The $6M Year
The year from mid-2015 to 2016 was so remarkable when it came to fundraising and I am so thankful for how it transpired. The three separate initiatives that I was very fortunate to have been involved in and played a role in resulted in raising over $6M — for CALICO Center, Sankara Eye Foundation USA and IIT Madras. It was a perfect trifecta effect. It was all possible because of the amazing teams in these organizations and the generous donors.
I came across Calico while placing fellow Wharton MBA students as board fellows in non-profit organizations. I was a member of the Non-Profit Board Leadership Program (or NPBLP) at Wharton along with Peter, Tejas, Lindsay and Jason. One of the previous students had worked with Calico and I ended up calling the organization to figure out what they were looking for from board members and fellows. This led me to speak with Holly, one of the Calico board members, who described in great detail Calico’s work in achieving justice and healing to victims of child abuse, through its forensic interviews and services for children and their families. Calico serves all of Alameda county and works closely with child protective services, various law enforcement organizations and numerous partner organizations. The staff members at Calico are highly dedicated, incredibly talented and amazingly caring. Calico was established in 1997 and it performs about 800 interviews a year. The cause was close to my heart — my wife and I adopted our two boys from Guatemala, where they had lived in foster homes. After meeting with the Executive Director, Vicky and the rest of the board, I decided to join the board in 2012.
In late 2014, Calico was given an opportunity to acquire CACC (Child Advocacy Centers of California) — CACC accredits and funds child advocacy centers such as CALICO across the whole state of California, provides training and tools to these centers and works with the state lawmakers in bringing about legislative changes. We assessed this opportunity and decided that it would be in the best interests of advancing Calico’s mission and entered into a comprehensive fiscal sponsorship. This deal was closed in August 2015 and Calico was functioning with over $1M of annual budget. Through our fundraising channels (government grants, foundation grants and donations from individuals as well as events), we were gearing up for the next fiscal year. I became the board president in early 2016. The Calico board and staff worked tirelessly and with our generous donors stepping up in every way, we raised over $1M that year.
I have been a volunteer of Sankara Eye Foundation, USA (SEF) since 2002, when one of our family friends, Savi, introduced my wife and I to SEF, which is dedicated to eradicating curable blindness. With just $30, SEF can perform a cataract surgery and open an eye. Having had a lifelong history of eye problems that plagued my family and myself, SEF’s cause is very much rooted in my heart. Little did I know then that SEF would become such a big part of my life. After signing up to be a booth coordinator in 2002, I started organizing fundraising events in 2003 and with a growing cadre of volunteers, we were doing over a dozen events a year across the US — some of them shaping up to become blockbuster, annual events — Dandia, iWalk etc. In the process, scores of leaders were developed at SEF, who stepped up to take SEF to greater
heights. I joined the board in 2007 and served on this role till 2010. In 2015, SEF started fundraising for two new hospital projects — Indore and Hyderabad. Having taken a break from active volunteering at SEF for a while, I was back in the thick of things in 2015. The two capital projects required us raising $1M each and a generous anonymous donor offered to match the $1M for each hospital if we raised that amount within the year. Project Hyderabad had a wonderful team from the start and with the involvement and support of local community leaders and organizations, this team was ready to rock and roll. Indore, on the other hand, needed a team to be built.
I ended up at a housewarming get together in Dublin in August 2015 at one of the Indori’s houses and ended up discussing this project and the fundraising plans with this amazing group of people, who were from Indore and were gearing to get this project going. In the next few weeks and months, a whole team was built, a fundraising plan was developed and the outreach began in full swing. In addition, Dr. Ramani, the founder of the Sankara movement, was planning to visit the US that winter along with Dr. Radha, Dr. Kaushik and Bharath. We planned fundraising banquets across the country. Numerous weekends were spent on the phone calling thousands of people, leaving messages and letting them know about the projects and the upcoming events and how they can participate in this movement. The bay area banquet on December 12th was the most lucrative of them — with 500 people in attendance where we raised over $600K by that evening — a record for SEF. I was so fortunate to have had a front row seat as the co-MC for that event along with Shruti, to witness the generosity and readiness with which our supporters opened their wallets and their hearts. SEF is blessed with dedicated, talented and selfless volunteers, generous and caring donors and an incredible team in India. With Murali’s year-end persistent and optimistic and relentless efforts, we made $2M+ by that December. And were able to avail the matching $2M from the anonymous donor resulting in $4M raised. What an amazing feeling indeed.
