The easy approach to producing your non-profit annual report

Gabrielle Ritchie| The Change Room | 19th June 2017

It’s that time of year again when everybody is likely scrambling to get their annual report conceptualised, written, designed and published.  In fact, most of us are probably just trying to get it written.

But the development of your organisation’s annual report does not have to be a massive mission.  What it does need is to be well thought through, properly conceptualised, attractively designed, and timeously published.  Amongst South African non-profits, our reports need to be submitted to the NPO Directorate within a few months (maximum 6) of our financial year-end.  Our continued status as a registered non-profit depends on the timeous submission of annual audited financials and a narrative report on your organisation.  For those organisations registered as public benefit organisations (PBO), you also need to submit your report to SARS, and for non-profit companies you will need to submit yours to CIPC.

Why else would we produce such a time-consuming piece of work?

Well, for a few reasons, actually.  These include that:

  1. A good annual report makes an excellent marketing tool, to share with donors, friends, supporters and beneficiaries
  2. Your annual report communicates your major achievements over the previous period
  3. It is an opportunity to share your financial status with anyone who cares to look, promoting transparency about the organisation’s state of financial affairs
  4. It is an important reflection of a well-functioning and expertly governed organisation
  5. It is a great opportunity to share stories, images and infographics of your work and of the difference you make in your community (however that may be defined).

So what makes a “good annual report”?

The answer to this is relatively straightforward – and you could simply follow the tips and steps outlined below.  The key questions that need to be asked in approaching the development of your annual report are detailed below and can be used as a discussion guide, with responses serving to shape an action plan.

  1. Who will be part of preparing the report? Which staff/ board members/ contracted service providers need to be involved?
  2. Should we engage an external freelancer (writing and/or design)? Do we have someone you use already?  Or someone in mind whose work we like?
  3. Will the Executive Director write the introductory overview, or would we prefer the Board Chair? Or both?
  4. Have we been gathering photos all year, and do we have easy access to these for use in the publication? Are they all ours or do we need permissions to use some of the images?
  5. Do we have an accurate, up-to-date, spelling-corrected donor list from the previous period, covering all donations? Are we going to mention all donors?  Do we have specific donor categories depending on donor-type or donation size?  What needs to be done to develop such a list?
  6. What will be our annual report’s theme? [There are many resources online to help you think through what kind of theme might suit your organisation, your work, and your annual report]
  7. Will we distribute in print and/or online? Both? What format will work best for us? Who is our audience and what works best for them?
  8. What are our best stories to share in this annual report?
  9. What are our key organisational messages, and where will we include them?
  10. Should we use video in our report?
  11. When will we launch or distribute our annual report?
  12. What are our three major accomplishments/achievements for the past year? And how can we ensure these link to the key messages?
  13. Who is going to triple-check our reported financials and donor list to ensure 100% accuracy?
  14. What calls to action should we include?

Answer those questions, and you will have the beginnings of a plan!

Key components of your report

Once you have a plan in place, you can consider the key components of your annual report.  Traditional components are based broadly on a Letter from Chair, an overview  from the Executive Director, a programme report from the Programme Director, perhaps some staffing and HR information on skills development  etc, the financial report, and a donor acknowledgement section.

A shorter, sharper approach could be (but not necessarily in this order):

  1. Table of Contents
  2. Executive Director letter (include mission: what you do and why)
  3. Accomplishments/Achievements (past year only)
  4. Stories (profiles) to highlight successes
  5. Photos all the way through the report
  6. Donor list
  7. Financials
  8. Board of Directors / Trustees
  9. A call to action

And use your report to THANK people: your donors and funders, your supporters, your partners – and your beneficiaries who have trusted you and your work!

If you need any advice on how to make this happen, drop me a line or ask a question here in the comments section.  Write well and make your annual report ROCK!

