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Philanthropy and the Festive Season


Shelagh Gastrow provides advisory services to the philanthropy sector, higher education advancement and non-profit sustainability. She works with individuals and families on how to integrate their wealth and their values into meaningful and effective philanthropy. From 2002-2015 she was founder and executive director of Inyathelo and focused her efforts on strengthening civil society and universities through programmes to develop their financial sustainability whilst promoting philanthropy in SA. Her work has gained public recognition locally and internationally.

I recently read an article in The New York Times entitled “Forget the Tie, Give a Gift that Matters” and with thanks to the author, Nicholas Kristof, I have given thought to how South Africans can support causes or organisations they might not have thought of or heard of previously.

According to Kristof, the major aid organisations “have special catalogues this time of year: You can buy an alpaca for a family for $150 at Heifer International, help educate a girl for $75 at Save the Children or help extend a much-admired microsavings programme for $25 at Care.”

In South Africa there are special Christmas appeals as well. For example, the Children’s Hospital Trust offers “a gift of life in lieu of a festive season gift”. This includes R50 for a toiletry pack for a mom who spends time at the bedside of their sick child; R100 towards the purchase of a stethoscope and R250 for an hour of life-saving care in the ICU (although in this case I don’t understand why they are raising money for the hospital’s running costs which should be covered by government.)

However, like Kristof, I have explored organisations in South Africa that may offer some special opportunities for people really seeking to find a gift that matters.

If you are charitably minded, then explore the Santa Shoebox Project that now provides over half a million shoeboxes that are distributed to over a thousand recipient facilities in South Africa and Namibia. This project enables the giver to put together their own shoebox containing gifts for specific children whose names, ages and genders are known. Some companies have involved their staff members as part of their corporate social investment programmes.

If you are politically minded, then there is CASAC (Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution), which seeks to advance our Constitution as a platform for democratic politics and the transformation of society. The organisation recently launched legal proceedings on the FICA Bill to secure the President’s compliance with his constitutional obligations and they also went to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to reverse government’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.

Following from politics are our socio-economic rights and the group of entities that promote social justice. A particular organisation that has drawn my attention is Corruption Watch which has just laid a charge against SARS commissioner, Tom Moyane, who allegedly failed to report and act on corrupt activities undertaken by staff in his department, of which he was aware. The organisation encourages the public to play a role in combating and speaking out against corruption. Reports are followed up by investigations and research.

If you are into sport, there are many organisations that have a great impact on young people, taking them off the streets and providing structured opportunities where they learn about teamwork, discipline and the dangers of drugs and alcohol. The JAG Foundations utilises sport, particularly rugby, running and cycling, as a catalyst for change, exposing disadvantaged children to an alternate life path, targeting the issues of alcohol, drugs, gangsterism and bullying. Most important, they provide hope for such children that they can achieve their dreams for the future.

If you care about the environment, look at GreenPop which collaborates with individuals and organisations to plant trees, grow gardens and “educate for action” across southern Africa. The organisation recognises the importance of trees in the planet’s battle against climate change, their role in feeding our rivers, helping to regulate the impact of storms and floods, harbouring biologically diverse ecosystems, and providing shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent populations. They note that within our cities, urban forests purify the air and groundwater, regulate temperatures, provide shade, and encourage pride of place. GreenPop offers anyone who wants to contribute to the greening of our planet an opportunity to do so.

If you enjoy the arts and the performing arts, there are numerous projects that make a real difference. One I like is Buskaid which gives children from impoverished backgrounds the opportunity to learn classical stringed instruments. This leads to some of the students forming their own orchestras – some eventually becoming professional string teachers – and the establishment of an instrument repair workshop providing employment opportunities. They have a great CD collection of their own artists and I would recommend the purchase of these or offering brilliant Buskaid performers opportunities to perform at events.

Concern about providing job opportunities to young people who often have no hope would take you to the modest Communiversity of South Africa. While hard to believe, the organisation has been able to take school leavers from severely disadvantaged backgrounds from the streets to a good job or further studies in only five months, along with further personal coaching. Communiversity serves as a vital bridge for matriculants and school leavers to enter the workplace, start a business or continue with their studies.

There are hundreds of opportunities in South Africa for philanthropic giving over the festive season and the above are the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t take too much work to explore the internet and find out what matches your values and interests. Nearly every website has a “how to give” or “donate” button. If you would like to make a substantial donation, you have every right to contact the organisation and ask for a meeting with the director to find out more and to assess whether there is “chemistry” between what you want to achieve and the activities and impact of the organisation.

When assessing the viability of an organisation, check if its board members are named on the website, a list of its existing donors, along with an annual report. You may also wish to make a simple grant to a university to assist in putting a talented but financially strapped student through their studies. Find the university Development or Advancement office on the institution’s website and engage with the director of that office as to how to achieve this.

Starting a philanthropic journey offers amazing possibilities to enter meaningful new worlds of activity that benefit our society and ensure a dynamic and enjoyable experience, both for the recipients and for the giver. DM


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