Most Indian donors have participated in crowdfunding without noticing it. Have you ever pooled in money to buy a birthday cake for a friend or a colleague? Ever asked for money from residents of your society to repair a broken swing or conduct celebrations for a festival? Everybody at some point has been a part of the “crowd” that has contributed cumulatively to a larger cause. Yet, when someone raises a question on crowdfunding, most people plead ignorance. That’s maybe because the nomenclature is new to us, but the idea isn’t. Crowdfunding donations in India, contrary to what most experts say, isn’t a new thing at all.
Last year, as I was scrolling through my Facebook, I saw a disturbing picture of a 5-year-old suffering from cancer. The title read “I can’t afford treatment for my daughter anymore.” The post told a story of a daily-wage labourer who worked at factory and was struggling to pay for his daughter’s leukemia treatment. I clicked on the link out of curiosity. It took me to their fundraiser on a crowdfunding platform. I was a student then, pursuing my masters at a university in Bangalore and I had never heard of crowdfunding. Yet, as I made a donation of Rs. 100 to the child, I instantly became a part of the “crowd” which had already helped raise Rs. 4.5 lakhs for that kid!
This is how I believe most donors stumble on the idea of crowdfunding and come to recognise the few crowdfunding platforms in India. This “pull” of donations in India is not coming from NGOs or the social sector, but instead is coming from medical fundraisers.
Why is the medical crowdfunding model working?
The increasing cost of medical treatments like cancer and transplants and the lack of any medical insurance (less than 20% of Indians actually have a medical insurance) is driving people to find an alternative way to fund their loved one’s treatments. Crowdfunding platforms in India are spending sleepless nights trying to handle the number of requests, explain the process of crowdfunding, and reaching out to those in need for funds. Just in the last 8 months, Impact Guru, the largest medical crowdfunding platform in India helped more than 5000 patients raise money for various medical expenses. The rise of medical fundraisers has ensured the rise of donations in India. More and more donors are stumbling on fundraisers created by friends, colleagues, faraway family members and other secondary contacts to become a part of the crowdfunding circle. Even donors from the UK/US and other countries which has a large diasporic population are coming forth to contribute.
But what is bringing this surge of donations in India to medical fundraisers?
Firstly, the campaigner is usually someone familiar or the fundraiser is referred to the donor by someone he/she knows so the donation can be made with trust. In these cases, the donor never asks why should I donate here? Or is this platform genuine? He finds a familiar face and name and makes his contribution, thus also becoming a part of the crowdfunding platform’s network of donors. Impact Guru gets around 4000 new donors each month and many of them return to the platform to help a different cause or a different family that needs help.
Medical fundraisers are run on an urgent basis, the need is immediate. While NGOs promise long-term impact, the donor can see and empathise with the immediate situation of the child who is battling cancer or the parents who are funding the treatment of their premature baby, and thus are more inclined to donate.
Real lives are at stake here and thus few enquire about why they should donate and where will the funds go (most platforms provide this information explicitly in the story). Also, the crowdfunding model allows people to donate smaller amounts (as low as Rs.500) and thus, more and more people can come forth to help.
Helping a friend or loved one during a medical emergency brings the power of giving closer to home. It makes one feel empowered that they are able to help (even with a small amount) someone in their time of need and thus, turns them into a repeat donor. This is how slowly donations in India are growing, showing an inclination towards medical causes. As more and more patients approach crowdfunding platforms to fund their treatments, they are pulling in larger crowds and turning them into donors – adding hope to increasing the spirit of giving in people.