Making NRIs feel guilty with ‘emotional blackmail’ (Commentary)

July 31st, 2008 - 12:58 pm ICT by IANS  

By Kul Bhushan
A mountain of mail at the doorstep confronts most NRIs in the US on returning from their summer holidays in July-August. “Sorting out the mail and throwing away junk mails is a massive job that I hate,” said Manohar ‘Manny’ Sharma in New York. “The highest number of letters is for ’special offers’ for all those things that we don’t need,” he added, “Then there are the appeals for charity as if we have billions of dollars to spare!” The same is true for NRIs living in Britain as scores of charities keep chasing them for cash donations. “I wonder how they get our names and addresses,” said G.S. Sandhu who lives in an upscale suburb of London. “These appeals make us feel guilty with their heartrending photos and language.”

Donation seekers use very imaginative techniques as well. One appeal came with a pen asking the donor to fill and sign on the donation form. Another came with a shopping bag displaying a colour photograph of a poor, starving child so that the donor remembers the unfortunate when buying expensive goods.

A kitchen towel with a message was part of another appeal that reminded the potential donor about those who cannot buy groceries to keep them alive. Yet another came with a penny stuck to the letter that said, “This penny can buy a meal for a deprived person in Africa. So, how many pennies can you contribute?” Another sent a piggy bank by post so that the donor can save and send the savings to the charity by a particular date. One charity sent a raffle for a luxury car.

Christmas and the New Year is the prime time for these appeals for this high-powered “emotional blackmail”. When everyone is spending to celebrate the festive season, the appeals flood the mailboxes. Usually, they come as greeting cards with colour photograph; as calendars to constantly remind donors for the next 12 months; or, they come with your name and address printed on a sheet for you to use to send your greeting cards.

NRIs are also overwhelmed with similar appeals all the way from India showing deprived children and women suffering from poverty, ignorance and disease. Then, gurus and ashrams promising heaven and nirvana also target NRIs by post.

Once an NRI donates to a charity, its address list is perhaps shared or sold to others. Thus the donor gets more appeals. So how can NRIs counter this assault? Here is the text of a letter drafted by one harried recipient to discourage charities from bombarding him their appeals:

“Thank you for your request for donation towards your charity. I appreciate your efforts towards a good cause. However, I already support a number of charity organisations engaged in similar initiatives for noble causes. But I get far too many requests from a host of charities doing good work and cannot support all of them as my resources are limited. So I have decided to support those organisations that supply me the following basic information:

1. The total amount of funds collected by your charity;
2. The total amount of funds spent on administrative costs;
3. The total amount of funds spent on the actual cause.

This information will decide and prioritise our donations. If this information is not supplied within two weeks, please remove our name and address from your mailing list to save paper and postage.”

Since charities are reluctant to disclose these key figures, they remain silent. The administrative costs of some charities have been found to be higher than the actual amount spent on charity as their officials enjoy high salaries and perks.

In India, some charities exist only on these mailers to obtain money from gullible NRIs. Before you rush with a donation, please check if the charity has a track record and is registered with the Indian government and how it is accountable to you for your donation.

One NRI made a handsome donation to an orphanage in a village of Gujarat. Since he was visiting this area, he decided to see for himself the work of this organisation and asked for directions to this orphanage. On arriving at the spot outside the village, he found a well-tended farmhouse with a gleaming four-wheel drive parked inside its gate. On entering the well-furnished premises, he did not find any poor orphans but a well-fed family at dinner served by servants while the orphans were housed in temporary shacks in the compound with meagre facilities. When asked, the home owner explained that he had to look after himself before he could look after the orphans.

A case of charity begins at home!

(Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: kulbhushan2040@gmail.com)

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