Why are “Funders” and NPOs teammates?

Philanthropy, whether private or corporate, is often lauded and revered, while we perceive charities and those working for them as sentimental suckers or overly aggressive activists.

This imbalance in perceptions is not only harmful, but also foolish.

The very goal of philanthropy is the upliftment of people and society – the same goal of most not-for-profit organisations (NPOs) and charities. In fact, we should see them as peers, partners, members of the same team that just perform different functions.

The NPOs do the work on the ground. They have the experience, the relationships and the community insight. Businesses (or private philanthropists), on the other hand, make the money that can fund these operations.

More and more businesses and philanthropist are determined to drive positive change in society, but the truth is that they shouldn’t try to “fly solo” or change the world on their own. Very little can be accomplished by individuals acting on their own – the odds of success are small. Instead, they should focus on being excellent at doing business so they can make enough money to be able to be philanthropic and invest in the work that reputable NPOs are doing within the community from which the businesses profit. These NPOs will have the insight and experience to be able to mobilise the funds they receive in the most effective and sustainable way.

However – being partners does not mean businesses and philanthropist should tell NPOs what to do and how to do it. A CEO of an investment company would be foolish to insist that he knows how to run a feeding programme better than the people who have been doing it for 20 years, just as the organiser of a feeding programme would be foolish to insist that he knows how to run the investment company better than the CEO of that company.

Dramatic power imbalances are also created between NPOs and “funders” when the NPOs are forced to write massive reports every quarter, detailing exactly how every Rand has been maximised (and these reports probably aren’t read properly by the business or philanthropist anyway). Reporting back is obviously important, but these reports needn’t be crippling in their requirements.

Funders should also be careful not to refuse to fund an NPOs operational costs. These organisations are expected them to have exceptional results and detailed financial plans, but when they want to use funds to appoint of a diligent and skilled accountant, they are rebuffed. Or they are required to give continuous updates on their work, but businesses don’t want to fund the NPO’s electricity bill or internet connection. These operational costs are fundamental to the success of the NPO – and thus should be funded as enthusiastically as the flashy projects and media-worthy events.

Essentially, we just need to remember that in the social investment space, businesses and NPOs are working towards the same goal. Neither party is more important in the process than the other, and neither party can operate independently of the other. They are teammates with one goal: uplifting people and creating opportunities for them to flourish in a better South Africa.

Gwenda le Grange is the Communications Coordinator at Nation Builder.

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