Do you ever give donations to charitable organisations; orphanages, places of worship, animal sanctuaries, community safety organisations, education initiatives, anti-corruption groups – that kind of thing?
If you do, then you make up a small but vital part of the pool of over 80% of South Africans who give generously in support of these critical efforts.
I say without fear of contradiction that this country would be in dire straits if it weren’t for our NGO’s. We have literally tens of thousands of non-profit organisations doing truly superb work with very little support except that which you and I (or our companies) might give to them.
My wife and I have run an NGO for many years now. We start and administer homes for abandoned and orphaned babies and we have teams who work for us. Some of these homes now operate under the auspices of their own NGO’s, which is brilliant. Others – like the Baby Home in Durban North, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Hammarsdale Child Care Centre run under our NGO. All our advocacy work and other projects involves orphans and vulnerable children along with the creation of the kind of South Africa we all wish to live in.
We are a very small NGO in the bigger picture, but last time I checked it cost us about R140k a month to operate. This is mostly taken up by rent and salaries (carers, house-parents and management – i.e. us. We employ 13 people in total). We are scrupulously honest, even going to the extent of publishing our annual report and financials on our website.
However, many very generous people and organisations are unwilling to give monetary donations preferring to donate consumables; nappies, formula, medicines etc. Some like to give hardware – cots, blankets, clothes. Others like to dump their old rubbish on us but that’s for another time.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. We are hugely grateful for all the (non-manky) consumables and hardware we get given. We depend on this. But we also – like every other NGO in operation – rely on money to operate. We must pay a qualified person to mix that formula up and feed it to a baby, change her nappy and lull her to sleep. It doesn’t just happen. And we choose to pay our carers and house mothers above the going rate. It is a priority of our NGO to pay poverty-busting salaries and give 13th cheques and significant increases. How else will we play our part in addressing inequality?
And this brings me to my final point. NGO staff and management should ultimately be paid according to their education and years of experience – not according to the fact that they work in a non-profit organisation. NGO employees should be paid like their counterparts in for-profit companies. Yes, we are very passionate – but passion does not pay the rent. Now, we acknowledge that we cannot pay these kinds of salaries because we do not have a culture of deep respect for NGO’s that allows this to happen. For my part I have always relied on multiple sources of income for me and my family.
All this humble NGOér requests is that you put aside past experiences where your generosity may have been abused and know that NGO’s need hard cash donations to survive. Our promise is that we will steward those funds wisely and carefully and we will always be accountable to you the donor.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
My wife and I recently attended the graduation ceremony of a staff member of ours who had completed a course in Early Childhood Development through Embury College. It was quite an affair.
300 odd graduates most of them with a guest, in a conference room at the old airport decked out like a wedding reception; round tables; crisp table clothes; decorations; white chairs with gold tie-backs; a buffet-style meal; an official photographer. Although the courses were short – 1 year – every graduate wore a graduation gown complete with mortar board. We were like proud parents.
Before I continue I should point out that our staff member runs our NGO’s creche up in Hammarsdale near Pietermaritzburg. She is lucky enough to be employed. Many of her fellow graduates will only get work after they qualify and at that, if they are lucky as most of them are young and inexperienced.
We wrongly assumed that her graduation was included in the course fee. So, you can imagine our shock when she told us that she had to cough up R400 to attend her own graduation – they all had (as opposed to the R150 per head us guests paid). And this excluded photos, which is really what they all wanted. Now to put the economics of all this into some perspective, the whole course only cost R1600.
The photographer hustled them relentlessly for business and his price list ranged from R250 for 3 x A4 pics (no frames) to R450 for 3 x A4 pics (no frames). Frames were an extra R50 each. So, if they wanted pictures in a frame, this event would have cost these young, unemployed ladies from some far-flung areas between R650 and R850. That’s before they bought or hired fancy outfits (and they were fancy!) and got transport. Of course, few of them could afford photos and by the end of the event the sleazy photographer was offering pictures for R20.
Did this event really cost Embury roughly R165,000 to stage (300 x R400 plus 300 x R150)? And why did the guests pay R150 and the graduates R400? R250 for the hire of a graduation gown?
We must celebrate success wherever we find it – particularly in education. But come on Embury! Why not have these graduations in the communities the graduates come from and get local graduates to project manage them for a fee? They can commission community suppliers – cooks, flower arrangers, local DJ’s, photographers et – to do the event at a fraction of the cost and channel the money back into the communities where it is needed most.
Or is there perhaps something I’m missing here?