'Feeding America', one of the largest charities in the US, raised over $ 4 billion in 2022. India's largest similar organisation supplying meals raised about $ 0.07 billion. Keeping aside the comparison with a much larger economy and charity, consider the size of the need in India. There is so much more that non-profits can achieve, and help accelerate India's progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 agenda - if they are enabled to grow and achieve their potential impact.
What's holding back Indian non-profits? We have several million of them - NITI Aayog's Darpan portal shows over 1.75 lakh registered NGOs, and estimates elsewhere range up to 3 million. They come in myriad avatars - societies, trusts, Section 8 companies and more, governed by different laws at the Centre and state levels. There is no single government agency or regulator that governs them all, and monitors the health of the sector. We sorely lack credible and updated data on the size, funding patterns, sectoral trends, growth or anything else that can aid thoughtful decision making from philanthropy or policy makers for helping the sector work at its best.
As the first step towards addressing this glaring gap, we tried to map the top 200 non-profits in India by their annual budget, the only objective and verified (signed by the auditors) parameter we have publicly available (through the annual reports) to assess the size of the organisation.
We looked at a particular type of non-profit - an independent non-profit with its own mission statement, with at least a part of its work in implementation, raising money from multiple types of funders without being predominantly funded by a single donor. This is the kind of an impact-oriented non-profit you and I donate to, or the CSR teams engage with. This boundary excludes most corporate CSR foundations, philanthropic/HNI/family foundations that are primarily funding agencies, multi-lateral institutions, and large educational institutions and hospitals that generate significant revenue through operations.
Some important takeaways from survey:
- Top 200 non-profits in India are in the annual budget range of Rs 10 crore to 800 crore.
- Annually, they secure about Rs 8,000-9,000 crore in funding (about USD 1 Billion).
- The source of this capital annually is split almost equally between domestic and foreign funding.
- In the three years we looked at - 2019-2022 - the total pool of capital to this cohort did not change significantly when adjusted for inflation and a Covid-related spike.
- Children, community development, education, healthcare and livelihood are the top sectors these organisations work in.
- About 18% of the organisations have global origin/ affiliation, and they received 30% of the total funding.
- At an aggregate level, the non-profits have a year-end income surplus ranging from 4% to 7% of the total money raised each year.
- Finances are volatile. Almost 20% saw an income change of over 50% in 2021-22.
- Headquarters of these large NGOs are clustered around the hubs of corporate and commercial activity in India. Underdeveloped areas would benefit from the presence of locally headquartered non-profits capable of raising and deploying large grants for local development.
- Most organisations that are large today, started in the last two decades. Several factors play a role in the success of relatively younger non-profits - the influx of professional talent, new philanthropists with a different vision, changing regulatory environment, and most importantly the evolving nature of societal problems with the economic and technological progress India has made.
Beyond these 200, there are thousands of organisations doing good work but unfortunately not of significant size. Their localised impact still matters, but meaningful scale is not always possible at their suboptimal size. Growth alone need not be the focus for every organisation, but there's much headroom for the ones with demonstrated models of impact that can scale.
What can help?
A regulatory and policy overhaul to foster non-profits of all sizes through nuanced measures, conscious focus on organisation building with support from philanthropists through non-programmatic grants and capacity strengthening, and a concerted effort on building trust through transparency are some measures that need urgent attention.
Today, India's largest private sector company spends as much on social impact through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) single-handedly, as does the largest non-profit in India funded by multiple donors. Less than half of corporate India's sizeable pool of mandatory CSR spend of Rs 25,000 crore annually goes to independent non-profits.
To achieve sustainable and inclusive growth as envisioned in SDG 2030, it is important that the impact focused non-profits grow along with the Indian economy and the private sector.
(Vrunda Bansode is passionate about making actionable data available for decision making in the social sector, and has worked on multiple pioneering data products at Sattva Consulting, a leading impact consulting firm.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author