The importance of non-profit organisations (NPOs) in our society and the vital role they are playing during the Covid-19 pandemic – not only in terms of service and food delivery but also advocacy for the marginalised – is undeniable. Despite this, there was no South African Government relief package announced for non-profits. How have NPOs adapted and continued operating during these challenging times, and what lasting impacts will the pandemic have on the sector?
A sector in peril
Although we cannot fully measure the impact Covid-19 has had on the sector until after the pandemic, we can see some trends emerging, both globally and in South Africa.
The Charities Aid Foundation of America produced a report titled The Voice of Charities Facing Covid-19 Worldwide based on a survey of 544 NPOs in 93 countries, conducted between 24 and 26 March.1
The report found that NPOs were concerned that the health crisis would negatively affect their organisation by reducing contributions, disrupting contact with donors and beneficiaries, and affecting staffing, operations, and supply chains. Sixty-seven percent of respondents reported a decrease in funding and difficulties in reaching donors, while 34% noted an increase in operational costs. More than 50% were unable to fully support beneficiaries because of staffing limitations. A further 31% indicated a breakdown in supply chain and nearly 10% ceased operating altogether.
A June report by Epic-Africa and @AfricanNGOs surveyed 1 015 civil society organisations from 44 African countries about the impact of Covid-19. The results of the survey showed that 56% of NPOs experienced funding losses, while 66% had expected financial loss within the next three to six months. A total of 69% said they had reduced or ceased operations.2
In July, Nation Builder conducted a survey to understand the challenges NPOs in South Africa face. Of the 733 respondents from 717 organisations, 61% reported decreasing the number of staff members, 25% increased the number of staff members to respond to extraordinary need, and 61% reported increased overheads due to increased demand for services (22% experienced a decrease, possibly due to layoffs). Seventy-two percent of respondents reported an increased demand for their services, with 22% reporting a decrease and 7% unaffected.
Some 72% had to work with decreased funding, with only 22% reporting a funding increase. Despite these hardships, 61% reported that they had not received any government-related funding (although 13% were in the process of securing this). Of those who managed to secure funding, 88% received it from the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF) Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme, 6% from the Solidarity Fund, 5% from the UIF itself, and 1% from the National Lotteries Commission (NLC).
Trialogue, too, conducted a survey regarding NPO responses to Covid-19 (along with corporate responses). We found that, of the 115 NPO respondents, 24% reported that their funding had ceased or been put on hold, and 19% said that it had been reduced. Some 38% of NPOs adapted existing programmes to cater for Covid-19, with a quarter having to reduce their programmes.
All the surveys point to an increase in demand, and a decrease in funding in an already stretched sector. NPOs have eaten into reserves during this extraordinary year and the position of many is precarious.
Government support (or the lack thereof) for NPOs
When the South African Government announced its R500 billion social relief and economic support package in April 2020, many were surprised by the omission of the non-profit sector. Among the responses was an open letter to government from a few NPO sector leaders, urging it to partner with the sector to slow down its imminent collapse.3 The letter from the NPO leaders was an appeal for greater inclusion and collaboration, particularly as government has sometimes side-lined non-profits or failed to harness their vast expertise on the ground during the crisis. It proposed passive support for the sector in the form of reduced taxes and rates for NPO sector workers, purchasing services from NPOs, and offering increased incentives to donors by increasing the Section 18a percentage claim. Finally, it suggested that the sector needed a funding injection, perhaps from the NLC.
Subsequently, the DSD allocated R100 million from the Criminal Assets Recovery Account to support organisations that serve victims of crime, gender-based violence and femicide. However, the sector in general received no ‘bailout’. The DSD suggested that the sector needed a funding injection, perhaps from the NLC – which did indeed agree to make R150 million available to struggling NPOs.