Another positive development at SEF that happened in this timeframe was the development of a world class team in the east bay. One of the SEF board members, Divyogi, used to point out that we should grow the east bay further. A wonderful team has been organizing annual Dandia events in Pleasanton for many years and very successfully. There was further potential to grow the area with respect to volunteer development, events and tap into the community for donations. With this in mind, in 2015, I started pulling together people who had shown interest in volunteering in the region. After a number of initial meetings, where we brainstormed about possible events and after some possible events were scoped as infeasible, we were scratching our heads for ideas. Sumanth, who had helped organize a couple of golf tournaments for SEF about a decade ago, brought with him some more volunteers and started leading this effort and very soon the team honed in on Holi as the anchor event. This was the first time SEF was organizing Holi — Festival of Colors — and the team, in typical SEF style, started figuring out how to organize a perfect event that, where the patrons would have an amazing experience the moment they pulled into the parking lot. The 1st Annual Holi was held in March 2016 and it raised over $25K for SEF and the team stayed and went onto doing this all over again in 2017.
We were getting ready to travel to India in December 2015 to spend some time with our families and to attend my silver jubilee (25th year of graduation) at IIT Madras, now the #1 engineering institution in India. When we arrived in Madras (Chennai), it was an amazing feeling meeting up with fellow classmates, many of them I hadn’t seen since graduation. My wife and children got a chance to see the venerable institution, the hostels and the campus and get to know my friends and their families and also spend quality time with many families that we meet regularly here. Even before the reunion, a core group of us — GDS, CSri, Vinay, Umesh, Muddu, Thotha, Deepesh, Vellayan, Gobal and I — were already discussing how our class can contribute to IIT Madras and that too in a big way, in a bold way, in the most impactful way, in a way that was not done before. We decided upon a number of Rs. 8 crores (about $1.2M) — a target way above what was achieved before us. Some among this group committed to donate significant sums either individually or from their companies. We discussed with the IIT administration and faculty on possible uses of this and eventually arrived at entrepreneurship and innovation. IIT Madras has made steady headway in research, incubation and industry collaboration and now has several companies that have been incubated successfully. Our batch was very much interested in fostering this culture, fund student and faculty to pursue entrepreneurship and bring innovative products to the market quickly. After a day and a half each on campus and in Mahabalipuram, we all were charged up and motivated. The pressure was on to meet the Rs. 8 crores goal.
After we came back to the US just before the new year, some of us took up the challenge of completing the Rs. 8 crores fundraising effort. With Umesh leading the charge in India and I leading the effort in the US, we had our work cut out. WIth many of my classmates, I reached out to people that attended the reunion and those who could not make it to the occasion. One by one, we pitched the plan, the difference it is going to make, how the money will be spent, how this will be governed and why they should pledge/donate. One by one, our classmates stepped forward, generously pledging and donating significant amounts. We used to send daily updates via email and Whatsapp group and also flash updates when we got a commitment from someone. The mood was fantastic, the pressure was mounting and the results were remarkable — within 3 weeks, we had reached our target of $1.2M.
The impact of the these funds is immense and vast — making people see, who otherwise would have led a life of darkness to making the world safer for children and help develop innovative and state-of-the-art technology and products to make this world better. What a year 2015–2016 turned out to be — a $6M year. I am so fortunate to have had an opportunity to play a role in these endeavors and work with so many amazing people throughout this journey — a true team effort. I can’t wait to beat this number and continue to raise funds for worthy causes on an even larger scale in the years to come and have the opportunity to continue to make a positive impact in our society.