Despite still being in the thick of the pandemic and its social impact, many will undoubtedly agree that our efforts should be forward looking and focused on exploring ways to help pick up the pieces and rebuild our country and rebuild better.
We know that the government, the business sector and many other bodies will be key in this regard. However, the efforts of the vital nonprofit organisation (NPO) sector go largely unnoticed, whereas, in my opinion, they should be at the heart of SA’s rebuild.
Staff volunteerism is inextricably linked to SA’s NPOs, and while it is heartening to see an increased show of solidarity by corporate SA, sadly it is nowhere near enough to address the scale of the problem. The pandemic has served to worsen SA’s unique socioeconomic challenges, which are characterised by unequal income and wealth distribution. Given the lack of government capacity, the service delivery gap must be filled. NPOs exist to do exactly that; they are involved in every facet of impoverished society, but they too have their challenges.
As a result, other sectors need to be creative in resourcing the NPO sector and keeping it sustainable.
The need for a solid and vibrant NPO sector to assist and support the many people in need has never been greater.
These organisations have played a critical role in sustaining communities, families and individuals through these very difficult times; yet, just when the country more than ever needs NPOs they have been badly hit. Putting NPOs front and centre of SA’s rebuild project would entail labelling these challenges and finding ways to address them.
With this in mind, corporates and government should consider their role in strengthening the sector. Those of us who work with NPOs are familiar with their challenges. Chief among these is limited financial resources, with reliance on government grants, corporate support and donations from foundations, philanthropists and ordinary people. Sadly, during this crisis NPOs found their fund-raising abilities curtailed amid lockdowns and an economy under pressure. And they experienced an increase in the demands of serving the most vulnerable communities, which inevitably amplified their expenses.
Simply put, without sufficient income NPOs’ much-needed services cannot be delivered. Corporates, alongside charitable trusts and grant-making foundations, ought to reconsider how best to reallocate corporate social investment (CSI) resources to better assist NPOs. But money alone will not make the NPO sector sustainable. The operating business models of many NPOs are shaky and unsustainable in the long term; governance and financial management at some are weak. A good start for CSI would be training to prepare those keen to serve on NPO boards, and allowing employees to voluntarily sign up for NPO board training.
Vigilance and opportunity
NPOs are not uncontaminated by the scourge of corruption. It is no surprise that times of crisis also lead to the establishment of new NPOs, some unfortunately founded with opportunistic intentions. Though the majority of NPOs have good intentions, vigilance is required to maintain and even strengthen public trust.
My observation on the ground is that those NPOs with capable leadership are better able to adapt to fast-changing circumstances — and therefore have a better chance of survival. This form of capacity building doesn’t necessarily require financial help, but rather the creation of opportunities for skilled and experienced people, through staff volunteering in the case of corporates, to give of their time.
Ultimately, the SA rebuilding project is likely to depend on broad economic recovery. NPOs feed into this recovery by strengthening communities and supporting individuals to actively participate in the economy. The assistance of NPOs is invaluable in providing for needy, disabled, sick, aged and vulnerable members of society and it is essential that we start making them part of the solution.
This article originally appeared in Business Live.