Ten things you might not know about South African Philanthropy: South African PhilanthroFacts 3

Gabrielle Ritchie | Director, The Change Room | 23rd May 2017

Many multiple months have passed since I wrote South African Philanthrofacts 1 and 2 (no need to check back!) – but better late than never is one of my life mottos, and it applies here too.  So this is South African Philanthrofacts 3!

PF 1 was about the common knowledge that “little is known about South African philanthropy” – so I provided ten possible sources that could be consulted and pursued so that we could find out more about this terrain.

PF 2 was about the politics of philanthropy and who benefits from the ever-changing and whimsical sympathies of the benefactors.  That piece looked specifically at summer fire-fighting in the Cape Peninsula area, and the politics of an incredibly successful radio appeal for funding support for fire-fighting.

The focus for South African Philanthrofacts 3 is TEN things you might not know about South African Philanthropy:

  1. The first-ever Chair in African Philanthropy has been established at the Wits Business School. Acknowledgement loudly goes to Dr Bheki Moyo and Southern Africa Trust, and Wits Business School, for pulling this initiative together.
  2. I am the first PhD student (actually, I might be the first student!) under the new Chair (Professor Alan Fowler). It is also the first Chair in Philanthropy on the continent.  Big FIRSTS.
  3. The Social Justice Initiative has been established to provide a smooth mechanism for South Africans (and others) to support social justice work with their philanthropic giving – including work around gender-based violence; women’s economic empowerment and other issues central to South Africa’s social development.
  4. There are a number of different estimates around the ZAR scale of private philanthropy in our country. The Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa (IPASA), when it was still the Private Philanthropy Circle based at Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement, estimated that it represented around R1.5billion (in 2014) in annual grant spend.  It is not possible to extrapolate this out because, although IPASA represents somewhere between 25 and 35 philanthropic entities, the number of formal donor foundations in South Africa is completely unknown.  I have been told verbally in passing (and am not able to reference this), that recent research has revealed that private philanthropy in SA is worth over R40billion annually – but I am reserving my right to see this as a bit of a stretch and I really look forward to being able to unpack that number.
  5. South Africans with disposable income don’t give enough. We don’t give enough. I often wonder what we are holding on to.  If we are not investing in our own social development, then who on earth is going to?
  6. There are ENDLESS incredible projects to support. If you have disposable funds or are thinking of investing some money in social development, let me know.  I would be delighted to point you in some right directions.  There is superb work happening in job creation and support for micro-entrepreneurs – such as The Big Issue (declaration: I am the Chair of the Board!); in education – for example, Partners for Possibility; in health – health-e news is one such project; working to expose and end corruption – such as Corruption Watch; to develop community-based health care projects – like NACOSA is doing nationally; standing for our rights as citizens to be able to access information – such as Right to Know and Amabhungane.  Really endless, people.  It is not hard to find a project or a cause.  But if you are struggling to decide where to invest, I would be more than happy to provide information and find you some good, reliable, dependable, hardworking, effective projects to support!
  7. While many speak of things changing rapidly in the philanthropy space, this is not really the case. There is mention, for example, of the potential for incredibly exciting shifts and wild innovation such as consulting directly with communities and activists on the ground.  Yes, apparently this is new and wildly innovative.  It is also something that has been discussed for years, and for which calls have been made by the very people living in communities and working on the ground.  So perhaps it is “new” because the philanthropists are finally hearing it?  Come, people – there needs to be a far smaller gap between what how we do philanthropy and how we KNOW we should do philanthropy.
  8. There are very few people talking much at all locally about philanthropy, funding, grantmaking, social justice and social development. To listen to those who are sharing their pearls, follow these folk on Twitter:  @RAITHFoundation | @SocialJusticeSA | @BerthaFN | @OtherFoundation | @Tshikululu | @bheki_moyo | @shelaghgastrow | and me on @philanthropiSA | If you know of others, please share!
  9. Personal philanthropy is still not much of a discussion topic, not amongst traditional white wealth in South Africa anyway. I think we might be stuck a bit in the British tradition of “we don’t discuss money… it’s impolite”.  But how grand would it be if we all spoke about what we invest socially, why we chose those causes and/or organisations, whether others know of good projects needing support, how we decide as individuals whether projects are support-worthy, what we think we can achieve with our particular investment choices.  Wouldn’t it be great? Wouldn’t it?!
  10. South African philanthropy is part of a much broader philanthropy space across the whole continent. As such, it is part of a growing conversation about practice, process, people, and pathways in giving money in support of a bigger social project.  It is exciting stuff – and these times will become ever-more interesting as our understanding of the breadth of practices of different kinds of philanthropies becomes more and more evident on the continent.
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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 🙂