Pratik Dattani, founder of Asian Charity Clarity (ACC), is speaking in tongues.
Words like ‘Metrics’, ‘Dais’, ‘Hypothesis’ etc – the kind of words meant to give ‘structure’ to information – spew out as he describes ACC.
Structure is probably a useful thing for Dattani given his various jobs – the soft-spoken management consultant is also the UK Director of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Managing Director of the consulting firm Economic Policy Group, among many other things.
The appropriately-named ACC is Dattani’s latest venture, a digital platform resplendent with information and aimed at providing clarity for potential donors to British Asian faith and community-based charities.
British Asians are among the most generous when it comes to donating to charitable causes.
What occurred in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – when the Diaspora raised hundreds of millions of dollars – is testament to that generosity.
And it’s often not just for the benefit of those impacted by tectonic-plate movements.
Whether it’s a posh afternoon tea at a luxury Central London hotel or a sparsely attended cricket match in the back of beyond, an overwhelming majority of community events will be raising money to send some poor child to school, build a school, put a new roof above an existing school or myriad other initiatives aimed at alleviating the suffering of those back home.
This magnanimity has, in turn, resulted in a large number of charitable organizations, ranging from behemoths such as the British Asian Trust to the one that raises funds to provide lunch packets to beggars in a particular district of the Sri Lankan capital Colombo.
The surfeit of charities has also meant that transparency and clarity can be elusive, particularly for second and third generation British Asians: part of an increasingly successful community with plenty of disposable income and who make far more informed choices than their parents and grandparents.
That’s where Asian Charity Clarity comes in.
ACC measures charities according to various different metrics and assigns a rating out of 3 in areas such as Financial Health, Accountability, Transparency and Accessibility to information.
The UKAsian caught up with Dattani to find out more.
UKAsian: Why do we need clarity? Do community-based charities have a bad reputation?
Pratik Dattani: There have been a few high-profile incidents when the money has not been used properly. But before we started this we wanted to see whether ACC would be useful, so we did a survey of people aged between 25 and 30 and asked them questions like whether they knew where their donations were going, whether they were confident that the money would not be misused. Surprisingly a majority of people surveyed said they thought the money was not used the way it should, while some said they had no idea and only a handful said that they were confident that the money will be utilised properly. So there is a need for greater transparency and communication and ACC is all about facilitating that communication. ACC gives information to donors so that they have full faith before donating.
We are very similar to a US initiative called Charity Navigator. They do pretty much the same thing but charity reporting is more intense because they have more information. They look at the bigger charities but ACC looks at the community-based, grassroots-level charities as well as the larger ones. Within the community we are a source of information for potential donors. Small charities don’t have enough resources. Within the community we have donors who donate and we help people to channel the money to the appropriate places. Empowering the donors and strengthening the charities.
UKAsian: Give us an example of how ACC would work for a potential donor.
PD: If you are a young British Asian, you are probably at a stage where you are still forming your opinions, particularly about the charitable activities that you want to engage in. If you don’t get your information at the right time, then one can’t channel one’s resources to the right place. For instance, there is a very respected charity that we scrutinized. They have 25 trustees and began their activities a quarter century ago. But there’s no information about how the trustees are selected. Their public submissions don’t say how the trustees are trained or if they have an election process or even if the current trustees are the very best people for the job.
If you can’t articulate what your trustee training or election or renewal process is like going forward then it turns out that if I give £1000 to the charities then there is no guarantee that the charity will be there for five years.
UKAsian: What was the catalyst for you to set up ACC?
PD: Working in the City I had come across a lot of issues when there were trustee disputes and concerns about inefficiency. As I came across these issues I met like-minded people encountering the same problems. But people mostly talk about these things and never actually do anything to address the problems. My Personal experience as well as the experience being corroborated by others drove me to this venture.
UKAsian: What does your research suggest as to who is more generous? Second and third generation British Asians or their parents and grandparents?
PD: The younger generation is more willing to donate but they have not strongly identified with one organisation. They donate mostly if they have a personal understanding or experience. They develop their preferences through family experiences of charity or having being helped by a charity. The other reality is that a lot of young people these days rely on information. The key is to provide a credible platform and people are convinced about the message. So, when targeting young people we don’t go to temples, we go near their work place. We organise dinners and deliver the information they want.
UKAsian: There are hundreds of smaller charities that don’t need the skill set that you talk about but have been doing amazing work in places like India and Sri Lanka and even here in the UK. Wouldn’t that mean that potential donors would look at historic performance rather than skill sets?