Advertisements

South African NPOs: Six things to avoid in fundraising emails

Gabrielle Ritchie | Director, The Change Room | 26th May 2017

Last night I participated in Gail Perry’s Fired-Up Fundraising webinar, How a Smart Fundraising Plan Can Transform Your Fundraising AND Save Your Butt. It was a brilliant reminder of some of the basics, the fundamentals, that organisations need to put in place for successful fundraising.  It also reminded me of some of the technical issues around fundraising communications, with particular reference to emails.

While Gail shared with us that last year’s US-based Giving Tuesday’s email campaigns saw 34% of mails ending up in spam, it is still a key mechanism for building support for non-profit causes, and for communicating fundraising messages.  So we really need to get it right.  I recently received two very horrible fundraising emails which reminded me not only how easy it is to get it wrong, but how many organisations are still getting it wrong.  With the unprecedented level of easy-to-access online resources, this should not be happening.  So I have a list, based on the two examples I referred to, on what to AVOID:

  1. Subject line – your subject header is your first and last opportunity to grab your readers’ attention, so make it work!  If you must include something like “[organisation’s name] fundraising event” then …. no, just kidding. Don’t use that subject line. Ever. Unless its an internal organisational event-planning email intended only for your colleagues.  Use that tiny window of opportunity (ie.the subject header) to communicate your key message – eg. Support [xxxx cause] – join us on [date]; or Join us in rocking to [xxx band] – and support [xxx cause]; or something unrelated to the event or to the fact that your support is needed. If it is an event, try something fun: How to spend your Saturday night having the most fun ever! Or if you are appealing for direct donation, try “Ten ways to support old people in your community”. Anything but ploddy and blunt – “Fundraising event” or “Appeal for donation” are designed to put people right off.
  2. Greeting – avoid a dead line such as “Good day” or “Good Afternoon Sir/ Madam” – with no personalisation. It is the coldest, most off-putting, most “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care, but I want your money” kind of opening. And it puts mail recipients off just like that, in the opening line.  Ensure you include the recipient’s name, or title and surname. And get it right.  With the mail management software available, there is no excuse. If you really aren’t able to include names, at least start with something warm and friendly, like “Dear Friends”.
  3. Attachments – don’t include attachments. Just don’t. This is not what fudnraising emails are for. If you are mailing out to a predominantly cold list, an attachment will put people right off. I, like most others, don’t open mails with attachments from people I don’t know.  If you are mailing to a group of existing supporters, don’t make them do the work by now having to download and open an attachment!  If you need to space in an attachment, to include all your information, you are doing something wrong.
  4. Images – if you need to embed images in your mail, make them small!  As a fundraiser, you want to be keeping things as simple, easy and uncumbersome as possible. And you want images to come up right away – because if they are not included to grab attention (only a few seconds to do that!), then why did you include them?
  5. Content – you need to include encouraging text, that takes the mail recipient by the hand and (very quickly) leads them to an emotion.  No emotion = no point of contact.  Don’t bore readers with technical details about your organisation (eg. “:We are a registered NPO” – because if you aren’t, then get out of my mail box you hoaxer! That kind of info belongs in small print as part of your signature). Do not use the precious “real estate” of the readers screen for boring and unnecessary text. You want the reader to be excited about supporting you, whether that sense of heightened awareness is based on sympathy, empathy, self-interest, outrage, justice – it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that however your message makes them feel, it galvanises them to go to and participate in your Call to Action!
  6. Call to Action – this is absolutely critical in a fundraising email.  The purpose of the mail is to share an immediate, direct Call to Action that your recipients can reasonably achieve while they are reading your mail – for example “Go to our Donate page”, with a big DONATE button; or a big button saying “Get Involved – here’s HOW” (which must link to your website where there would be information on the multiple ways a prospective donor can support your work); include a “Get your tickets here” button, which takes the reader to a ticket-purchase page.  You get the idea. Bear in mind that people are not supporting your “fundraising”, they are supporting your “work” and the cause you are involved with – so use that effectively in your Call to Action!

Those are some basics – now go and craft the best fundraising mail ever! You (and your board and beneficiaries) will be so glad you did!

