Top 5 nonprofit issues in South Africa: sustainability, governance, voluntarism, and others

Gabrielle Ritchie | Director | The Change Room – 16th May 2017

As I was training my brain this morning by coming up with ten ideas (for anything at all, no limits, no judgement), I started thinking about all of the issues that continuously come up in running/ working in/ managing/ being on the board of an NPO in South Africa.  So I made a list of the Top Five nonprofit issues as one of my lists for the day.  Here they are:

  1. Sustainability: NPOs are constantly under pressure to become sustainable, but what does this really mean?  Does it mean self-sustaining?  And if so, what is the difference between a for-profit and a non-profit?  Or does it mean that an NPO is sustainably able to attract funding support and to generate income into the future.  I am going with the latter.  So stop telling NPOs they have to sustain themselves.  If you don’t qualify what you mean, then the premise makes no sense and it is just confusing and – in my opinion – rubbish.
  2. Volunteers: There are so many people out there with the skills, the time and the will to offer their support to NPOs.  Yet I am increasingly hearing of qualified professionals (never mind unqualified but willing people), well-qualified to offer support in (for example) accounting, marketing, report-writing, fundraising, HR management, strategy development, and other areas, who are being given something of a cold shoulder by organisations. But we know that NPOs are usually too under-capacitated even to manage volunteers.  Its a lose-lose and something needs to shift. I am going to focus on this issue in a future blog, since it warrants a discussion.
  3. Board Directors: in South Africa we promote the ethics of good governance in accordance with the Independent Code of NonProfit Governance for South African NonProfit Organisations – and we promote the international standards around avoiding conflict of interest at a board and staff level.  This is with particular reference to remuneration/ compensation for Board members’ time for Board business, and with regard to Board members tendering / pitching for work as providers/ suppliers in response to organisational needs.  What is not taken into account in our particular socio-economic structure is that Board members are often from within the NPO’s direct community, yet are unemployed and are usually in need of income.  To adhere to codes and ethics and good practice, do we simply not have unemployed people on the Board (where there is a distinction between retired/ not working and unemployed)?  See this blog for some thoughts on Boards and fundraising.
  4. Entrenched Boards:  this is a big, sticky one!  Board members should serve a term of three years, and might – under certain circumstances – serve a second three-year term.  But Board members MUST NOT stay on a board endlessly.  Even if the organisation feels like your baby.  If you have been on a board for more than six years, you are starting to hinder the organisation. Yes, really.  Your thinking is stale, your resistance to change and new initiatives is damaging, and you are starting to treat the organisation as if things must be done a certain way “because that’s how we do things here”. No, Board members.  Move on.  You are doing your organisation a dis-service.  It is your job as a Board to ensure that new, suitable, energetic and committed Board members are identified, stewarded, invited to be Board members, and are then inducted and trained thoroughly in what it means to be a Board member of that NPO and what is required of Board members. So if you are thinking you need to stay because there is nobody to take over, you have failed.  Ensure there are strong candidates lined up – because life happens and you never know when you might need to recruit new Board members. Know who your next board members are!
  5. Donors: some fundraising models will tell you that fundraising is all about relationships.  Does that then mean that community-based organisations which are English-second language, and rural (and are marginalised in other ways as well) won’t be able to raise funding?  Or do we relegate these organisations into the “cold-calling/ spray-and-pray” bucket and wish them luck?  Since it is overwhelmingly challenging for such organisations to build relationships with well-resourced and wealthy business people and other professionals, what are the key routes to attracting funding for community-based organisations? See this previous blog for thoughts on the challenges faced by so many NPOs, and this blog for insights into what donors are looking for in an application/ proposal.

The top five issues impacting your NPO will depend on your geographic location, the size of the organisation, the effectiveness of your board, the resources you already have to invest in scaling up your fundraising work, and your organisational capacity to host, support and leverage the value offered by volunteers.