The global context
Close to 12.5 million Americans work for 1.4 million NPOs in the country’s non-profit sector. As the third-largest employer in the country, the sector shed 1.6 million jobs between March and May 2020, and was hoping for a bailout.4 However, many NPOs did not qualify for loans in terms of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, and a stimulus bill boosted only small NPOs.5
Some governments have stepped in to assist NPOs, recognising the crucial role they play in society. In April, the United Kingdom Government said it would make £750 million available to nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) so they could continue their vital work during the pandemic, and the Canadian Government set up a 350 million Canadian dollars Emergency Community Support Fund to assist the non-profit sector – although this was considered an inadequate amount.6, 7
How the NPO sector has adapted during the pandemic
Although many NPOs in South Africa have struggled during the pandemic, many have continued to receive support and have adapted with surprising agility in the face of the crisis.
Adjusting existing programmes and introducing new services
According to the survey conducted by Epic-Africa and @AfricanNGOs, 85% of African NPOs had introduced new programme activities during the pandemic. In addition, Trialogue’s research shows that 38% of NPOs adapted their existing programmes.
The Bulungula Incubator based in the Eastern Cape is one of the few rural-based NPOs that was quick to adapt. One of its operations, the Bulungula Lodge, is 100%-owned by the community. It usually services tourists but was turned into a safe home for the elderly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Funds ordinarily used for the venue were reprioritised to save community jobs, and free seedlings for subsistence farming were given out during the lockdown period. Such shifts may provide clues for future, more inclusive, programmes.
Afrika Tikkun, an NPO that supports youth empowerment programmes, redirected its funds to improve awareness and education about the novel coronavirus in the communities in which it operates. The organisation had nurses stationed at its centres conducting Covid-19 tests, and it ran a mask campaign called #FaceUpToCovid19 to promote the use of masks. Through a new programme, Neighbour to Neighbour, its centres were used for food distribution. Other community organisations too added food distribution to their services or expanded or modified existing food programmes.
Many education NPOs pivoted to online services or the provision of worksheets and books for home use. Investec’s Promaths programme extended Mobi-Tuta, a mobile platform introduced in partnership with Tuta-Me, to assist learners in townships and rural schools through the Promaths Online offering. This offering introduced virtual classroom-based lessons designed to give Promaths learners simple smart phone access to maths and science lessons. Agile NPOs are best placed to manage crises in the future, and these are the organisations most likely to survive.
Adopting new ways of working
Remote working has become a way of life during the pandemic, with tools for remote work and events made available by technology companies. Google, DropBox, and Microsoft made their platforms available to NPOs for free for anything from three months to a year. Youth Empowerment Services (YES) partnered with Microsoft to bring cloud technology and Office to 100 of its community hubs, and it took advantage of Microsoft training to advance its skills.
With disruptions in the education sector affecting both learners and teachers, JET Education Services and the University of the Witwatersrand School of Education convened a group of experienced teacher educators for a Researchers’ Bootcamp in September. The resulting online module, ‘Teacher Choices in Action’, aimed to assist new teachers who were unable to spend time in schools, learning from practising teachers.
Changing fundraising strategies
Many NPOs are accustomed to hosting fundraising events and activities to supplement income. During the pandemic, many of these events were adapted to the new reality. Ladles of Love launched a campaign whereby Ladles of Love ‘warriors’ could fundraise by enrolling on the GivenGain platform and sharing the campaign of their choice on social media or via WhatsApp or email. Campaigns included walking, swimming, running or cycling to raise funds, as well as asking people to contribute on birthdays or special occasions. Every R10 raised helped to feed a homeless person or underprivileged child. The Community Chest Virtual Charity Event 2020 asked participants to complete anything from 5km to 100km in their own time until the closing date, 10 December 2020, to raise money for charity. The event was open to walkers, runners, cyclists or mountain bikers.
Now more than ever, it is vital to try to retain existing donors through ongoing and transparent communication, since persuading new donors to come on board is not easy when events are mostly virtual. Reaching out to donors to tell them how much they are appreciated is a good idea, as well as keeping them abreast of what organisations are doing to adapt. Some organisations may shy away from outright requests for donations at this time but could indicate that gestures of support would be welcome. Above all, they should maintain a relationship with donors through sensitive, respectful communication that acknowledges the difficulties in which we all find ourselves.
