A date with @FundACause

Giving to charity is just a click away.  Today we support causes by liking a ‘page’. We’ll probably buy bracelets promoted by a charity that promises to remove a Ugandan dictator if we watch a compelling video. One wrong comment and we are willing to take a multinational corporation down. Reason?  Lack of responsibility towards the environment.

With a laptop and an Internet connection, we can choose to donate, spew hate or ignore.

We know we have access to more information. To voices that were previously unheard. So much so, that we need filters to figure out if the information is genuine. Sometimes we don’t bother if the information is right or wrong, if it’s shared by someone we trust. We think, ‘what difference will a like make’ or  ‘ Am I really helping people with a like/retweet/share?’

The important thing is that a social network can help one share a message with minimum effort. In case the cause needs money or time, all you need is an account and the time to build a community around the cause.

Meet Chandni Parekh. She’s the face behind @FundACause. She connects people who might want to offer financial aid with people who need it. She does this with the help of simple tools like Posterous, Twitter, Facebook Page, e-groups and social sector websites.

Chandni Parekh’s philosophy is simple : ‘There are a passel of ways of helping someone or contributing to a social issue. It helps to reflect on the social issues that resonate with us and then offer it our time, skills and/or money.’

Who is @FundACause

@Fundacause is run by Chandni Parekh. She’s a social psychologist by profession and conducts workshops on sexuality education and sexual abuse with young people. She works part-time with Samhita Social Ventures, a platform for non-government organisations (NGOs) and corporates.

In the past, she was a consultant on a Government of Maharashtra-World Health Organization (WHO) project on reproductive and child health and HIV/AIDS control, and an Advisory Board member of NGO Arpan’s Personal Safety Education programme for schools. She has also worked as a research guide and conducted workshops on religious freedom and human rights. She has taught counselling theories and therapies too at post-graduate courses in counselling psychology.

How did @FundACause come to be

A random thought over two years back, turned into a real-time, ongoing project for Chandni Parekh. She had signed up on Twitter out of curiosity, but thought she’d never use it. She decided to use the Twitter account to serve as a connecting point for information related to funds required by people.

“I have privacy issues so I don’t like to engage on Twitter and Facebook the way most people do. I woke up one Sunday morning in April 2009 with the idea of using my one-week-old Twitter account to post information on people seeking money. Since I am a member of some social sector e-groups, I’d see financial aid appeals on a few from time to time. That’s how Fund-A-Cause was born.”

Since F-A-C does not filter most appeals that it receives, and posts them in good faith, it is the most open and largest platform in India to learn about several people’s financial needs and wants.

This role was a natural progression for Chandni, who has been using e-groups since 2006 to connect individuals and organisations with useful information and resources. It made sense to use social media to share information that she received in her inbox. A wider audience, could facilitate a dialogue. In the process, if a person was able to receive visibility or funds for their need or initiative, @FundACause’s purpose would be served.

A lot of people assume that F-A-C is all about NGOs or poor people’s financial needs – for medical treatment, education, etc. They don’t know that F-A-C has shared 419 posts related to money or some substantial opportunities available for free, through scholarships, fellowships, grants, individual donors, Corporate Social Responsibility projects, and contests.

When I ask her why she does it, Chandni replies, ‘I do it because it is easy and important for me to give a voice to those seeking help. I have personally seen much mediocrity or mismanagement in the NGO space. I’ve been interacting with NGOs at different levels since the age of 15. They seem to be devoting their life, their energy into making the vision they have of a better future into a reality, but they could be doing it all so much better.

And yet, it’s not fair on the part of laypeople to wash their hands off all NGOs and under-served communities and attribute their lack of involvement entirely to the mess in the NGO sector. People are welcome to engage by offering NGOs constructive criticism or creative ideas as well.’

Chandni doesn’t verify all the cases that she gets mailed about and she doesn’t consider it necessary. She says, “F-A-C has  so many posts about patients in hospitals and you will find the doctors’ names, numbers, letters and reports in some cases. In most posts, cell numbers and/or email IDs of those seeking help are mentioned.

I haven’t received any information about the cases I’ve posted being false. Let’s assume that one of them is fake and you discover it because you put in the effort to verify the case, to do due diligence. Then, we might have the first case of a criminal being apprehended thanks to twitter!”

Social Tools

The Twitter, Posterous and Facebook links for @FundACause ‘s work.

Posterous is extremely simple to use. I just have to forward the email I received and it appears on the blog. I sort out the appeals under different labels such as Nutrition, Salaries, Fundraiser Events, Films, Education, etc.

I switched to Posterous when FileQube conked out two months after I started using it to upload the details of the financial aid appeal. I also run a Psychology and Mental Health News blog on Posterous’

‘I use Twitter to share the blog links so that people can read the details of the case. I shamelessly tag a couple of people in my tweets to draw their attention to people’s appeals, especially if they might be of some relevance or interest to them.There are times when a celebrity has tweeted about a cause that they are passionate about. I have replied to such tweets to share specific information about some of the ways in which they could contribute to it. After that, it’s up to the celebrity to take things forward, if they want to.’

 @indiareckoner suggested in June 2010 that I post the tweets on Facebook as well, so I created the Facebook page to reach out to a wider audience.

Why use social media to solve problems of fund raising or fund collection?

“The belief or the hope is that once we learn about someone’s financial need to better his or her life, and are motivated to shake off the lack of empathy or trust, or a feeling of helplessness that might be preventing us from helping, we will contribute.”

Image Courtesy: Vinod Sreedhar and Sully Pixel


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