NGOs are in trouble financially

No free rides for NGOs by Amanda Watson

Originally published in The Citizen newspaper on 9 June 2014

There is no easy way to say it: The non-profit-organisation sector is in deep trouble.

“Funding is political,” said Lisa Vetten of the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research.

“Whether it comes from the state, donors, or corporate social investment, it reflects what our political priorities are and – of course – what are not,” said Vetten at a seminar on funding.

As background: the body responsible for keeping an eye on NGOs, or non-profit organisations – 85 248 at last count by carolune.org – is the Department of Social Development.

These range from rendering services to people living below the poverty line, victim support, HIV/Aids counselling, as well as animal welfare.

Yet, despite the workload, the Shukumisa Campaign – which “aims to stir and shake up public and political will to develop and implement policies related to sexual offences” – has found a marked decrease in the availability of funding.

Domestic violence is one that is high on the agenda – and is, according to the South African Stress and Health Survey conducted by the University of Cape Town and Johns Hopkins University, the most common form of violence experienced by South African women and causes the greatest number of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases.

Shukumisa said: “The same study found that rape, another crime overwhelmingly experienced by women and girls, was the form of violence most likely to result in PTSD, in addition to causing the most severe and long-term forms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“The state has never had a history of providing full welfare services,” said Vetten. “And it is quite unlikely that it will happen now.

“Post-1994 we have seen a broadening of services, but we are never going to be a welfare state. One of the things we need to look at is what organisations become when they receive funding. One is you start to create a relationship of dependency, and with dependency there is always power.”

Shukumisa studied 17 organisations and found that 100 positions were lost between 2010 and 2013.

“Sisters’ Incorporated – a shelter in the Western Cape – ran at a loss of R105 747 in 2011 and by 2012 had embarked on a ‘Save Sisters Campaign’ to prevent the 50-year- old shelter from closing. By 2013 it had no more than two months’ worth of running costs in reserve at any one time,” said Shukumisa.

One organisation which is not taking funding cuts lying down is the National Association of Welfare Organisations and Non-profit Organisations (Nawongo).

The organisation is currently in its 10th year of litigation against the Free State Department of Social Development, now before the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Nawongo wants to force government to align its budget in accordance with the Constitution, said the organisation’s Willem Botha – something which government has been fighting tooth and nail.

Botha believes the organisation will win. However, even though he does not mention it, there is the matter of funding – and the state has very deep pockets and could fight the action forever. Because if it loses, budgets and how NPO’s are funded could look very different in the future.

In the meantime, NPOs will continue to shed jobs as funding thins even more. And failing a radical shift in how government and organisations do business, those who fall through the cracks of social welfare, will remain there.

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