Dr Armand Bam, head of Social Impact at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), advises finding new strategies – NPOs should actively search for new donors and funding, both locally and globally, using digital media like live-streaming to showcase their causes to new donor markets. Generation Z and Millennial groups can be targeted through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok or Instagram. But traditional media like radio and television can still play a pivotal role – in August 2020, Ladles of Love and Jupiter Drawing Room shot an advertisement about the hunger crisis in the country to overcome donor fatigue. NPOs can also explore crowdfunding platforms to appeal for additional funding.
Forging new alliances
Many NPOs are seeing the benefits of collaboration. A quarter of African NPOs that participated in the survey by Epic-Africa and @AfricanNGOs said that they had collaborated to coordinate Covid-19-specific responses. In addition, 25% of respondents said they were partnering with organisations outside their countries of operation.
Afrika Awake, an NPO assisting refugees and asylum seekers, partnered with the Angel Network and Gift of the Givers to roll out a new programme to provide hand sanitisers to car guards and the homeless people across South Africa. Gift of the Givers partnered with other organisations and companies to deliver medical supplies and healthcare. The organisation joined Laudium Disaster Management and the South African Red Cross Society, with the support of Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, which loaned out vehicles to medical teams, to assist communities in Gauteng, Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth.
In April 2020, a collaborative feeding scheme, Chefs With Compassion, was started by local and global non-profits, working with chefs, restaurants, and volunteers to prepare daily meals for those in need, and to curb food insecurity by rescuing food from going to waste. NOSH Food Rescue distributes the rescued food to various partners in South Africa.
Advocating for new forms of support and policy shifts
Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, an NPO that aims to protect the rights of refugees and migrants in South Africa, worked to ensure that eligible asylum seekers and special permit holders could apply for the South African Social Security Agency’s (SASSA) Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant, from which they were originally excluded (it was initially only open to South African citizens, refugees and permanent residents). In addition, it is providing input on the Citizenship Act Draft Regulations, arguing that they are incompatible with international law and omit vital provisions regarding the implementation of the Act.
Sonke Gender Justice is engaging with the three new pieces of legislation Parliament is seeking to promulgate to address genderbased violence in South Africa, while SECTION27 and Equal Education have picketed outside Parliament to protest against budget cuts in education. In addition, Black Sash is fighting SASSA in court to prevent the cancellation of the R500 top-up grant for caregivers during lockdown.
How the NPO sector can rethink its role
International fundraiser and consultant Daryl Upsall has predicted that Covid-19 will financially wipe out between 25–30% of NPOs in most countries.8 But those that survive will be in a position to reimagine the role they can play in society. According to New Philanthropy Capital, a UK-based charitable organisation, NPOs have a variety of scenarios to look forward to, but the most striking is the one where governments take note of the critical role these organisations play in society. This will lead to the proactive inclusion of NPOs in government structures and will meet society’s needs a lot more effectively.
Nation Builder has called for greater collaboration between government, corporates, civil society, and NPOs to accelerate postpandemic recovery. According to their research, more than half of NPOs they had surveyed (56%) during the early months of the pandemic said they felt business could have done more to support them – admittedly in an environment in which business itself has been struggling.9 In fact, Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health, told delegates at the Tshikululu Social Investment online conference held in October that companies are likely to spend less on corporate social investment in 2021 – an impact that NPOs are bracing for.
