Crowdfunding brings relief to NGOs

January 14, 2019 12:00 AM
  • Crowdfunding brings relief to NGOs
By Kavitha Srinivasa


Impact Guru’s unique positioning as a web-based crowdfunding platform for a social cause has attracted donors from various parts of the globe. While donors enjoy a tax benefit, the less privileged receiver gets a platform to make a point. Social media and mobile apps connect the donor and receiver

Formative Years

All that it requires is a spark to trigger off a fire. Proverbially, this has turned out to be true in Jain’s case. At 14, he has visited an orphanage in Lonavala, a hill station which is 82 km by road from Mumbai and like any school boy, he was playing cricket there. Probably he would have brushed it off as just another outing to ‘some place’ had it not been for a chance encounter with an orphaned boy, who wanted to know why he was denied a family, home and school life. That brief meeting has sealed Piyush’s fate. Of course, Jain had to wait for several years to following his heart’s calling. “I grew up in Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi and multiple influences from these cities have urged me to work hard. I then graduated from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and finished my Masters Degree from John. F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University,” said Jain, Founder-CEO Impact Guru. While at the Harvard University, he was exposed to crowdfunding and social impact bonds. Intrigued and influenced by the course of study there, he decided to publish a paper on crowdfunding and how it can solve developmental problems in India. Suddenly, like in a jigsaw puzzle, everything fell into place. He had found an answer to his unanswered question that lingered in his mind during his childhood visit to an orphanage.

“I felt crowdfunding and fintech can be tweaked for a social cause. I knew time had come to put things in perspective in my home turf,” he recalled. And so, it is destination Mumbai, for Jain where he realigned his life as he co-founded Impact Guru, a crowdfunding fintech startup with wife Khushboo, who leads the communications, design, and brand function as Chief Operating Officer. Khushboo is a graduate of Parsons New School for Design, New York and has worked in various startups and multinational firms including Manish Malhotra, The Label Life, Jimmy Choo, Hackett and La Martina.

A Felt Need

Incubated at Harvard Innovation Lab’s Venture Initiation Program in 2014 and PACT at Impact Hub in Singapore in 2015, the Impact Guru website was officially launched in India in 2015 by Mrs. Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister of Women and Child Development.

Simply put, crowdfunding is a means of raising funds for a social cause by collecting sums of money from a community of people and an effective way of achieving this is through the Internet. Being an online platform, fundraising can happen at a global level.

Crowdfunding solutions for the needy have probably never existed in India, for the simple reason that the less privileged community didn’t have the wherewithal to raise funds to meet their unmet needs be it for education or medical expenses. The fact that they couldn’t stand up for themselves and voice their need compelled them to suffer as hapless individuals unless a stroke of divine luck altered their lives. Clearly, there’s a gnawing gap in the market which Jain has decided to address. That’s how Impact Guru has been christened as a tech-for- good platform.

The Offering

Impact Guru has been positioned as a donation-based crowdfunding platform for Indians across the world to give back to their country. It offers global crowdfunding solutions for individuals and organizations fundraising for medical causes, social causes, personal causes, creative projects, and various events. A platform of this kind has managed to make the right connect as it has already mobilized Rs 329 crore for various NGOs and organisations in more than 15 countries.

Several NGOs have been impacted. “Every season, we take in at least 500 birds that lose their homes due to deforestation and rehabilitate them. Funding is one the biggest challenges any nonprofit like us face. Impact Guru has been a friendly team to work with; our fundraising campaign with them saw a smooth journey. Their platform was effective in helping us raise enough funds quickly and keep our practice going! Kudos to Impact Guru,” expressed a spokesperson from the Jivdaya Charitable Trust, an Ahmedabad-based non-government animal welfare organization.

Over 13,000 fundraisers have impacted more than three lakh lives and the fastest fundraising campaign so far is a sum of Rs 25 lakh raised in one week by the husband of a Delhi teacher who needed a liver transplant. 

Little wonder that Impact Guru was recently profiled on India’s #1 startup TV show, CNBC Young Turks in 2016 and 2017. “We are the largest crowdfunding website in India that raises money for medical causes, personal causes, NGOs and creative projects. Teach for India, Child Rights and You (CRY) and People for Animals (PFA) have used the platform for raising money, apart from various other NGOs,” explained the social entrepreneur.  But then, being an early entrant into a relatively unknown segment and trying to create a market for the same is not an easy task. As he put it, “Being a social entrepreneur isn’t easy. The biggest stumbling block had been to convince the NGOs about the potential of crowdfunding as a major source of funding. Actually, many of them have only heard of online payments and were not familiar with crowdfunding. NGOs had to be convinced to change their fundraising approach and build a stronger digital brand.”

Though the unconventional social entrepreneur must have had some conviction before he began to engage with citizens and NGOs, setting up the startup has been a learning experience, more so as he has never worked in India prior to starting Impact Guru. Trust is built differently in India. While, new business partnerships can be setup through email and phone interactions alone in the US, personal meetings are far more effective in India.

Technology, an Enabler

Impact Guru is a for profit company that helps the social sector. The team at Impact Guru collaborates and supports individuals who want to use crowdfunding for a social cause. Strange as it may seem, it turns out that around 5 minutes is required to create a fundraiser on Impact Guru, and this duration works like clockwork provided the person in need is prepared with details like the fundraiser story, images and goal amount.

“Our relationship managers connect with customers who want to mobilize money, offer them personalized training for crowdfunding, and provide end to end support to maximize their chances of success. The fact that the receiver does not have to pay a single rupee back to the donors is the biggest reason why crowdfunding is starting to become mainstream in India,” said Jain, by way of explanation.

