What it takes to keep charity alive

  • Business
  • Wednesday, 18 Sep 2013

Padma organising prizes for the society's jogathon last year, all donated by sponsors. Fund providers are ever-willing to give

What happens when one donates money to charity?

In Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Padma Menon, president of the Breast Cancer Support Society, takes us behind the scenes sharing her organisation’s operations, revenue and expenditure.

Membership fees are RM20 a year and all monies are payable to a CIMB account under the society’s name. Total membership fees come up to RM6,440 a year, and in a month RM200 goes to the society’s book keeper and RM500 for stationery. In 2011, the society gave RM120 to two patients for six months. Last year, from June to December, four patients received RM100 each. Transport money of RM180 was also given to three patients.

In addition, RM50 hampers of nutritional food were presented to 10 patients, and as a gesture of condolence, the families of six patients who had died received RM50 each from the society.

During festivals like Hari Raya, Deepavali and Chinese New Year, RM100 gift vouchers have been given to 20 patients so far.

Padma Menon (cnetre) of the Breast Cancer Support Society Negeri Sembilan giving out prizes to a jogathon participant last year. 
Padma Menon (centre) of the Breast Cancer Support Society Negri Sembilan giving out prizes to a jogathon participant last year.

The society has yet to find a permanent home and meetings are currently held at an A&W Restaurant in Seremban. Padma chooses to see this as a blessing in disguise because the cost of a home is bound to incur more expenses.

An example of how high overheads can be is seen in the Taman Megah Handicapped and Disabled Children’s Home. When the home started in the early 1990s, RM2,000 went to rent a corner lot house and RM30,000 for renovations and furniture. All this came from one man, Manikumar Kanan, who had his own video and saree shop in SS5.

“Keeping the home going was not easy because at about the same time, CDs entered the market and affected my husband’s business. We had to pawn my wedding jewellery for money and I only got it back after three years. To ensure the home could continue, Manikumar had to go into the landscaping business,” recalls his wife, Umah Devi Rajamanikam, now 43 and president of the home.

And then Manikumar died suddenly in a car crash.

Umah’s tenacity was put to the ultimate test.

In addition to having to care for her own three children, now aged between 25 and 19, she had another 100 to school and feed. At about the same time, the home was also handling the case of Patrick Ding, now eight. Born with cerebral palsy he was found abandoned at their doorstep by cleaners. While dealing with grief, Umah was also tasked with finding Ding’s biological parents.

Ensuring the special children are given constant care, staff salaries of RM 36000 a month include physiotherapists to give them 
Ensuring special children are given constant care in the Taman Megah home.

“Those were indeed trying times,” recalls Umah, shaking her head at the recollection.

With the help of a board of trustees, the home pulled through. Today the home owns four double-storey lots, all donated by sponsors (two by the Lee Yan Lian Foundation). To run the home now takes RM76,000 a month.

Staff salaries, which includes 10 cleaners, three physiotherapists, six tutors, drivers, cooks and a supervisor, come up to RM36,000.

“Relying on volunteers will not guarantee continuity as they will come and go. This will disrupt schedules which will lead to improper management,” says Umah.

Adding to the expenses is the monthly rent of RM5,000 for a factory lot used for cooking and food storage. No cooking is done in any of the centre’s homes as neighbours have complained about the smell.

The president of the home, the adviser and all three trustees, receive no pay. With such gigantic bills, volunteers have to work very hard to ensure coffers don’t run dry.

Raymond Tai, 52, acting executive director of PT Foundation (formerly known as Pink Triangle), a community based HIV-AIDS education and prevention outfit, explains some of the challenges.

“A lot of funders like to see performance-based results. Let’s say if they give RM10, they expect to see the exact amount in goods going to the cause. They don’t realise, in order for this to happen you need manpower for planning and logistics. But many are not interested in the core management part needed to ensure these services or goods go to the target community,” says Tai.

An able team, he adds, is especially needed when an organisation is reliant on public donations. This is when credibility is needed to handle accounts, yearly auditing and proper governance of the organisation’s direction. At PT, where strategies for the running of programmes are planned five years in advance, Tai stresses that the monitoring of KPIs also has to be done to ensure things are going as planned.

On how PT has successfully funded its programmes for the past 26 years, Tai says, organising events has always worked for them.

Umah, the president of the Taman Megah home stands next to a memorial bust of her late husband, Manikumar, who started the home 
Umah, the president of the Taman Megah home stands next to a memorial bust of her late husband, Manikumar, who started the home.

In October last year, Tunku Nina Mansur, general manager of Polypipe and PT exco member sold 18 tickets priced at RM250 each for a fundraising event. By word of mouth, the 42-year-old and other organisation volunteers raised close to RM70,000 with the help of Benjamin Yong of the BIG Group who underwrote the “Shaken and Stirred” cocktail party in Kuala Lumpur.