Digital space, civil society and nonprofits in South Africa

dfmmzzi3rmg-william-iven.jpg

Gabrielle Ritchie, Director, The Change Room

25th November 2016

So what is the state of play in South African digital civil society?  My last post looked at the importance of defending digital spaces in South Africa – but now I go back a bit, to the nitty-gritty of digital civil society. This broad phrase refers to a broad mix of concerns, approaches, practices and activities ranging from building the public profile of a cause, to defending current levels of freedom, openness and accessibility of digital space.

Enset has been running a global workshop series focused on supporting civil society organisations around the world to navigate what Enset refers to as “the complex digital landscape” to achieve online effectiveness.  Enset’s mission with these workshops and panel discussions is to identify and, likely, help create the best paths for the use of digital space by non-profits globally.

The Enset/ Resource Alliance panel discussion, of which I was a part – held at Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town on 4th October 2016 – was titled, “NGOdigitalspaces & Civil Society”.  The discussion addressed a range of issues and practice areas in the digital space, such as:

  • What is the role of Social Media in building civil society?
  • How is digital fundraising changing the donor relationship and giving overall?
  • What are some of the risks and challenges of digital spaces, and what can non-profits to address these?
  • What is the political / regulatory environment and implications of a new NPO Act in South Africa?
  • What is the future of digital spaces for civil society – opportunities, challenges and potential threats?
  • What is the importance of credibility and validation within the sector?

icw6qyocdlg-galymzhan-abdugalimov

A number of organisations and individuals spoke to their particular concerns, the work they do, and how their work serves to address their concerns.  The panel and issues included:

  1. Jeri Curry, president and CEO, Enset: introduction to the non-profit and civil society digital space, and to the work of Enset – and also navigated the panellists inputs, facilitating the discussion with great knowledge and expertise.
  2. Baratang Miya, founder and CEO, GirlHype: now here is somebody to watch and keep up with. Baratang spoke about her initiative to encourage girls into the digital and tech space, not as users but as innovators.  Great stuff.
  3. Michelle Jones, head of content for digital agency RogerWilco: Michelle shared lessons from a successful client project, showing how paying careful attention to messaging, content, design and site architecture can completely change levels, frequency and type of user interactions with your online presence
  4. Gabrielle Ritchie, Director, The Change Room: This is me – I spoke about the need to defend digital spaces, as these levels of freedom increasingly come under the state spotlight and as non-profit organisations are under pressure from government. I also shared insights about the legislative framework that currently governs this space in South Africa.
  5. Colin Habberton, IFC Ambassador, South Africa: Colin shared insights into the use of digital platforms for fundraising and for profile-building for organisations and causes, and stressed the importance – across a range of factors – of building an online profile
  6. Michelle Matthews, Head of ED and Innovation, CiTi: Michelle’s focused on trends in ICT and the digital economy, and she shared details of a fantastic digital project supporting start-up and established social enterprises and businesses, including the development of an innovative toolkit (which we all wanted a copy of!)

Are you starting to get the picture?  Around the breadth and depth of any discussions about “digital space”?

We can talk about developments in digital technology; the use of digital technologies for the promotion of civil society campaigns; the role of an online presence in promoting your non-profit organisation and in stakeholder/ supporter/ donor communications; the importance of content in building a profile and positive footprint in the online space; the role of civil society organisations in promoting and encouraging the involvement of girl learners in the digital tech space; the importance of an online presence for fundraising (both on- and off-line); the pressure (globally) on civil society and the closure of operating spaces, both physical and digital; and the legislative framework governing the use of digital technology (eg. drones for journalism) and online spaces.  That’s just the start.

In addition, there is a boatload of information that non-profits need to keep up with – such as the 2014 transition of the org.za domain (used by most South African non-profits for their web presence) to a new regulatory authority, and the implications for non-profits using org.za.  Again, just the start.

tmoegzw9ny4-william-iven

Enset’s work has had the effect not just of providing spaces to have discussions about digital spaces and civil society, but also of connecting activists and digital specialists locally and globally.  It is critical that we are talking to each other, in light of my particular concern – as per my previous post – about the defence of digital spaces as we see an increase in governments clamping down on activities that challenge their actions (or lack of action).