The platform has worked out a suite of online and offline activities. The marketing blitzkrieg begins on the social media platform such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. Social media is a force multiplier and the platforms offer individuals the ease of sharing ‘things to do.’ Apart from that, tools like Hootsuite and Buffer are leveraged to schedule posts. Facebook posts along with pictures, weekly LinkedIn posts and regular Tweets give the required visibility and boost. Besides the social media push, the platform is fully mobile responsive with an App on offer. The App works on Android and provides fund seekers real time verification on the amount raised and the donors involved.

The marketing initiatives continue to roll out, and this time, it extends to the email, where services like MailChimp are used to send out emails to priority groups, along with chat options. Other attractions unfold. The platform has options for NGOs and social enterprises raise money in the offline world, as crowdfunding campaigns do appear in print media, apart from tapping bloggers in the online world.

Usually the campaign has a timeline of 90 days, the time-frame gives the marketing team sufficient bandwidth to ensure that the campaign grabs enough eyeballs and makes the right connect. The viral connect builds on the momentum and in doing so it creates a sense of community as it aggregates audiences. In fact, Impact Guru has built a network in India, South Asia and the US.due to which it has attracted donors from various places. Mumbai based Hemant Sharma had once donated on a shared link of a friend and since then he's been visiting the platform regularly. “I’m a regular donor on Impact Guru’s Platform. I love supporting causes and helping people in need. Plus, I have also got 80G tax exemption benefit on donating on a few fundraisers, which is great,” Sharma explained.

Fruitful Partnerships

A self-driven person, Jain enjoys taking up challenges. When the problem is large and complex, it motivates him, especially while dealing with medical crowdfunding, when it becomes crucial to mobilize funds within a stipulated time.

Once the teething phase was over, it wasn’t long before the investment banker put on his thinking and innovation cap. With over seven years of experience in investment banking, management consulting and emerging markets, it didn’t take long to scout around for the right partners.

As per a May 2017 press release, Impact Guru has partnered with US and UK based GlobalGiving, the world’s first and largest non-profit crowdfunding platform. The partnership aims to scale Crowdfunding in India. India is home to the highest number of nonprofits in the world (33 lakh NGOs) and raises over Rs 8,500 crore annually from international donors. Tax incentives are often considered a crucial factor in encouraging philanthropy. By offering tax exemptions to US and UK donors, this partnership will help Indian NGOs and social enterprises to attract more philanthropy or grant capital from the Indian diaspora. “Having spent over a decade outside of India prior to starting ImpactGuru, we can relate to the desire of Indian diaspora to give back while obtaining local tax benefits, and their concerns around transparency of Indian NGOs. Impact Guru is thrilled to be partnering with GlobalGiving to address these gaps, thereby making us the platform of choice for crowdfunding by Indians globally,” stated Jain in the press release.

In April 2016 Impact Guru raised USD $500K from RB Investments and Fundnel. Then in September 2016 Impact Guru became the crowdfunding partner for Project Initiative, an initiative by the Singapore Committee for UN Women and MasterCard that focuses on women safety. It has raised approximately Rs 25 lakh from more than 1,100 supporters from over 30 countries.

Moving beyond business networking, Jain recharges his batteries by indulging in electronic music, travel breaks and photography. He’s also a compulsive sports buff, with Michael Schumacher and Cristiano Ronaldo being his idols.

It’s not always that one comes across a successful investment banker-management consultant who has put aside his corporate innings and reinvented himself as a social entrepreneur back on desi soil. “Social entrepreneurs need to strategize a sustainable business model with a long term perspective,” firms up Jain, as a take-away lesson. In 2018, his company hopes to scale more causes and help save more lives by increasing partnerships with various hospitals across the country. Here’s wishing him the very best.

A slice of medical crowdfunding recreated Puja Bhatnagar, a mother of two daughters has been fighting chronic liver disease for last 17 years. A Delhi-based teacher, Puja had continued with her teaching and did not allow her condition to lower her morale or affect her normal life. She braved the battle and continued teaching till March 2017 when she had to give it up as she had reached the end stage liver cirrhosis. She was admitted to Max Hospital, one of India’s best liver transplant hospitals to undergo an urgent liver transplant surgery in order to survive. Obviously, the cost of the surgery along with post operative care is something that Puja and her husband Anurag could not afford. Anurag then decided to start a fundraiser and managed to raise Rs 25,01,070 from over 400 donors. “Crowdfunding helped us spread the fundraiser through various mediums which resulted in super quick response to our request for fundraising. The contributions came in from 15 different countries and we got people’s attention through Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and by reaching out to different blogs. We had not expected to collect this high an amount in such a short span of time, but this was made possible by crowdfunding on Impact Guru,” said an overwhelmed Anurag.

Tech Stack

  • Backend on PHP

  • Frontend on HTML, Bootstrap

  • Story builder - a bot based campaign story writing tool

  • Custom social media integrations with WhatsApp and Facebook

  • Fraudcheck mechanisms, using user behavior patterns and AI

  • An Android app for campaigners as well, we are the first ones in India to do that


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Towards a higher purpose

As an investment banker-management consultant, Piyush Jain was gainfully employed in the US. Understandably so considering he has graduated from the Harvard University and pursued a career at the Boston Consulting Group. He has had everything going for him and could have continued to grow from strength to strength, yet he left it all to return to India. It’s a case of the mind following the heart — instead of adding wads of cash to his bank account, he has morphed into a social entrepreneur to raise funds for the less privileged. In the process, life has turned a full circle for him.


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