Will we, won’t we? Depends on you!

It’s almost two weeks since we opened this year’s fundraising drive.

This year, we are hoping to raise just INR 300,000/- towards the cost of the 2014 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence. Much of this whatever we raise–acknowledging that we have never raised our full asking amount–goes towards the salary of the Campaign Associate/Coordinator and in the last two years, the Media Associate. Both of them work 24/7 and then some in the four weeks preceding the campaign and the campaign fortnight. Increasingly, their work stretches till the end of December, as we do more programmes that require reports and follow-up, and campaign report-writing gets more complicated with more diverse programming. Even with these two people working that hard and the couple of us that end up working full-time but honorarily with them, we are usually physical wrecks by mid-December. But selective amnesia starts to kick in and we recall the season’s buzz and start planning again almost right away, just holding ourselves back by saying, “We really should wait for the Campaign to be in place and besides, we don’t know how much money we will have.”

We end up being so tired post-campaign that we have put a “sabbatical” system in place. After every three years, we stop for a break. (Yes, I know a sabbatical happens once in seven years, but believe me, campaign years leave you exhausted as if you’ve packed the work of two years into one!)

The 2014 Campaign will be the third in our second cycle of campaigns. In this campaign, we will want to replay every idea that worked in the last two years, do it better, do it more and push for maximum impact. We will want to bring together the people we have worked with. We will want to set the agenda for the work of the sabbatical year. We will want to tie up loose ends on processes that have taken two years to gain momentum. This is an important year for us.

Next year, there will be no campaign.

And the fact is, this year too, there will be no campaign if we do not raise any money for it. And in these two weeks, we have only one donation in the till–the starter donation I made. Not just the campaign, actually, if our resource mobilization does not improve so that we can scale up if just enough to do work that’s now becoming possible, then we will have to shut our doors altogether. But that’s the subject of another blog-post.

I want to tell you–if I haven’t already–why we come to individuals for donations every year. In the beginning, it was because only our friends and families would support us. Who else would back untried, untested people trying to do something they could not guarantee would work?

Over the years, especially for the 16 Days Campaign, we have come to love the idea that the campaign happens because of a community of individuals who tell us over and over: This is important work. This cause, this work, are important to us. We appreciate your efforts and we think you should continue to make them. With each donation, this is the message we get from you. Therefore, we tell ourselves, that when you give again and again, you reaffirm your support to this cause: to end the silence around gender violence, and ultimately, the violence itself. As each donor joins this caravan for the first time, and as the caravan grows, it becomes a force that no one can resist. Individual donations matter to us, because they speak of a growing community around this cause.

People suggest to us we approach companies for sponsorship. We could, I suppose, but in the beginning, Prajnya and the campaign felt like saplings whose identity–astitva or brand–we needed to shelter and nurture. And then again, who would have sponsored us in 2008? But then, we fell in love with this idea of people choosing to be part of our journey by giving, by working with us, by sharing something they had (a skill, a network, a resource, a space), and now, I don’t want a gift to the campaign to be a financial or marketing decision. Companies do occasionally make donations to the campaign, but we know them so we know they are made from a sense of citizenship, from a commitment to equality and justice and because they have come to believe in this work. And they are gifts without strings, not sponsorship.

Moreover, it now seems so much more meaningful when people and organizations consciously join us in small ways. It’s a much bigger contribution to our work. I don’t want support for the 16 Days Campaign, in particular, to be a business decision. It must be a citizenship decision, a humanitarian decision, a justice decision–a conscious, mindful decision.

And so I sit here thinking, why have I not seen a single deposit or cheque in two weeks of a six-week fundraising drive? I can think of three reasons: donor fatigue, “bystander effect” and procrastination.

  • I think it’s absolutely fair for our older friends to feel they’ve given a lot and it’s now someone else’s turn. No argument at all. Some of our supporters have given every year since year 1, and must wonder if we will ever stop asking. Your gifts have already made so much possible that I couldn’t begin to make a list.
  • I too sometimes think when I see an appeal or a petition that what I can afford will not count and that someone else will surely make a better gift. After all, this or that organization manages to do a lot, so they must be getting money from somewhere else. I just want to clarify: we don’t. We do depend on you, but we do understand that everyone has constraints and limits as to what they can give.
  • Finally, please give today; don’t wait until the end of May because we might make all kinds of bad decisions in panic! Every gift waters the seeds of hope in our hearts! And there’s no little gift–we use everything frugally and make it stretch.

What happens if we don’t raise this money? It’s very simple. We simply won’t do the campaign this year.

Your gifts are our gauge. When you give, we read: This is a good thing to do and it would be useful to do it again this year. When you don’t give, we read: This may no longer be a useful thing to do. And it’s fine to send us that message. We will move away from the campaign and find other ways to be useful.

But do we think the campaign still has utility as an advocacy tool? We do.

  1. Every year, the campaign opens doors for us to try new issues, new frameworks, new media and formats, new partners, new resource people and most of all, new audiences. The banner of the campaign and the seasonal momentum open doors for us for year-round activity.
  2. We still come across people who are not sure that what happens to them is violence. The work of dismantling old ways of thinking remains useful and necessary. Changing that way of thinking has always been the measure we’ve offered for the effectiveness of our work, although we have never measured it–if someone listens to our programmes and goes back thinking, what has been happening to me is violence, not my destiny, we’ve been useful.
  3. In Chennai, our campaign has also been a platform that has brought together a cross-section of people with different degrees of experience and expertise in this field and given them a chance to engage with each other. Artists, social workers, lawyers, teachers, students, government servants, caregivers–our programmes try to connect people with each other.
  4. Each year, new people–as individuals or members of organizations–volunteer with the campaign, and the numbers of those who are aware and well-informed grows.

Let us know what you are thinking. This is our society, our problem; this is your campaign too.

I want to finish by thanking you for reading this, and for all your support in the past. I want to share with you once more our fundraising appeal for this year, and invite you to give and/or to share with others who might.

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