Feeling challenged? What are your top five issues right now? Post them here and I would be happy to provide quick pointers in response 🙂

The struggle is real: NPO funding support in South Africa

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Gabrielle Ritchie

Director, The Change Room

8th September 2016

I have been engaging recently, through training workshops, with a range of South African non-profit staffers who know what it’s like out there on the ground.  These aren’t the big-city non-profits.  These are people seriously slogging it out in under-resourced areas, looking into the big yonder and wondering how they will continue to fund the delivery of essential community services.

These services include, for example (and usually amongst many other services):

  1. HIV counselling and testing – most times these are the only entities in an area who provide this service.
  2. Trauma counselling – always these organisations are the only facility that has any capacity to provide support to those who have suffered violence, abuse, trauma, loss.
  3. Sex worker support – access to health advice, testing and treatment in a context where state clinics are unsensitised (and often hostile) to sex workers and the context in which they work.
  4. Sexual health education and resource-sharing – particularly for youth, where there are clearly insufficient resources and information available to guide and advise.
  5. Support for women survivors of gender-based violence – always the only place that women can turn to.
  6. Diversion programmes – designed to support juvenile offenders towards avoiding a life of wrong-doing and imprisonment.

These organisations are not about charity.  While they are about welfare, this is welfare in the “big” sense of the word, where these non-profits provide services and support to individuals within communities towards improving their emotional well-being and providing a place where they can be served, understood and where their issues can be held.

This is fundamentally an issue of social justice.  This is about access to wellness services.  This is about attending to the basic health and wellness needs of communities.  And this work is always under-funded, and often goes unpaid. Non-profits providing these essential services are struggling to get the attention of the state, of corporates, of individuals – and, most especially, appropriate levels of support from provincial funding pots in the departments of health, education and social development.

The work being undertaken, and the services being delivered, by these organisations are right up against the raw coalface of under-resourced and impoverished areas.  The work is often difficult and, because of under-staffing, can be hugely overwhelming.  It is becoming increasingly critical – for community support, development, and general physical, social and economic health – to ensure the long-term endurance, resilience and sustainability of these “social services” organisations.   There is no doubt that the government relies absolutely on such non-profits to deliver a range of health, wellness and support services – without which communities across the country would literally be left in the lurch.

Whether these kinds of services are needed is not up for discussion – they are critical in a global and local context of increasing inequality and social dysfunction.  Whether they must receive appropriate levels of support from  government is also not for debate – the government fully relies on this huge group of organisations, and the thousands of staff and volunteers who work at these NPOs, to  provide basic levels of community support. Whether they actually receive the required support is also a non-discussion – countless organisations rely on staff who are willing to continue working for months without salaries in times of zero funding.

These organisations are the heroes of our non-profit sector. There is nothing fun, exciting or edgy about the constant demand for their services, nor the overwhelming need for delivery of this huge range of social support interventions provided by these organisations.  But there they are – slogging it out, eking out their existence, working to make sure they are able to keep their doors open.  For the sake of the individuals who have nowhere else to turn.

Google “community counselling centre” or “sexual health centre/ clinic” in your area.  You will be amazed at what comes up. Find a local non-profit community counselling centre or clinic services centre and see how you can support the work they do. These organisations are the only option – and they are critical to our national well-being.

 

Financial sustainability on a shoestring: possible or not?

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 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

 

 

South African PhilanthroFacts 2 – When we give, who is it who gets?

The picture above was taken by Carmel Loggenberg/EWN, published at http://ewn.co.za/2014/09/07/3-die-from-shack-fires

Blog by Gabrielle Ritchie 16 March 2015

What prompts us to give? Five motivators to giving money to social causes:

Summer at the Cape Peninsula in South Africa is always a time for truly wicked bushfires.  The combination of dry weather and outrageously strong winds is a recipe for disaster.  Summer 2015 has been no different.  Huge fires that last for days are, thankfully, quite rare, and so it seems that this summer was to be Cape Town’s first real “big fire” season in quite a few years.  Bush firefighting is a massive community endeavour, heavily reliant on volunteer firefighters, drivers, food donations, co-ordination, evacuation assistance and so on.  The recent Cape Town fire (which started 1st March) used more than 400 firefighters, burned for 5 days, turned to charcoal more than 5,500 hectares of land – and at many points seemed unstoppable, with huge flames and the front line spreading for kilometres.  On the 4th day of the fire, a local radio station hosted a fundraising phone-a-thon for one of the volunteer firefighting services, and raised – in the space of about 12 hours – approximately 14x their original target.  Corporates and individuals called in, pledging their financial support to the firefighting non-profit.  It was a truly spectacular fundraising success.  To the volunteer organisation’s enormous credit, their social media campaign was impeccable all the way through the 5-day fire.  It was textbook campaign excellence and the phone-a-thon results reflected this clearly.

Along with this fundraising success came the very necessary questions from concerned members of the public and social media commentators.  These questions focused on how non-profit causes are promoted; who decides on which causes are provided with media platforms for fundraising; whose lives and homes are privileged for fundraising, while others’ are deemed unimportant; does money always go to the already-resourced organisations; what about the hundreds of people routinely losing everything to shack fires that break out in squatter communities?

These are just some of the questions that put the notion of “fundraising success” under a social justice lens, and which invite scrutiny and interrogation of the politics of public fundraising appeals.  I have had many discussions, arguments and debates since the fires about the profiling of some causes above others, and about the role of activists and organisations in shaping public understanding about social issues. While those discussions are far-reaching and complex, the key question remains about how individuals make decisions about what they are going to give their hard-earned cash to.

Below are listed the five top reasons, in my opinion, why people give:

  1. Passion – what is in our hearts. Often this isn’t something we can account for or necessarily explain at first, but when it connects, you feel it. As per the recent Cape Town example, if we care about the environment in general, and the Table Mountain National Park in particular (which was spectacularly affected in the fires), then supporting a volunteer firefighting organisation is a “no-brainer”.
  2. Values – and the ability to identify with a cause. The issues or causes that connect with our values are those most likely to catch our attention and hook us in. So if we value grit, determination and perseverance, for example, then again the “Cape Town Fires” cause is an obvious one to support because of the sheer scale and duration of the firefighting effort.
  3. Urgency – this is often a key reason, where crisis can play an important role in getting involved in supporting an issue or cause. If it is apparent that your giving, right at the moment, is going to make a difference, if your immediate action is going to make an immediate and visible difference, then this is often what will pull individuals towards getting involved through funding support. We like to see how our contribution is making a difference.
  4. Availability of information – it is much easier to give to a cause when we know the the current state of play of a cause, and what kind of support is required – with clear and easy-to-access information on the different ways in which we can help or the different kinds of support we can provide. With social media, most people expect to be able to access immediate and up-to-date information. Not being able to do so is likely to lose an organisation its support quite quickly. The Cape Town fires are a really excellent example of up-to-the-minute communications – at any given point those with access to facebook and twitter were able to get information not only on the status of the fires, but on what particular help and support was required at any given time at any given fire station. Good, timeous communication is the key to any cause attracting support.
  5. Easy processes for giving – linked directly to the point above, the easier it is to help and support and contribute and donate, the more likely people are to do it. Social media provided an incredible platform for sharing information about the fires and how to support. Drop-off points for material donations were clearly advertised, specific calls were made about what to donate and where to take it, and banking details were repeatedly made available online on facebook pages.

There are a number of other motivators for giving:

  1. Low-risk causes – If a cause is low-risk, and there is unlikely to be some kind of negative social impact on oneself in being associated with a particular issue. For examples, children and animals are very popular to support because they are what we call “soft issues”.
  2. A public face – If there is a public figure, or a face, or a character that fronts a cause, and if people are able to identify with that figure
  3. Telling a good story – If there is a particular story associated with a cause, and people can relate to the story.

Gabrielle Ritchie on Cape Talk Radio and Radio 702, in discussion with Bruce Whitfield about what motivates people to give

http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/1980/over-r3-million-raised-by-you-to-help-with-the-fire-damages-in-cape-town