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Whither philanthropic funding in the aftermath of Covid-19?


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.

The philanthropy sector, not as a monolith but as individual foundations, is likely to take a hard look at resources available after the damage done by Covid-19 — not only to the country but to entities themselves.

One of the busiest sectors in South Africa today is the philanthropic sector. The Covid-19 crisis resulted in urgent and massive calls for humanitarian support for communities in need, particularly in relation to food security. Philanthropic trusts and foundations rallied to that cause by providing additional funding from their already reduced endowments, enabling existing recipients of their funds to change course to respond to the pandemic. They also made every effort to ensure organisations could sustain staff complements and introduce new technologies.

Yet some in the non-profit sector appear to believe that philanthropy is not clear on its direction and that philanthropy doesn’t know where its funding should go. There also appears to be resentment with regards to the Solidarity Fund, established to deal with the pandemic, into which thousands of individuals, companies and philanthropic entities have contributed. There is suspicion that the fund will continue post the Covid crisis, playing a power role in the funding space.

What is clear is that South Africans make contributions to entities they trust. The funding for the Solidarity Fund has broken all records, with R2.61-billion having been raised to date, mostly from companies and foundations. Yet individuals have donated R71-million; payroll giving has reached R37-million and 262,204 individual donors have made contributions. The list of major donors is available on the Solidarity Fund website. The amounts donated by companies and foundations are substantial and it is true that this is likely to eat into any corporate social investment budget in the next year or two.

One of the benefits of the establishment of the Solidarity Fund is that it could move quickly to obtain the resources South Africa required to deal with this pandemic. Part of the lack of delivery by government is linked to the onerous tender system, whereas an independent trust can make its own decisions quickly and that was a critical asset at the start of the pandemic. The South African public understood this and therefore the funds have poured in.

According to the fund’s website, R36-million has been allocated to prevention strategies, including educating the public and mobilising through social media and citizen networks; detection requirements, including R358-million for support for the National Laboratory Service to acquire testing equipment and funding for personal protective equipment for the 30,000 community workers undertaking testing; support for patient care through the allocation of R915-million to secure PPE to sustain the public health system and for the purchase of 200 ventilators; funding for support in communities through augmenting government efforts to enhance households’ ability to cope including food and care. The fund has supplied 280,000 food parcels to 250,000 households.

The fund has worked closely with various non-profit organisations in the field of food distribution, including Food Forward, Afrika Tikkun, Islamic Relief and the Lunchbox Fund. In addition, further distribution is being undertaken in partnership with a range of community organisations such as the Social Change Assistance Trust, which provides a deep rural network in the Eastern Cape.

The question then is, what resources will be available to non-profits in the post-Covid period? There are complaints that donors have forgotten other key issues such as poverty, racism and gender-based violence and that these must be addressed once the pandemic is over.

What is most likely is that the philanthropy sector, not as a monolith but as individual foundations, will take a hard look at the resources available after the damage Covid has been done, not only to the country but to entities in the philanthropy sector itself. This involves a substantial reduction in endowment funds, already committed funding to existing partners and a strategic review of the big overarching issues that we face, such as the environment, climate change, the new economy and how to ensure that philanthropy can leverage changes in the most effective way to have an impact on poverty and inequality.

This is not only about money, but also about the activism of foundations themselves, their convening power, the potential for partnerships and collaboration between philanthropies and their founding legal mandates that guide their choices. Suggestions that philanthropic foundations do not know where to put their money or only seek the easy solutions where they can gain the most publicity are far off the mark.

We will no doubt see many really worthy non-profit organisations close, as have many businesses. This will have a significant impact on social services and citizen rights’ and it remains unfathomable that government did not provide assistance to the civil society sector on which it currently depends for many services during the Covid-19 period. To avoid closure, organisations need to recognise that the world has changed dramatically. There is no business as usual and this applies to the resourcing of the non-profit sector.

Organisations can regroup, focus on purpose and not on structure, develop clarity on the new way ahead, develop a case for support that is inspiring and can be explained simply, ensure that what you plan to do in the new era will have impact rather than just maintaining the status quo, seek out staff with the new skills required such as IT, avoid duplication, find potential for mergers or at least collaboration and alliances, strengthen governance, and review fundraising practice away from proposal-writing to a more personal approach to building relationships of trust that are required to attract resources.

There are also many new online opportunities for fundraising, but they cannot be undertaken without some form of marketing plan. When it comes to the proposal-writing method, this is an unlikely source of funding as many donors no longer accept unsolicited proposals but actively seek out those organisations with which they can develop trusted, longer-term relationships. However, in the short term, organisations could re-engage existing donors to shore up their support, strengthen their stewardship practice such as continued reporting, thanking and sharing news with current partners.

Most importantly, it is critical to negotiate with past as well as existing supporters and potential supporters on new ways of doing things for which funding is required, even if they can, at this stage, only offer a modest grant. Donors are part of the continuum of activism and every partnership has value. DM


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