot of introspection and discussion.

Political Correctness and Ngo’s

Most Ngo’s have to work with different political parties and political leaders representing differnt thoughts, ideas and viewpoints. The relationship is very unique and a balance has to be maintained .This one learns with experience.

In india political leadership expects complete allegiance. Grant is given as a favour to a ngo either for a past favour or to get something done. Given this kind of environment, good proposals do not get the kind of attention that they should. But we cannot survive without government support.

I remember an incident in the early years of Conserve India. A family friend of mine became the Minister of Power in BJP Government. He came rather suddenly to power. The word, about our acquaintance, spread quickly amongst the bureaucrats and the funding agencies. Randon people with proposals started calling us up for partnering with them. We of course refused. And to our bewilderment from minor partners in big energy projects we became the lead consortium partner. We were punching above our weight. All of a sudden the minister died. it came as a shock to us because he was a young and energetic person. With his demise, the word spread that we were no more in the big league and Conserve was dropped as a partner from big league projects.

It was an interesting learning period. Organizations have to be built brick by brick, concentrate on building small projects and then move to larger projects. Build strong teams and track records to earn respect and recognition. We learnt this lesson early on. Over time we learnt to partner with different Ministries on our own strength and caliber.

Don’t Devalue Your Name

Non profits always need money. And free publicity. So we get easily conned by companies and individuals who promise the moon for collaborations. in my 20 years of experience of running a non-profit organization. I think what does not work are short-term collaborations.

We were constantly given offers to collaborate. Generally how they operate is they are either launching their website or blog or product line. Maybe celebrating a women day or a fair trade day. They contact us and promise a large order or introduction to an influential network. In exchange they want photos of the people in the slum specially women and children. The slum dwellers are quite shy of strangers, and they have a lot cultural taboos and fear of getting clicked. But because of close involvement with them, they would allow all kinds of strangers to click pictures of their families, children even their indoor quarters.

Wary of our collaborations and to discourage them. We started charging a good sum. We launched a program called “Waste to Wealth Walk”. So anyone who wanted to go to the slums we would charge. As a result many dropped out. We did take large groups and the program did quite well. The fee which we charged from the group was passed on to the community. In hindsight it was a waste of time.

Most of the Ngo’s have small bandwidth and a lot of time gets spent in these random big name collaborations. End result is they take away 80% of the money and you are left with a great photograph or just a memory.

I would love to hear your comments, please write to me if you have any questions or want to share..

Growing Your Donor

Every non-profit needs money and the money comes from donors. Donors can be of many kinds, family and friends, corporate foundations (small and large), government funding, membership fees, individual donations, overseas funding agencies. Everyone is a potential donor. They can either provide donation or a service or a contact.

Weave a Dream – Be in a constant pitch mode. it’s not that difficult because you are asking nothing for yourself. You are asking for a cause which is always Nobel. Even if your target does not really care for it or identify with it. Its your passion, your committment which they will buy into it. Weave a dream, make your target walk into that dream, become a part of it.

When you have the donation in your account. spend it wisely. you donor is watching you constantly. Deliver more than you promised. you have to create that promised world. Anything short of the promised dream means your donor is moving away.

Communicate frequently to your donor.  Tell about your activities through emails, pictures, newsletter, social media posts and annual reports.

By the time the deliverables are over, the donor will not only increase the donation amount but would also become your ambassador and a funnel for more donations. Keep the next round of pitch ready! Make your dream bigger!

Sustainable fundraising

In most non profits, fundraising is left to the founder of the organization or even to employees.This does not work at all in the long-term. Three ways to make your organization financially sustainable is.

The Board should be actively involved in fundraising. Most of them shy way when it comes to asking for money. They feel money-raising is not their job. They push the employees to apply for funding under various grants. But this does not work in a non-profit world. More and more agencies are asking for financial buy in from the Board, because they want the Boards to be actively involved in the project.

Create a long-term sustainable project, with a sound financial model. We created conserve hrp, as the marketing arm of Conserve India . This entity was responsible for producing and selling the products. It gave us financial stability and continuous funds to fund our social projects.

Creative campaigns  generate revenue. They also push sales. Try to align your campaigns as marketing efforts for the commercial enterprise. This really helped us from becoming a small producer group to a very large one. The two outfits fed on each other.