This space is absolutely critical for civil society organising, as a still-democratic space providing for the proliferation and platforming of a range of voices critical to debate, discussion, defining the languaging around particular issues, and moving away from the dominance of traditional media and their ownership of public discourse.  This has changed irreversibly, and this space must be defended.

Financial sustainability on a shoestring: possible or not?

coins

 Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

9th June 2016

A couple of weeks ago I addressed the (long) short list of key factors for NPOs to develop  fundraising fitness.  The thing is … it looks like you have to spend money to make money (ain’t that Rule No. 1, then) – and you really don’t have any of that.

So how do you tackle your organisational sustainability on a shoestring?  Surely being financially constrained doesn’t mean a non-profit dead end?  The good news is, it definitely does not mean a dead end … necessarily.  The bad news (for some, perhaps) is that it requires solid, hard, knuckling-down kind of work.  And if you don’t yet have staff, or your complement is small, then that’s what the Board is for.  After all, we got into this because of our commitment to social change, right? That we would do what is required to achieve the organisation’s goals, yes?

Rule 1 on being fundraising-fit is:

There are no shortcuts in raising money. No quick fixes. No cutting corners.

Moving on from that, let’s look at what the options are for a no-budget fundraising endeavour:

  1. Governance: your NPO board members will have come on board because they believe in the mission of the organisation and are prepared to put in the effort to achieve it.  You will have to accept/ expect that board members are on board to provide voluntary input, support, and expertise. Which requires time. Kind of a deal-breaker. Not negotiable.  The more cash-tight you are, the harder the board will have to work (so if you are recruiting new board members, make sure they know this up front!).
  2. Planning: is non-negotiable.  The primary resources for this are time and skills. You will have to have had both to start your non-profit, so you should be able to do this without additional expenditure.
  3. Financial management: there isn’t a no-budget option here, unless one of your board members is a finance expert. You will have to spend money here.  For annual audited financial statements, there isn’t any way around this, so you have to accommodate for this in your initial budgeting.
  4. Fundraising skills: if you don’t yet have the staff, you must use the skills available through your board and/or other volunteers. These skills include
    • leadership;
    • project planning and management;
    • information management and data-mining;
    • communications;
    • networking and relationship-building;
    • writing (proposals/ reports etc);
    • financial management;
    • fundraising (donor prospecting, stewardship, relationship management, budgeting, proposal writing, donor reporting, donor acknowledgement, understanding the fundraising cycle, maintaining long-term donors, building an annual fund, legacy fundraising, campaign development and implementation and others).
    • if you don’t have access to such skills without having to insource skills at a cost, then  be realistic and manage what you can: focus on donor identification and relationship building, and proposal development.  Keep it simple. And plan your approach to raising the required resources.  Planning. Planning. This can be done without funding, but it has to be done properly and with commitment to the end goal of achieving the organisational change objectives.
  5. Communications and marketing: If you don’t do anything else, make sure you build your profile.  This is much easier to do than it used to be, with far less money.  Developing a facebook page, and a twitter account would suffice to start – and they provide you with the freedom to publish your own content according to your own schedule and deadlines.  That said, there are some ground rules – and it is more effective with a bit of money invested into your channels.  But not having money does not need to prevent you from starting.  There are great online resources to guide and advise (see below).
  6. Information management: one thing you must get right is to capture and maintain your stakeholder contact data, and – if they are donors – their record of support.  You don’t need fancy software for this.  Excel is a perfectly adequate system to start, and will serve you well.

The most important skill, which costs no additional money, is your capacity to speak passionately and expertly about your work and what you seek to achieve.  This will take you a long way to achieving your resourcing goals, while costing very little.

