Happy Holi! Holi is the Hindu Rite of Spring, celebrating its return in a riot of colour, flavour and family. It is also a festival of love, honouring the divine devotion Radha has for Lord Krishna and the resurrection of the love-god Kama after Lord Shiva destroyed him for disturbing his meditation, at the behest of Shiva’s wife, Parvati.
It is a time to forgive and reinvigorate one’s life and purpose; a spiritual spring clean. So, what can the third sector can learn from festivals such as Holi, especially regarding fundraising?
Number one: the lack of hierarchy. In its true form, religion is classless – we are all equal under the divine. This topic is explored further within It’s Not About the Burqa, a book written by 17 Islamic female writers who look at how culture, not religion, places constraints on their aspirations. Furthermore, as Alain de Botton argues in Religion for Atheists, there is no parallel within the secular world where a binman and a banker can converse as equals.
So, what can fundraising learn from this lack of hierarchy? Firstly, that all contributions are valid, no matter how large or small. When I was at university, I used to donate a monthly subscription of £3 to a major charity. Whilst that doesn’t seem a lot, as a skint student it was a significant contribution. Over my five years, it amounted to £180, which is substantial given the cost of textbooks, accommodation and food. I found myself feeling ignored and disregarded by the charity, so I cancelled my subscription.
Given how public opinion of charities has changed over the years and how society looks to corporations to solve the world’s ills, donor retention is increasingly important. Fundraising can no longer afford to even appear hierarchic. If individuals consider themselves a low priority to a charity, regardless of the legitimacy of their belief, they’re unlikely to continue contributing to said charity, reducing the donor pool. It is the personal value, not the monetary value, which is important. A billionaire donating £50 of their vast fortune shouldn’t be considered more meaningful than a state pensioner contributing £10 from their weekly £100 budget.
At Holi, anyone can pelt anyone with powdered paint, regardless of social standing. The liberating free-for-all serves to equalise participants and remind us of our standing under Brahman (God) and Devi Adi Parashakti, the Divine Mother. Charities can appreciate how a cause or mission creates similar social cohesion.
This brings me quite nicely onto Point Two: a pressure valve. I’ll be the first person to admit that when I hear Feast of Fools, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame comes to mind. However, these events actually occurred within ancient and medieval society. Women screamed on Athenian rooftops for the Adonia, echoing Aphrodite’s despair over the death of her lover Adonis; serving boys at monasteries were named Abbot for the day and kitchen maids competed to win Queen of the Bean and live 24 hours as royalty.
These events, combined with the myriad feast days and ostentatious holiday celebrations, created a pressure valve, easing societal tension. The populace let off steam by indulging in the utter chaos of these events with wild abandon, thereby reducing the push against the constraints of society.
What relevance does this have for fundraising? Principally, the importance of fundraising events to act as cathartic releases. Although our lives may not be as restrained as Quasimodo’s, we still have our own pressures and obligations. From child-rearing to work-related stress to social expectations, we all have responsibilities and issues weighing us down, akin to a contemporary Atlas. Indeed, there’s even been a commercial boom in adult colouring books, stress balls and fidget spinners, designed to relieve these pressures.
Fundraising has a real opportunity to capitalise upon this growing need with less cynicism than its corporate counterpart. People crave an outlet – singing and exercise are on the increase. The ongoing popularity of events such as Sports Relief and the continued rise of singathons highlight how we can harness this cathartic need for altruistic purposes. By partaking in a fundraising activity (which acts as a pressure valve in one’s life and has the added benefit of helping someone in need), the subsequent endorphins result in the individual more likely to donate and keep on donating. The music, food and activities of Holi create a fervour which releases our worldly troubles and brings us closer to the Divine. Similarly, the release of our modern-day pressures partaking in fundraising events inspires brand loyalty.
Finally, the last lesson fundraising can learn from Holi is the importance of forming a community. Unlike the Abrahamic religions, there are no regular communal gatherings at the Temple akin to Mass. Hinduism is a deeply personal religion with everyone’s relationship with the Divine unique. This is a major reason why festivals and important life events (such as marriages) are so extravagant: they’re the only time the entire community comes together.
As we can see, there is a kinship between Hinduism and charities: outside of fundraising events, how do charities maintain communities with their supporters? The work of ShelterBox comes to mind: together we created a book club where avid readers could discover new texts as well as donate to a worthwhile cause. By establishing a Facebook forum, we provided a platform for subscribers to discuss characters, plot, themes and converse with the authors themselves. As a result, the Book Club has been an astounding success and something we’re very proud to have created. With Book Club, we have constructed a community where subscribers feel connected to each other, ShelterBox and the people they’re helping – these supporters are more likely to engage and donate to ShelterBox’s other initiatives due to their positive experience at Book Club and its community.
Holi is a festival of fun, family and colour. It draws communities closer and renews humanity’s relationship with the Divine. However, there are many secular benefits charities can appropriate from the festival, namely the trimurti of equality, catharsis and community. Armed with this three-pronged trident, charities have a real opportunity to improve their fundraising endeavours and make a difference.