The collaboration and partnership of multiple stakeholders will become a necessary component of transforming and creating complex systems that are inclusive of all. The Stanford Social Innovation Review recommends that NPOs leverage the organic regional alliances forged with government and business during the crisis. These informal tri-sector alliances have helped to build trust and develop a credible fact base – important factors when attempting to solve longer-term challenges.10
Maximilian Martin, the founder of Impact Economy, has suggested that NPOs look to the 2015 Paris Agreement for ideas on how to reinforce legitimacy and impact once the crisis has passed. Non-profits mobilised for a justice framing of loss and damage at COP21, which was taken into the final accord, indicating that they should use this crisis to expand their mobilisation and enhance their influence. “Philanthropists and non-profits were instrumental in establishing public libraries, ending apartheid, and virtually eradicating polio,” he says. “At historical junctures, non-linear, transformational change is possible, provided it is imagined, ideated, backed, and executed. Covid-19 is no exception.”
As organisations think differently about how to work with others, fundraise, and manage the transition back to relative normalcy, there is much to consider. We may see more non-profits seeking capacity-building support from funders, as well as building disaster management processes into their organisations in preparation for future emergencies. Technology will also play a more critical role in terms of how much more agile NPOs become. Those that embrace and leverage it as a tool will be in a better position to adapt more rapidly. The potential to disrupt the sector is huge, yet disruption for its own sake is not the answer. Navigating a post-Covid-19 world may be an even bigger learning curve than the pandemic itself.
NPOs will need to react, adapt, and build as they navigate the future. Trialogue’s Covid-19 decision matrix provides some guidance on considerations in the short, medium, and longer term. Most NPOs are over the first phase of reacting to the crisis, which required consulting communities to determine their needs, negotiating how to adjust and report on programmes, and, in some instances, establishing new programmes. The second phase is around adapting to the ‘new normal’ and sharing knowledge and lessons learnt from the response. The third, and longer-term, phase is to build on the programmes, growing and scaling existing ones while shifting newer programmes towards a more developmental agenda. All these considerations need to leverage and build on the positives that have emerged from the crisis – more transparent and equitable relationships with funders and donors, enhanced use of technology and greater collaboration.
1 Cafamerica.org. (2020). The Voice of Charities Facing Covid-19 Worldwide. https://www.cafamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/CV19_ Report_CAF-America.pdf
2 Epic-Africa and AfricanNGOs. (June 2020). The Impact of Covid-19 on African Civil Society Organizations. https://static1.squarespace. com/static/5638d8dbe4b087140cc9098d/t/5efabc7884a29a20185fcbaf/1593490570417/The+Impact+of+Covid-19+on+African+ Civil+Society+Organizations.pdf
3 Bizcommunity. (4 May 2020). Open letter: South Africa’s forgotten sector. https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/849/203455.html
4 Martin, M. (9 July 2020). Reestablishing Philanthropic Vitality After the Emergency. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/reestablishing_philanthropic_vitality_after_the_emergency#
5 Pereira, I. (2 April 2020). Nonprofit organizations ask for stimulus money as resources dry up in coronavirus pandemic. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/nonprofit-organizations-stimulus-money-resources-dry-pandemic/story?id=69925503
6 Worley, W. (15 May 2020). DFID announced NGO awardees of £45M coronavirus funding. https://www.devex.com/news/dfidannounces- ngo-awardees-of-45m-coronavirus-funding-97251
7 Imagine Canada. (21 April 2020). More funding needed to ensure survival of charities and nonprofits. https://imaginecanada.ca/en/emergency-community-support-fund-response
8 www.fundraising.co.uk. (22 May 2020). Too important to fail? Are governments doing enough to support the third sector? https://fundraising.co.uk/2020/05/22/too-important-to-fail-are-governments-doing-enough-to-support-the-third-sector/
9 Nation Builder. (28 August 2020). Nation Builder Survey Results Highlight Effects of Covid-19 on the NPO Sector in South Africa. https://proudnationbuilder.co.za/nation-builder-survey-results-highlight-effects-of-covid-19-on-the-npo-sector-in-south-africa/
10 Douzinas, N.R. (15 September 2020). Seeding the Ground for Tri-Sector Alliances Before the Crisis Hits. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/seeding_the_ground_for_tri_sector_alliances_before_the_crisis_hits#