Raising funds for a new South-Africa

This week the Change the Game debate focuses on how local fundraising and claim-making actually work in practice. Earlier in the debate we discussed the case of Kenya. This time we explore these concepts in South-Africa. Research has shown that South-Africans from different classes of society are willing to help their fellow South-Africans. Vice Versa interviewed three experts on their experiences of local fundraising and claim-making in practice.

‘It is not only the middle-class that donates money to the poor. Experience tells us that a lot of funds are raised among the poorer part of society’ says Tina Thiart. Thiart is a well-known human-rights activist from South-Africa and is known to be a “fundraise guru”. For many years she worked for the Women’s Hope Education and Training Trust (WHEAT). This orgainsation provides assistance to women by education, training and a sustainable income. Meanwhile she has started her own company, HGG NPO Sustainability Solutions, that assists local NGOs to become sustainable.

1000 Women United

In 1998 Thiart realized that the field of international fundraising was changing. Western governments donated their funds rather in the form of budget support to local governments in stead of providing subsidies to NGOs. Consequently, she decided that local fundraising in South-Africa needed to change and this became her mission for the next decades.

As one of her most succesfull local fundraising campaignes she mentiones the 1000 Women United Against Domestic Violence campaign. This campaign againt domestic violence is a donor event where 1000 women take part in an organised lunch and they share their experiences and raise awareness regarding domestic violence in South-Africa. ‘One out of three women will have to deal with domestic violence in her life and almost every women knows somebody who experienced it first hand’, Thiart explaines. ‘During this lunch women were able to share their experiences and really talk about it, which gave women a great feeling of solidarity. It was the first time that a thousand women were together at the same time to talk about it. The impact caused by this campaign made many wealthier South-Africans support this project.’

To raise funds for this campagne, WHEAT approached both individuals as wel as businesses.’We did not only aim at large donations, but also the smaller ones. I believe the goal of local fundraising is not only about the number of funds’, says Thiart, ‘but it is equally imporant that the project is supported broadly in society.


According to Pulani Baloyi, director of Soul City Institute for Health & Development Communication (SCI), one of the organisation that is working together with the Wilde Geese Foundation to explore the opportunities of local fundraising, there is still a lot of work to be done regarding local fundraising in South-Africa. According to Baloyi this can be partly explained by the dependency of South-Africans on the government. ‘South-Africa does not have a long history of democracy’, Baloyi explains. ‘Citizens wait untill the government helps them, there is no sense of self-reliance.’

The report A nation of givers? Social giving among South Africans shows that almost a quarter of the respondents believs that helping the poor is a responsibility of the governement and not that of citizens. However, the majority of respondents (61 percent) believes it is both a task of government and citizens.

Although citizens do not generally see themselves as part of financing development in their own country, according to Baloyi they are willing to donate time and goods. She says that this type of philantophy in South Africa can be partially explained by the concept ubuntu. ‘Ubuntu means “I am and therefore we are”. This is a historic tradition of sharing, which encourages a culture to share their goods within their community’.


Johanna Hendricks, director of West Coast Community Foundation (WCCF), points out that there are some positive signs in local fundraising. ‘The growth of the middle-class in South-Africa has had a positive effect on fundraising for local organizations such as WCCF’ she states. Thiart agrees and sees that more and more South-Africans are becoming aware of the gap between the rich and the poor and want to contribute to a new, more egalitarian South-Africa.

According to Hendricks, there are however still some deep-rooted historic issues that the culture of giving and need to be adressed in order to succesfully involve the middle-class in the development of their own country. ‘People in South-Africa are hesitant to donate to organizations because of racial issues, apartheid is still leaving its marks. Thiart also sees the effects of apartheid on South-Africans and their willingness to donate, but also notices that this is changing. ‘You notice that more people do not want children to suffer from hunger, whatever colour this child may have’.

In addition, in the recent past there have been some scandals with public institutions which has resulted in a lack of trust and unwillingsness to donate money. Just like Baloyi, Hendricks sees that many South-Africans choose to donate their time or goods instead of money. ‘If there will be less corruption in our country and more transparency, more people will regain trust to donate money to the poorest of society. We have to keep doing what we are doing to show people that an organisations like ours is necesarry’, says Hendricks.

Local businesses as donor

In addition to the public sector, the private sector and the government also offer a potential for local fundraising. Soul City, for example, mainly focuses on support from the government and the private sector. In this kind of domestic resource mobilisation it is important that the projects of the organisation align with the policies of the donors. ‘The government decides funding priorities regarding development strategies in their national development policy. This leaves fewer funds for projects with less priority’.

‘This collaboration with the government requires a sensitive approach’, Thiart adds. During the 1000 women united campaign WHEAT approached small communities to ask women how they were treated by police when they had to deal with violence. ‘The reports on this matter were quite negative. The police were ill-informed on the process, many were not sympathetic to the women’s situation and did not meet the standards of the government. If you want to maintain a good relationship with the governement you should not release these reports’, says Thiart. ‘We had to make a decision whether to cooperate with the police, the government or to support our women so they would go to meetings of police forums and advocate for change. Ultimaltely we chose to work with a community-based organisation we have been supporting over the past years, because we believe they are most capable to achieve change at the national level. It is our job to support them’.

Baloyi recognizes that businesses play an important role in the development of South-Africa. Soul City received cement from a company to build a school. There is a challenge however if you work together with the private sector, because they want to decide what happens with their donations. Thiart recognizes the potential of the private sector as donor for development and she also works a lot with this sector. However, she still believes it is more important to raise funds among individuals than the private sector. ‘It may result in less funding on the short-term, but individuals are more consistent when it comes to donations. The largest amount for the 1000 women campaign was raised among the poor’.

Challenges and opportunities

Thiart sees another important possibility for local organisations to raise funds more effectively. This could be accomplished by strengthening cooperation between NGOs. ‘Many organisations in South-Africa do the same work and thus fight for the same funds. If they would work together, they would be more efficient. For years it has been very easy to receive funding from international donors, especially when HIV/AIDS was an international priority. Times have changed and in order for a organization to survive we have to change the way we work’.

Moreover, cooperation between development organization is curcial in order to strengthen civil-society. ‘Cooperation is essential when it comes to claim-making, because when you represent the voice of many organisations and parties, the government can not just push aside your claim. Together you are strong.’