This is the first of a series of posts on my experience in the Dasra Executive Education program for Social Entrepreneurs.
I always thought we were a pretty well-run organization. Our staff was happy, our kids were happy, our funders were happy.
So if we sometimes forgot to hold our Board meetings or occasionally didn’t do staff evaluations for two years at a stretch or we didn’t have a strategic plan in place, we didn’t worry too much. We knew we were in good company. None of the other organizations we worked with was any different.
What did worry us, though, was when we ran out of money.
This happened with alarming regularity – and yet it still always came as a surprise.
“What????” I would say to our accountant. “We only have enough left for one month? You must be joking.”
For the past year and a half, in fact, we paid our bills by the skin of our teeth and the grace of God. We ran the Foundation one month at a time. I would call long-suffering, endlessly supportive friends and associates and beg for a few lakhs, assuring each one of them that this was the absolute last time I would do it. I was working on a plan, I assured them.
Actually, I wasn’t. I was too busy scrambling from one month to the next. I didn’t have the time to sit down for a cup of tea, let alone find the time to make a long-term business plan, a strategy or a set of fundraising goals.
One day our accounts guy told me we needed eight lakhs to cover the unfunded expenses for the next two months. As usual, it was desperate. While most of our projects now had funding, two were absolutely penniless and there was no prospect in sight.
I wrote to a very wealthy, very generous friend. I had never approached her before because I knew she was totally committed to a particular education project in her area and that she didn’t want to lessen the impact of her giving by giving small amounts to many groups. But I was desperate. I wrote to her, explaining the situation and asked if she would consider helping us by giving a part of the total we needed.
The next day, she wrote back. She said she was sending a check for eight lakhs. Then she added:
If you do not mind, I would like to raise a concern. How will you solve your long term financial problem? Unless you have a sustainable model for funding, every month you will have a crisis.
Of course, she was absolutely right. And, to give ourselves credit, we weren’t actually sitting around plotting about rich friends sending us money. We had been staying up late writing proposals and funding appeals and we had made some progress. But, as I told this donor in my response to her question:
I keep dreaming of getting a large enough grant to keep the whole Foundation afloat for a year, just to give me enough time to put a long-term plan in place, but that hasn’t happened!
A few hours later I got another email from her.
I am sending you the cheque for Rs. 8 lakhs today but I am told that the courier will take 2-3 days to reach Dehradun. I hope your staff can wait for their salaries till the cheque is cleared.
My team and I have decided that besides the 8 lakhs, we would like to give a donation of Rs. 1 crore. Let me explain that this is something we are doing as a one time thing and please do not bank on it for the future. I hope this is your dream come true to give you time to plan for long term.
This was heart-stopping. Nothing in my long life of miracles and dreams come true had prepared me for something so enormous, so astonishing, so much like a message from heaven. Her generosity was simply overwhelming. There were no words to describe it. But even more that that, if more is possible, was her staggering show of faith not only in our work but in our ability to “plan long term.” I was at once exalted and terrified. She believed we could do it and she had taken away our last excuse not to.
The very next day, I heard about the Dasra program for social entrepreneurs. Those who know me well know that I believe in signs. I believe that the way will be revealed at the moment when it is needed.
This is not a mystical, irresponsible, “God will provide” sort of game plan. I know how much hard work is required once the road map is given. I know that it is up to us to take the gifts and make the most of them and that greater people than we are have failed because they believed someone else would be appointed to pick up the slack.
But I also know that miracles are real – as long as we participate in them. The miracle was the one crore donation, but it was also the advice to put a long-term plan in place.
The miracle was hearing about the Dasra training program, but it was also the begging and pleading to get admitted to it even though the deadline for applying was already past.
The miracle is that I am now in, but it will also be that I do the work and share what I am learning with my colleagues not only at the Foundation but with other organizations here in Dehradun.
There is so much to do in this world. Only a miracle – hard work, skill, cooperation with the universe, call it what you like – will make it happen.