In short, with some good volunteers with an effective spread of skills (because a key component of people becoming board members, right, is the skills they bring to the organisational party), you should be able to get up and running without incurring huge costs and needing significant resources to get going.

Focus, attention to detail, commitment to the end goals, and dogged determination – plus a host of free resources online and offline – will definitely get you to where you want to go.  It might seem easier with a whole big fundraising budget – but it is not a non-profit dead end if you don’t have the money.

But remember: the goal is to raise funding to include budget for fundraising.  Remaining in a frugal mindset will ultimately cost you.  Read here on the cost of being too frugal, and of remaining in that paradigm.

FREE RESOURCES

www.nonprofitlawyer.co.za – for resources on governance and non-profit law: Excellent set of short videos and articles to guide you

www.nonprofit-network.org – a fantastic set of resources for non-profit social media and communications

www.askinyathelo.org.za – a whole site of tips, tools, guidance and resources covering the key skills areas for organisational sustainability

www.ngopulse.org/about – a great portal of information and resources in support of South Africa’s non-profit sector; almost a meeting place – with articles, issues, resources, jobs and opportunity listings and  more

 

 

Cellphones, philanthropy and activism – legal rights, safe practice and backlash

 

cellphones philanthropy activism rights

Cellphones, philanthropy and activism

Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

10th May 2016

Its “Top Trend Tuesday” – so what is my top philanthropy trend for today? And are global trends reflected in local South African trends?

Let’s me establish up front that I take my lead from Lucy Berhnolz in terms of global philanthropy trends. Lucy Bernholz (Twitter @p2173) is a leading trends expert and produces an annual Blueprint for Philanthropy – an industry forecast.

A key trend in civil society, which impacts directly on philanthropy and grantmaking programmes, is the widespread use of cellphones. Lucy says in her Blueprint for 2016 that while internet-connected cellphones might be the key tool for filming injustice and for spreading activist messages and mobilising communities around a cause, it is clear that there are areas of knowledge and practice that must catch up with this. These include: knowledge about legal rights, safe practice and backlash, and also include an understanding and practice of ethical, safe and just use of such channels.

The question, then, is: how does/ will this affect philanthropy focus, grant areas, and donor practice? And are these same issues prevalent in South Africa?

Firstly, yes – the cellphone issue is global, and their use continues to grow as a tool for activism. Secondly, the lack of knowledge about rights, practice and the potential for backlash is just as applicable. The right to film police action, for example, is constantly being re-established by members of the public who get their phones confiscated on filming police action.

With regard to ethical, safe and just use of such channels – across social media – we have witnessed a spate of public idiocy in 2016, resulting in the vilification of a number of idiots who have thought it appropriate to share their racist vitriol on social media channels. The most recent example (that emerged on Sunday 8th May 2016) is the #Mabel Jansen/ #Gillian Schutte saga around Judge Jansen’s racist diatribe regarding rape.  In this instance, different to the many other examples, questions have been posed around the ethics of and agenda in sharing a “private facebook conversation”. This might be the wrong question – or at least an unfair one – because while Jansen has said the conversation was private, Schutte has said the conversation was very much a public facebook conversation.

If one’s activist agenda is to expose racism, though, what are the ethics around sharing conversations if one party believes the conversation is being held privately – even if that conversation exposes brutal social prejudice?  I don’t know the answer to this question, so if anyone has answers or thoughts or more questions, please share!

On the original question about what activists and funders know, in South Africa, about safe practice, legal rights and the spectre of backlash around the use of such comms tools – I don’t know the answer specifically, but I suspect that Lucy Berhnolz’s take for the USA applies in South Africa too: not enough.  It is time to learn, and to take this forward as a key public information-sharing knowledge area in South Africa.

For your own peek at Lucy Bernholz’s Blueprint for 2016, look here:

http://www.grantcraft.org/assets/content/resources/blueprint_2016_final2.pdf

It’s 2016! Some early thoughts on South African philanthropy.

