The Not for Profit (NPO) Sector should not be a competitive one, where organisations are clambering over each other to get to the top of the funding pile. It’s about understanding human needs and meeting those in the best way possible. It’s also about how to maximise limited resources for highest impact, often using volunteer manpower and restricted funding. There are a multitude of challenges facing this arena and the proverbial magic word dominating efforts is predominately “networking”! King Solomon, writer of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, was admired for his incredible wisdom and he wrote “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their work”
The present unpredictability of the pandemic crisis has thrown the crucial need for strategic networking between NPOs into sharp focus and it becomes increasingly clear that NPOs must have a well-thought through plan for engagement with each other if they are all to survive and thrive.
The plight of the increasingly vulnerable due to Lockdown has made it vital for NPOs to come together and work in cohesive and concerted ways to meet and reduce those needs effectively. A shotgun approach by a multitude of individuals and relatively small groups or organisations is almost fated to be inadequate in the face of the vast organisational, financial, logistic and on-the-ground challenges. Even the bigger NPOs cannot afford to be lone rangers.
Over the past six months, the needs have grown exponentially whilst resources have reduced or are being far more tightly monitored and disbursed because of the constraints of the shifting economic climate. New donors and potential partners, or those who have previously been committed to giving generously to related NPOs are keeping a careful watch on their limited resources and on the significantly increased demands for support. They need to be assured that relief efforts are not being duplicated and that their donated Rands are being stewarded well and are making as much difference as possible.
Hlengiwe Phiri, Product and Community Manager at Nation Builder, a non-profit platform whose aim is to inspire and equip businesses to spearhead social change in South Africa, says networking and cross-sector learning has enormous potential for impacting and driving social change in the nation: “The NPO sector has been siloed for a long time, functioning largely in an uncoordinated manner. COVID-19 has accelerated the realization of how much more we can achieve by combining our efforts. Nation Builder has seen more of an appreciation for the complex environment within which NPOs do their work as donors have stepped back to truly listen to and take the lead from their NPO partners.”
Karen Brokensha, Marketing Manager at The Domino Foundation, a KZN-based NPO which has been intentionally networking with likeminded organisations for some time, tells of the significant ramping-up of the NPO’s effectiveness and reach from March to August 2020 of Lockdown. Domino had, prior to 27 March 2020, joined forces with four other NPOs to form the KZN Disaster Response Team. “We knew that together we could do way more than on our own and so, once we realized the enormous scale of the needs, we rallied together and have had a far greater impact on the number of individuals, families, households and communities we could reach together ”
Each of KZN Response’s five NPOs have brought their unique areas of competence and skills to the party, to create something far greater than the sum of its parts: The Domino Foundation (based in Durban North) creates essential communication and planning structures supporting people, projects and programmes to meet the needs of individuals and communities physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually; CityHope Disaster (Hillcrest) is skilled in the logisitics and mobilization of disaster relief aid; Zoë-Life specialises in the field of public health and social transformation; Nation Changers’ primary focus is on education, feeding and empowering people and the South African Red Cross in KZN is part of the world’s largest humanitarian movement, supporting people affected by conflicts and natural disasters.
General Manager at CityHope Disaster Relief, Catherine Smith, said of the mutual support between the NPOs: “It has been wonderful to see how each of our organisations has unique strengths that they can bring to the table. We have worked effectively together as a team and are grateful for the combined excellence that we deliver due to each partner working in their gifting.”
Zoë-Life’s Lex Stewart pointed out that its reach has grown immeasurably because of how its core competencies have been augmented and enhanced by the skills and abilities of the other NPOs working with his organisation: “The ability to leverage off the partner NGOs in our region has enabled us to reach and support a far larger community of vulnerable people than we could have done as a single organization. We were able to bring our skills to the COVID crisis in reaching foreign national communities that found themselves in a more vulnerable position than ever before. At the same time, we employed our UNHCR supported project skills to build social cohesion and peace between local and foreign national communities in joint community food support initiatives. Without this KZN Response team, we would have been far less effective! Further to this, the trusted relationships that have been established between the NGOs will surely serve us and our vulnerable communities well into the future!”
Cathy Whittle who heads up the Domino Nutrition Programme and Disaster Response Unit added, “As a group, the KZN Disaster Response was intentionally learning from each other well before Lockdown. We had embraced the idea and the practice of greater impact through working together when we had been faced with natural and manmade disasters like shack fires, the fallout from xenophobic unrest, flood and tornado destruction. So, when the pandemic radically increased the numbers and the magnitude of their plight, we already had a core responsibility and skills set infrastructure in place so we could draw on a range of capabilities and resources immediately to start to meet the escalating needs.”
Speaking of how Nation Builder has seen the collaboration and sharing of resources and knowledge by NPOs as new solutions are crafted for the nation, Hlengiwe said: “At the end of July, we drew on our community and its networks to give insight into what the effects of Covid-19have been on the NPO sector. We distributed an NPO survey and, in less than 24 hours, more than 730 NPOs had completed the document. This was yet another reminder of how quickly the NPO sector is able to mobilize and collaborate to provide insight into their environment.”
She noted that 72% of the respondents to the survey had experienced a decrease in funding and 61% reported an increase in project costs while 36% of the organisations reflected a decrease in their staff component. All this has put increased pressure on an already very strained development system. “These realities have opened up many future focused discussions between NPOs on how to work together to maximize impact with the combined capacity, resources and skills they have as a collective. The selflessness and resilience of these implementing organisations has truly been inspirational in very trying times.”
In the present socio-economic climate where funding is constrained, NPOs need to collaborate to succeed in their common aim…to address the needs of the neediest in our nation. Some NPOs have developed highly effective strategies for putting together funding proposals to potential donors while others are very ‘hit-and-miss’ in their approach. Expertise and knowledge in this area need to be shared unselfishly.
During its campaign to collect, pack and distribute the equivalent of some one and a half million meals in the form of non-perishable foodstuffs during Lockdown, The Domino Foundation and its partners in KZN Disaster Response made concerted appeals to individuals, corporates, churches, trusts, foundations and other groups for resources both in cash and in kind and many overheads were shared among the five organisations.
The worst of Lockdown may be behind the NPOs, but the power of partnering during the pandemic has been reassuringly obvious. Going forward, collaboration and mutual support has to be the order of the day. In the book of Leviticus, we read: “Five will put a hundred to flight, and a hundred will chase ten thousand”. Each organization, working to its strengths and utilizing the expertise of its partners, has significantly impacted far more lives than it would have on its own.
For more information on the collaborative COVID efforts go www.dominofoundation.org.za/covid19-relie