Communicate or Die. So be it

Murray Culshaw is a senior Development Consultant who has mostly worked with the voluntary sector in India. Murray has worked with civil society organisations—from local to international levels—advising on management, communications and fundraising.
His passion for many years has been to encourage voluntary/ civil society organisations to communicate with and raise resources from the public and become more accountable. He has spearheaded several initiatives to support the voluntary sector including India Cares and Credibility Alliance as part of the founding core group.

Murray Culshaw shares with Marie Banu the need for communication amongst Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

Can you tell us about your first experience in the development sector in India?

I was born in Kolkata and went back to England for schooling. I returned in 1964 to work in a Church run technical school. Gradually, that developed into interest in skills training and rural development which eventually ended up as a being responsible for Oxfam in India.
While with Oxfam in India from 1989 to 1994, I became very conscious of the importance of communicating social causes to the Indian public. I worked hard to encourage Oxfam to do it, but didn’t succeed although we did small experiments. I left Oxfam when I realized I was not able to help to convert Oxfam into an Indian agency.
In that process, I developed the idea that social organisations should communicate to the public so that the public gets to know about social needs and in return support people and organisations working on such needs. Another idea I had was that the international aid-agency system was bypassing the Indian public. I felt this was wrong because the agencies giving grants were not accountable to the Indian public and the organisations receiving grants were also largely not accountable to the Indian public because they were accountable to the international agencies.
The only way for CSOs (we don’t call them NGOs anymore) to become accountable to Indian society is to communicate and raise support from society. Furthermore if this happens, organisations will be much stronger because they would have national support, and the public would be much more aware of the society needs.

About Murray Culshaw Consulting?
When I left Oxfam, I said to myself that I would spend the rest of my time helping organisations communicate their work, engage Indian society, raise resources and become accountable to society. From 1995, this is what I have been doing!
The first step was to do consultancy work. I was fortunate to have a home in Bangalore as my wife is from here. I had various contracts which kept me going. Gradually I built the consulting work into quite an extensive service. At one point we had about 15 people conducting communications and fundraising training workshops for CSOs in different parts of India; and provided consultancy.
In about 2000, I began to realise that we were not ‘viable’. We did not focus on working with the bigger agencies, but focused on smaller and medium agencies who could not afford to pay the fees for the quality of staff required. So, this came to an end.

What was the reason to launch India Cares?
My next step was to help start ‘Bangalore Cares’ along with three others in Bangalore who as volunteers wanted to ‘help the social sector’, particularly in Karnataka. We organised conferences, released publications—it was ad-hoc as we did not have any staff.
In 2008, we were invited by the organisers of the ‘World 10 kilometer race’ in Bangalore to be their charity partner. That led us to employ two full-time staff and since then we have been the philanthropy partner for this big international 10 kilometer race which is held annually in May. The title sponsor for this event is now Tata Consultancy Services.
Through the World 10k race we have now helped CSOs raise 20+ crore rupees from participation, and since 2014 by serving as ‘Philanthropy Partner’ for Airtel Delhi Half-Marathon we have enabled organisations to raise a further 11 crore rupees. There are many great aspects about participation in these international quality events; one is that organisations learn to communicate their work to the public and raise vital funds.
When we moved to Delhi we changed our name from Bangalore Cares to India Cares. We are registered as a Trust. I am Chairperson of India Cares and help guide the philosophy. We have an active Board which helps with new initiatives and implementation. We receive income for our services which really turns us to be what is now called a ‘Social Enterprise’. We have grown without a grant or investment which makes us quite pleased with ourselves!
There are several distinct ides within India Cares. Donations do not pass through us; they go directly to the organisations that are registered with us. We are cause neutral, and do not raise funds from the public and distribute funds in the form of grants. We want donors to make donations to the causes they believe in, and we want CSOs to learn to relate directly to donors and they can only do this when they get directly involved.
We are now diversifying our activities into a number of other services, for instance, a ‘CEO Forum’ has been established to encourage Chief Executives of CSOs to meet around specific subjects. The idea being that Chief Executives rarely meet each other unlike in the corporate sector where they frequently meet through Clubs or industry associations – and in meeting have an opportunity for peer learning. We now have had the CEO Forum running in Bangalore for the last eight months and have started in Delhi and Hyderabad.

What are the other services offered by India Cares?
We are developing Donor Services, for organisations who do not have staff to work on public communication. Many organisations do not have the funds to invest in communications staff. Our service will help organisations develop communication skills by having our staff work with them for a period of six months to one year. Hopefully in that time, the organization will build its own skills. This service will also include database management, developing proposals, individual donor relations, corporate relations and so on.

What else do you work on?
I am also Chairperson of Sense India, a national level organization serving the cause of people who are deaf and blind. This is a unique, niche disability. Five years ago, the organization was 90% dependent on international income. During the year that has just passed (2015-2016), it ran on money raised by its team in India. It is no longer dependent on international income and this year is looking at expanding its services. It has a very interesting national structure working through other organisations in different parts of India.
It is estimated that 500,000 people have this disability in India. Sense India’s services are from baby screening to enabling adults engage in economic activities. I concentrate on strategic thinking, strengthening governance, and resource mobilization.
I am grandly called ‘Senior Advisor’ for Mahiti – a technology company with a mission to enhance the impact of social initiatives. I help with strategic thinking and management issues. I see Mahiti as very complimentary to some of the other work I do. There are also important links between Mahiti and Sense India; Mahiti and India Cares. Mahiti has exciting potential for growth because of increasing awareness that technology must be a part of enhancing the impact of social programmes.

Known as a Father (‘now almost a dinosaur’) of Fundraising, what is your closing remark for CSOs?
CSOs must communicate their work to the Indian public; spread an understanding of the work they are doing, and generate support – both financial and in kind. In other words, communicate or die! So be it!