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#changethestory: NGOs in crisis as donors divert, delay funding

My engagement with several NGOs during lockdown reveals one common message: “We are not going to survive this.” Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

My engagement with several NGOs during lockdown reveals one common message: “We are not going to survive this.” Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 11, 2020


by Lorenzo Davids

The Department of Social Development states there are 231 484 non-profit organisations (referred to as NGOs) registered on its database.

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These NGOs operate feeding schemes, care for children, provide help to women and look after the elderly. They support day hospitals and schools with volunteer staff who clean, teach and support millions of vulnerable people across our country.

They also employ on average 1.5 million people who earn an income through working in the NGO sector. Compare this to the on-average 453 000 people employed in the mining sector.

These same NGOs are now confronted with the greatest financial crisis in their history. My engagement with several during lockdown reveals one common message: “We are not going to survive this.”

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They share a global problem in the non-profit sector: donors are diverting funds they have earmarked as funding for NGOs to government Covid-19 programmes and new initiatives like the Solidarity Fund in South Africa. NGOs, many in the remotest parts of our country, and that exist on the generosity of the public, are faced with several crises.

First is the lack of funding from individual donors, who have all seen their incomes reduced and have less cash available. Second has been the fact that, on reaching out to charitable trusts and foundation donors during lockdown, they are told that distribution decisions have been deferred to after lockdown or that available CSI budgets and grant-funding are being diverted to Covid-19 interventions.

How is it possible that NGOs, that offer vital primary and secondary care intervention to South Africa’s 31million critically poor people, are being crushed in this crisis due to the uninformed approach adopted by both the government and donors to their sustainability?

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If business needed financial rescue to keep employing people, how is it possible that donors and the government do not see that the entity that employs the most people in the country is facing a severe sustainability crisis?

If donors do not wake up to this crisis, about 25% of the non-profit sector will be wiped out by the end of this year and about 300000 NGO staff will be unemployed. Most NGOs have no more than one months’ worth of operating capital.

The US Foundation Centre, now called Candid, did a survey of philanthropy across the world during lockdown and found that the challenges NGOs are facing are financial constraints to keep doors open and the high cost for NGOs to work remotely due to them being unable to afford duplicating the required IT infrastructure. In addition, it found that NGO resilience, while offered by staff due to a sense of calling, can only continue for a limited period without donor support (read: money).

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South Africa has a robust and loyal NGO sector. It is tough to see donors diverting much-need funding required to keep this sector’s doors open to the government, where corruption has been the order of the day.

How much donor funding has ended up in the sickening dark hole of government corruption?

Are charitable trustees and trust administrators and CSI managers really washing their hands in innocence, when their decisions are made without any deep sense-making as to what the non-profit sector requires right now?

Who understands that once a TB patient leaves hospital, it is NGOs like Santa’s Dot (directly-observed treatment)-workers who go door to door in the villages of our country to make sure TB patients take their medication to stop the spread of TB? These “Dot-workers” earn less than R1 000 a month.

Who is aware that the Cape Kidney Association, founded in 1978 by a group of nephrology doctors and nurses, is closing its doors due to the lockdown funding crisis? Indigent kidney patients will no longer have access to nutritional support and travel allowances to get to the hospitals for their dialysis.

Someone needs to switch the lights on in the donor community. Before all NGOs are forced to switch their lights off.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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