Inyathelo in the Headlines

Power of philanthropy set to strenghten civil society - BIG ISSUE, THE 04 Nov 2011

It's a word that rolls lazily off the tongue. Yet the act of philanthropy — "the unselfish concern for human welfare and advancement, usually exhibited by donations of money, property, or work to needy persons" — is not done with any measure of ease. Much tougher yet is creating a philanthropic society, especially in a country like South Africa where there is such a dire need for the concern of human welfare and advancement but so few people who can afford to give unselfishly.

It is this challenge that Inyathelo — The South African Institute for Advancement, an NGO dedicated to mobilising others to give back to organisations and individuals that better our society — grapples with every day. We caught up with Shelagh Gastrow, executive director and founder of Inyathelo and the annual lnyathelo Philanthropy Awards, to find out how the organisation is working to instil a culture of philanthropy in South Africa and, by doing so, strengthen civil society. CC The idea for Inyathelo developed after I was tasked with raising R17 million for the University of Cape Town. I had no knowl- edge of fundraising and didn't even know where to begin.

We somehow managed to do It, but I was left with the feeling that surely there's an easier or better way to raise funds. A colleague and I began looking into how universities in the United States raise funds through their development offices, which are really big fundraising machines. We then had other institutions coming to us and asking how we were able to raise such a vast amount of money. We had ideas of becoming rich and successful fundraising consultants, but instead we started Inyathelo. The founding concept of Inyathelo is that we took the word "advancement", which is used internationally as a euphemism for fundraising, and changed the meaning of it. So Instead of advancement meaning fundraising, we use it to mean strengthening civil society organisations, or non-profit organisations.

By doing so, the organisations become more effective and, in turn, they are better able to attract funding for resources and capacity. It's easier to have people come to you and say, "We like what you're doing and would like to make a contribution", rather than you having to go around trying to persuade people why they should give you money. We started off offering civil society organisations a lot of services, such as training and workshops where they could meet people and learn how to generate their own funding. But from this we learned that every organisation's challenges are different and we can't give them generic advice. We saw that some people didn't need training; they needed one-on-one advice or someone to listen to their problems.

The Ask Inyathelo Clinic was launched as a result of this learning curve. People come in to the clinic — just like when they go to see a doctor — fill out a form saying who they are, where their resources come from, who is on their board, what programmes they run and, most importantly, what is your biggest problem. We had ideas of becoming rich and successful fundraising consultants, but instead we started Inyathelo.

The problems are generally that they can't raise money or that they can't find people to sit on the board. Once we've identified what the key problems are, we then form a mentoring relationship and from there we offer specific training and peer learning, among other solutions. Through the Ask Inyathelo Clinic we are also able to make connections between organisations and donors in our network. Both donors and the recipients are our partners; we act as a "go-between" or a "matchmaker" between the donors and the non-profits. South Africans are generous and charitable people by nature. But there are lots of civil society organisations which work with social justice issues trying to bring about change in our society. South Africans don't give — or don't give enough — to these kinds of organisations. South Africa is not a poor country.

We are seen as a middle-income country and we should be able to support our own civil society organisations. If we can't support these organisations then our democracy is not going to last because it is these organisations that keep government on its toes. So, if we are not investing in these organisations and things go wrong, then can we really complain about it? We are constantly working to make the difference between philanthropy and charity clear to the public. Philanthropy, as we see it, means strategic grant giving. In other words, giving to organisations that are trying to change the problem.

The Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards were borne out of this need to raise awareness of the meaning of philanthropy. It is a way to make the concept of philanthropy tangible; a way to show South Africans what philanthropy in action really means. The awards also serve to popularise the word philanthropy and get it into the media. I couldn't stand on a soapbox yelling, "Philanthropy is good"; the awards created real role models, who were brought to the public's attention. We don't give prizes and there are no winners or losers. The awards recognise real philanthropists — big and small. They show that you do not have to be rich and famous to be philanthropic; that anyone who puts their funds and/or resources into an organisation is a philanthropist.

The awards are in their fifth year and they have so far served their purpose better than we could have hoped for. We see how much more the words philanthropy and philanthropist are being used and how the debate around philanthropy has evolved. I can't say this is all due to Inyathelo but I believe we have definitely contributed to making the nation more conscious of philanthropy. But there is still long way to go.,, *The 2 011 Philanthropy Awards take place on November 15. For more info, visit: 4 NOVEMBER 11 - 24 NOVEMBER 11.THE BIG ISSUE.