Padma also organises events to raise funds. During a jogathon at the National Council of Women’s Organisation of Negri Sembilan, the Breast Cancer Support Society raised RM51,800. It was a step up compared to efforts in 2011 when they only managed to collect RM4,000. But it was still a win-win situation as out of the 300 participants at Glory Beach in Port Dickson, 50 new members signed up.

It also helps that corporate social responsibility has become a popular buzzword.

“It matters how you pitch,” says Nina.

An organisation can tailor programmes according to a company’s CSR direction. In this way, PT Foundation has managed to keep some 10 programmes running, funded by some 30 to 40 partners from corporate and government agencies.

Other way to run a charity is the social enterprise model.

Six months ago, PT became one of six Malaysian social enterprises to be given the Arthur Guinness Fund and British Council Social Enterprise Award, receiving up to RM32,000 in financial and business support. This came about when a government ministry could not fund the HIV-AIDS testing and counselling programme. As the communities the foundation was serving were of a lower-income group, the idea was to still provide free testing to those who could not afford it. But those who could were encouraged to sponsor those who couldn’t.

“So, if I had one patient who could sponsor two others, it makes up for it,” says Tai whose reveals that anonymous HIV-AIDS testing requires patients to pay RM40 for the service.

Of course, the ideal way is to achieve a measure of self-sustainability.

Tham Mun Choon, 55, one of the trustees of the Taman Megah home, says they have reserve funds to sustain six months of food. This was made possible with food donations from the neighbourhood. The home’s log books record the receiving of at least one bag of rice per day.

With the coming of the home’s new building — a RM16mil four-and-a-half storey complex in Taman SEA with a capacity for 250 children — the road to self-sustainability is expected to become a little smoother.

With facilities like a multipurpose hall, classrooms and physiotherapy equipment, there are plans to attract corporations who can exercise their CSR programmes and conduct structured internships. Currently, students from Mahsa, a local university offering healthcare and nursing courses, help with therapy needs for the home’s special children.

“One of the ways we are looking to generate money is to rent out billboard advertising space using the building façade which faces the highway. Another is to propose the multi-purpose hall for weddings, workshops or meditation sessions. But that is after the building is up. Our current focus is on getting funds for the completion of our new centre which we hope can be ready by next June,” says Tham.

When it comes to the crunch, it matters who is sitting behind a charity’s committee.

In the case of the Taman Megah home, Tham, 55, is the owner of Kemcak, an industrial construction company where a single project easily involves millions. Being bold for a good cause, trustees and committee members of the home are not averse to asking their clients for “help”. In the past, donors have included Volvo Malaysia, Mettube, Matrod and Yamaichi, satisfied customers eager to show gratitude and exercise their CSR arm. Currently, 10 other companies have collectively pledged a total of RM20,000 for the home every month.

At PT, Tai himself has a degree in management science from Warwick University. Coming from an advertising and brand-planning background, he has held the posts of account director and general manager.

Keep in mind that working for non-profit organisations means no year-end bonuses and perks. So, in addition to garnering support from donors, individuals in this field also need to be surrounded by an understanding family.

As an example of pay scales in such outfits, consider the supervisor of the Taman Megah Home. Mani Megalai, 45, looks after 138 children, has 19 years of experience in the field of specialised childcare, and is paid only RM2,500.

“If you have a wife who expects a Rolex every month, then it is going to affect your commitment to an organisation,” says Nina frankly.

Having an influential character behind a fundraiser is a big help. Unicef, for example, had Audrey Hepburn. For landmines, they had the late Princess Diana Spencer.

Just recently, at the Tiger Beer and C.C. Liew Cup Charity golf competition which teed off with 108 participants at the Monterez Gold and Country Club, tournament organisers collected RM18,660 for the Taman Megah Handicapped and Disabled Children’s Home in just under an hour. During the prize giving ceremony at The Tavern in GAB’s Sungei Way Brewery, a gregarious Datuk Dr Wong Sai Hou, the former Malaysian Chinese Association state assemblyman for Kampung Tunku went to each table with a donation box to cajole celebrating golfers to chip in for the children’s home. To speed the process, Wong enlisted the help of two sporting ladies and a posse of MCA members who cheered loudly every time someone put money in the box.

On how non-profit organisations can secure the support of famous people like Malaysian funnymen Harith Iskandar and Jit Murad who performed pro bono for PT’s “Shaken and Stirred” event, Nina says, “There is something known as the six degrees of separation. Someone you know will know someone who is famous.”

In her experience, when PT sits down to plan for projects, garnering the support of a famous spokesperson can simply begin with a call to the manager. It is up to the individual to make the decision.

“Of course, he or she will have to consider how being part of the cause can affect his or her fan base and some may even ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ But, it is not only about leveraging or gaining from any trade-off. In the end, it is about the generosity of this individual’s spirit. It is a nice feeling to know that someone who doesn’t need to do this has stopped everything just to lend a hand,” Nina said.

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