PD: Let’s take another example. At the moment we have four charities dedicated to primary education in parts of South Asia. Let’s say there are four schools being built somewhere in India and these charities have been in existence for a decade or more. They all have websites, and everything else. What ACC provides is the ability for the donor to assess which of the schools have achieved the greatest impact. You can get a clear picture and can say which will make your donation go the furthest and you can see where they have the greatest internal governance processes, because if you are investing money and in one place they have educated 100 children and in another place they have educated three we will provide the information to help you make your choice. They both might be great projects but which is the best one for you as the donor?
UKAsian: How cooperative have the charities been and the obvious question arises, why must they trust ACC?
PD: For obvious reasons, many of the charities that have the best ratings are those who have accessible information. We send letters to the trustees and inform them about our activities. The best ones have been the ones which have responded. Having said that, sometimes there are big charities with incorrect details as well. So it’s not about scale. It’s about having the best possible information so that potential donors can make the best possible decision.
The challenge was to provide a tool for potential donors. To some charities we say that we would like to help them showcase their work. To others we say that we would like to identify those areas where we can support them. And there have already been numerous well-wishers within the community who have offered to give up their time to support the initiative.
UKAsian: ACC rates all the charities equally but doesn’t scale and visibility give one organization an advantage over smaller charities?
PD: There a couple of charities which have revenues in excess of £20 million whilst others have £10,000. The rating system doesn’t penalize you for scale. You might be a £25 million charity but your overheads might be similarly huge for things like wages and fixed assets. There might be another £10 million charity manned entirely by volunteers so the organization has a very small wage bill.
Also, visibility isn’t necessarily a sign of a charity operating at its most efficient. For instance, there is a charity in Manchester which provides assistance to older people of Indian origin. It doesn’t have a website or a marketing plan but they are immensely trusted. Two of their main volunteers are MBA’s and the charity’s work features in all the local newspapers. They’ve been in operation for more than two decades. So they don’t need to market themselves because they are very well known within the community and their beneficiaries are known and targeted. And the donors hold them in very high regard.
UKAsian: What about the charities that donate to projects back home in the sub-continent?
PD: If your end beneficiary is here, then you need to assess the charity in different ways to those whose end beneficiaries are overseas. So for example if all the money is spent here, but at the end of the year you are giving 80% to someone in Sri Lanka then information should be first gathered on how the money is spent, what is the labour cost there etc. Once we know the money is funded and left the country we try to find where the reporting is and thus keep transparency, so that we can tell where that money is going. So, we are rewarding transparency. And transparency is the most important thing for any donor.
UKAsian: There is this ongoing argument about scale and efficiency. What kind of data has your research thrown up about the correlation between the two, if any.
PD: It depends on how one would define efficiency. There is a huge debate in the US about this. Proportionally how much can and should a charity give away. If the CEO gets paid $150,000 some would say that that is poor use of beneficiary money. Then if you’re a large charitable organization you need a building and staff. In reality, it’s better to have one large charity than having thirty smaller ones.
A sample of how some charities rated. (Source – Asian Charity Clarity)
TOP FIVE – OVERALL
1. PRATHAM UK – EDUCATION
2. AKSHAYA PATRA FOUNDATION – EDUCATION/SCHOOL MEALS
3. SHREE KUTCH LEVA PATEL COMMUNITY – COMMUNITY PROJECTS
4. SENSE INTERNATIONAL – SUPPORTING THE DEAF AND BLIND
5. THE COMMUNITY OF THE MANY NAMES OF GOD (SKANDA VALE) – COMMUNITY PROJECTS
TOP FIVE – ACCOUNTABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY
2. BHARATIYA VIDYA BHAVAN (MANCHESTER) LTD – COMMUNITY PROJECTS & EVENTS
5. BOARD OF DEPUTIES CHARITABLE FOUNDATION – JEWISH COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION
TOP FIVE – BY INCOME
1. SARJUDAS FOUNDATION (NEASDEN TEMPLE/BAPS LONDON MANDIR) – £32.3 MILLION
2. HAND-IN-HAND INTERNATIONAL (POVERTY ALLEVIATION) – £12.5 MILLION
3. AKSHAR EDUCATIONAL TRUST (THE SWAMINARAYAN SCHOOL) – £12.3 MILLION
4. GURU NANAK NISHKAM SEWAK JATHA, BIRMINGHAM – £8.5 MILLION
5. RADHA SOAMI SATSANG BEAS, BRITISH ISLES – £7.5 MILLION
TOP FIVE – FEMALE REPRESENTATION
1. LEUVA PATIDAR SAMAJ OF LONDON – COMMUNITY PROJECTS