Gabrielle Ritchie, Director at The Change Room:  4th January 2016

Picture1

It’s the start of 2016 and South Africa has got off to a rocking start with a number of key hashtags in response to the ongoing, appalling, tiresome, tedious, offensive racist vitriol that white people seem to think it okay to spew all over social media.  Sigh. The first excellent hashtag is #TheYearWeMispronounceBack – a strong statement about the insistence amongst white people (turns out this is experienced the world over) to find “black names” too challenging to bother with.  It’s not that the names are too challenging.  We know this. But rather that so many of “my people” just frankly don’t consider it important enough to bother with black names.  Shocking horrible dismissive arrogant racist stuff.   The # takes the mickey out of traditionally white names, while making a key political point about respect, language, culture, supremacy, privilege and a range of other social factors and dynamics at play.

The second hashtag is #PennySparrow. Or #JustinVanVuuren. Or #ChrisHart. Or #DennisDyason.  All of whom are white South Africans who have spewed forth some ugly ugly stuff in the last 36 hours or so.  Not repeating any of it here, as it doesn’t warrant further sharing.  The bottom line out of all of this is that #RacismMustFall, and it is the responsibility of white South Africans – me included, obvs – to speak out loudly in support of anti-racist measures, to call racism out when we see it, and to stand up and raise our voices against any form of racism (yes, even our own). And we can’t expect any accolades, medals, or awards for it.  We must simply get on with it and do it. If white South Africans have any work to do, it is being constantly vigilant about our own behaviour and that of those white folk around us.  No complaints. Just get on with it.

So what does all of this have to do with philanthropy in South Africa?  A good question, you might be thinking. And this is really directed at us white South Africans.

Okay, so philanthropy is about someone giving financial support for a cause/s which that person believes in. It is about “doing good”.  It is – as has been shown in a number of recent South African research reports – about believing that one can “make a difference”, that by giving one can “contribute to change”.  Giving therefore has to start with the questions “what do I care about?”, “what is the change I want to see?” and “what difference do I want to contribute to making?”.  Asked and answered honestly is where the line gets drawn, between those who want to be “helpful to those less fortunate” (and I am not knocking that, really) and those who actively want to see change.

One of the key areas of real change required in South Africa is that #RacismMustFall.  Spend a good few minutes thinking about that, and thinking about how your own giving and your personal philanthropy can contribute to tackling your own prejudices – not just in what cause or organisation you support, but also in the way in which you offer such support.  The real impact is often felt in HOW we do things, and philanthropy is no different.  The HOW of philanthropy is crucial in effecting real change.

If you are looking to support any social justice cause this year, and you are also looking to ensure that your own racism and that of those around you is tackled, then your support needs to be committed; your approach will be consultative; your ears will be tuned to listen to the voices of those doing the work (rather than to your own voice); and you might look to contribute to work already happening rather than foregrounding your own way of doing things.

There is so much going on out there – amazing initiatives by incredibly energetic and creative people.  And they need your financial support.  Think about what you want to support this year, and how you are wanting to offer that support.

Please share any thoughts you have on this 🙂   Our young democracy depends on you.

 

 

 

Is “Consultant” almost a swear word for non-profits in South Africa?

by Gabrielle Ritchie

service provider | consultant | advisor : 13th August 2015

A certain cool descends on a NPO meeting when the word “consultant” is raised. The word gets prodded like a smelly fish, or turned over for closer inspection. NPO staff don’t generally love a consultant, or consultancies, or people brought in to do project-focused, short-term pieces of organisational work. Consultants are spoken of (and I know this, having contracted numerous consultants across a huge variety of projects in my role as an NPO director of programmes) as anything from expensive, time-wasting, never fully apprised of “the work”, limited, don’t get the depth of the work etc …all the way to bloodsuckers, leeches, scavengers, a rip-off, just out to make the bucks, and so on.

