News and Opinions

Planning ahead for long-term sustainability and resilience

Audrey Elster
Executive Director: Raith Foundation

audreyThe RAITH Foundation is a private philanthropic organisation, focused on the advancement of social justice in South Africa. RAITH was established in 2001 and will close its doors no later than 2036. This planned end date has forced us to look to the future and our legacy post-2036.

Funding relevant, effective work now and sustaining the progress made with our funding (estimated to be about R1.5b by 2034) has become even more important and urgent. One of the things we know we have achieved to date is the continued presence and effectiveness, in South Africa, of many human rights and social justice organisations that hold those in Government to account and help to empower communities to realise their rights. This work will be no less important after RAITH closes its doors and may be even more of a priority.

What we have learned from the past departure of some of the bigger donors to the sector, like the Atlantic Philanthropies, is that if this work is to be sustained beyond our closure, it is important to be supporting it and planning for it now, even if our closure seems like a long way away. This is because sustainability does not happen overnight and requires an investment in many complex, inter-connected factors such as governance, leadership, finance and communications (amongst others) as well as key programmatic issues, such as strategy and stakeholder management.

Fortunately, RAITH has always supported the NGOs it funds to strengthen their internal organisational capacity, systems and strategies. As the custodians of RAITH grants it is important, purely from a fiduciary oversight point of view, that the NGOs we fund are well managed and the money well spent. We were also aware that the success of any intervention we fund depends not only on the intervention itself, but the way it was managed and supported internally. With this in mind, we have supported governance training for boards and leaders, admin, HR and finance systems development, strategic planning and research. However, based on concerns in the sector that donor funding is not sufficient for this work, more recently our focus has turned to financial resilience, with an emphasis on fundraising and building and managing reserves.

Inyathelo, with its substantial experience in this field, has been our partner in the implementation of this work. By the end of 2023, almost 30 NGO grantees will have undergone this training and set up policies and plans to build this kind of resilience. While many of our grantees had been exposed to, and have substantial experience in fundraising, very few had any experience of how to build financial resilience through proper budgeting, reserves building and, ultimately, asset management.

While NGOs can do their part, it is also important that donor policies move with the times and consider the bigger sustainability picture i.e. the need for core funding that adequately supports organisations to implement their programmes effectively. Allocations for reserves building and technical support in organisational strengthening are some of the key factors to be considered.

raith2What we have learned from these initial trainings in financial resilience and sustainability more broadly, is that our next support steps should be focused on one-on-one tailored support; most NGOs are unique and work under quite different circumstances. This support will continue to be provided by RAITH partners but is also available through small Institutional Development grants to any qualifying social justice organisation (grantees or non-grantees).

In terms of our future plans for direct sustainability interventions, we have also learned that we need to consider more creative fundraising strategies which must look beyond the tried and tested avenues of funding normally available to the sector. Also, once reserves are established, managing these becomes an important challenge for leadership as the needs are great but resources need to be retained to meet funding challenges and to sustain important work into the future.

All of these challenges mean that strong leadership remains key. This, along with technical understanding of how to manage assets, evaluate complex social justice interventions and then to tell these success stories in a way that is compelling to traditional and non-traditional donors, will be our priorities for support going forward.

This article was first published in Inyathelo's 2023 Annual Report.


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