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To donate or not to donate?

FOR some of us, a day without the internet would mean a day of semi-paralysis. We work and play, and learn and share news online. I shopped online this month for bus tickets, concert tickets and a book. But I have not donated a single sen to Haiti, even though watching videos of the earthquake and its aftermath brought tears to my eyes. This got me thinking — with cyberspace tending to encourage self-indulgence, how can we make it work to help those less fortunate?

How to help online?

I have personally been involved in three online fundraising projects. One was to supply tents to the 2005 Pakistan earthquake victims, another to raise funds for the 2006 Java earthquake victims, and the last for a small Petaling Jaya orphanage’s education fund in 2007.   

All combined fun elements, such as paintball for Pakistan, a barbecue for Java, and a zoo outing for the PJ orphanage, which fared the best. Our army of 10 volunteers raised RM22,000 from just a one-day zoo outing.

Contributors having fun with the kids from the orphanages at the zoo
(pic courtesy of Koh Lay Chin)

Our team had reached out to our friends, friends of our friends and so on via Facebook, blogs and e-mails. The modus operandi was simple — our friends trusted us, and so their friends trusted the project. We kept contributors in the loop, and we invited them back to visit the orphanage when they could. Our contributors felt connected to the kids from the orphanage, who were there having fun with them at the zoo.

From my experiences with these three projects, several things seem apparent when it comes to donations and our net-savvy generation:

1Malaysians are still hesitant to donate or contribute to causes they feel are remote or removed from their lives here. One of the comments about the project for the Pakistan earthquake survivors was, “Why should I help the Pakistanis lah?” In comparison, people seemed more concerned about the Java survivors.

2Sometimes race and religion do play a part in why and how Malaysians choose to donate. Feedback that I have garnered has ranged from, “But the Christian groups back that organisation, tak payah lah” or “Let the Malay [Malaysians] take care of their own.”

3There will be broken pledges.

4Regardless of how big or small the project is, online marketing, updates and publicity should never be underestimated.

5Even if they are donating from their hearts, contributors are most happy if they can also “get” something in return. A day of fun, perhaps? Networking possibilities? Exercise?   

6Processes and concepts need to be easy and fuss-free for potential donors who are short of time or attention.

We are more than willing to donate if we sympathise with or believe in the cause.

We need to trust the financial processes involved.

We need to trust, believe in and connect with the organisers. This trust is, hands down, the most powerful thing on the list.

Doubts about donating

The ruumz launch was a cheerful, hopeful affair

Last week, I went to the launch of an online charity portal called ruumzcauses. It is essentially a project by its parent company ruumz to allow people to donate online. The launch of this micro-donations initiative and its potential beneficiaries was attended by several celebrities. Very Hollywood.


Here’s how it works. By buying something called “Virtual Hearts” on the site, the public can make small monetary contributions to welfare homes or causes simply and painlessly. For example, one can purchase RM20 worth of Virtual Hearts, and split up the contribution across several different causes. This micro-donations feature runs based on the adage that every little bit counts.

The Virtual Hearts one can purchase to donate to
organisations online

One hundred percent of the value of a Virtual Heart goes to the intended organisation. Plus, ruumzcauses is engaging an international audit firm, and are collaborating with, a welfare information site.

But I have to admit that after one whole week, I had not even considered joining the site. Why? Perhaps I am not alone. I wonder what the responses to other local fundraising sites, such as Donate.Com.My or Charity Malaysia have been like. For example, Charity Malaysia has only been able to raise slightly over RM21,000 since its official launch in mid-2007.

Perhaps responses are still slow in coming because these websites are new. The question is, can they thrive? Is it just that we still don’t like to donate online? Are we still relying on big patrons and organisations? Do we prefer to donate time and goods rather than cash? —small but beautiful
Defining success

From my own experience, I believe that generally Malaysians are willing to donate. Outfits like ruumz, and Charity Malaysia just need to understand that in order to succeed, people will be gauging the sincerity of their efforts and whether their connection to the causes is real. To convince people, they will have to embark on long-term trust-building. For example, has volunteers that consistently visit welfare homes across the country for an update of their needs.

With charitable efforts, whether online or not, good hearts are a good start. But they need to have a sustained personal touch if they are going to succeed in the long-term.

Koh Lay Chin thinks every little bit counts.

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One Response to “To donate or not to donate?”

  1. Melissa says:

    You have articulated the points reasonably well, especially since this is a personal matter and so we can only guess at the true reasons behind the decisions that others make.

    But that leaves me wondering why you chose to focus on only the reasons given by others, without answering (or perhaps just trying to answer) the question of why you don’t feel the urge to donate through these means? Is it that you agree with the sentiments expressed here?

    I just find it odd that even though you end with, “Every little bit counts”, we still don’t know anything about your preferred methods of donating, etc. Hope you get my meaning here, it’s not a criticism, just a critique 🙂

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