In short, “consultant” is like a swear word, and consultants must generally get in, get out and move on. The relationship between consultants and their client can be fractious, and tenuous. There is generally a deep distrust in organisations of consultants, and those organisations doing the contracting tend not to trust that a consultant will deliver timeously and excellently on the work required.

Then there is a range of little complexities and potential trip-falls.  For example, who sets the terms of engagement – does the consultant indicate their fee, or does the client indicate what they are willing to pay? Perhaps in the non-profit world, because some of the more old-style players still insist on “paying is bad, free is good”, the very notion of having to pay for a service or for work done, by someone other than an employee, is simply irksome.

So I am now a “consultant”. Or am I a service provider?  Does “consultant” just sound more expensive and costly for the same work? Are they the same?  In fact, most “consultants” who work in the non-profit space can more accurately be described as service providers. This might sound like just a bit of old semantics, but I stand by my firm belief in the approach that “words really do matter”. I have a personal preference for being as accurate as possible (along with using liberal sprinklings of a few choice bits of slang along the way!), so I do prefer calling a provider of services a “service provider”.

As a service provider, I consult to organisations around specific aspects of their work and what they need to deliver on, and I provide a range of services. In other words, as a service provider, I do aspects of the work that client organisations need to deliver on. Most times, service providers and consultants are contracted because organisations simply don’t have the capacity to do the work. Perhaps the skill is too specialist and costly to have someone in a staff post. Perhaps the project deadline is looming and work needs to be delivered, so extra capacity is brought on board. Perhaps a one-off project needs a particular skill that is not core to the organisation’s work, and so a consultant is brought on board. Or perhaps a project was conceived, and budgeted, as one for which external providers would be contracted. Organisations have myriad reasons for contracting in expertise in certain areas, and there are myriad specialists out there to fill these organisational needs.

Here is the kicker, though – and it brings us back to the swear-word nature of the word “consultant” in the NPO sector. The thing about service providers, advisors and consultants to the NPO sector, and working in the non-profit space, is that there is really very little difference between those who provide services to NPOs and NPO employees (ie. people employed by, and paid a regular income to work for, a NPO). Almost every service provider I have worked with in the NPO sector are driven by the same kinds of values and objectives as those they serve and to whom they deliver specialist services. As service providers they are choosing to work with non-profit organisations, in support of their organisational missions, and to work with them towards achieving their client’s goals.

As a service provider – ie. being paid by a funder or a non-profit to deliver pieces of work – I am working hard at understanding the difference between how I work now (freelance/ consultant/ service provider) and how I worked before as an organisational employee (and contractor of consultants!). Some of the questions I have posed to myself, as I make my morning coffee and prepare for a day of service providing, include:

  1. What is different about how I work?
  2. What has changed in the scope, quality and characteristics of the things I care about – the issues, the people, the areas of endeavour, the change-driven agendas?
  3. How has becoming a service provider changed my values?

The conclusion is, apart from a few extremely critical differences in my work day and in what administrative issues I need to concern myself with, there is very little difference. Very little has changed. Nothing has changed in fact, with regard to the things I care about, my ethics and values, my sense of social justice and rights-driven change agendas. The only thing that has changed is that I don’t work in an organisation any longer, and I no longer have a set income that I earn monthly, performance and delivery depending.

This new life is a very different kind of work life. Many say it can be really lonely; it can be exhausting worrying about where the next piece of work will come from; it is challenging constantly working with different clients; and so on. I will no doubt experience the full range of conflicts and joys of working on my own, but what I do know for sure is that I am as committed as I ever was to strengthening South African civil society and the funders and organisations which comprise this space. So are most of the consultants and service providers who work with non-profit organisations! In fact, non-profits themselves are increasingly developing products and services through which to generate income. In other words, they too are becoming consultants and service providers.

Generally speaking, and based on my still-fresh and new perspective as a service provider, us consultants and service providers are a good lot! Perhaps my previous scepticism of all things consultant was simply an ill-disguised envy for those who could engage with the best of the actual work, without having to navigate the intricacies of being an organisational staffer 🙂