Are Donors the Real Beneficiaries?

philanthropy CSOs grantmakers grantseekers
Wednesday, 10 November, 2010 - 10:40

Civil society’s role in a democratic South Africa should be centred on working towards finding solutions to social challenges faced by communities. CSOs are heavily reliant on philanthropy to achieve their long-term social change objectives. A strong, independent and vibrant civil society and South Africa’s ability to support its own civil society could go a long way in addressing social challenges faced by communities. Programmes implemented by CSOs through donated funds should translate into changing the lives of the people. Philanthropists give in order for these objectives to be realised

Developing practices of value-driven funding in South Africa

The point of departure in this paper is the belief that the need to develop a strong local voice for philanthropy, and to increase philanthropic giving in South Africa, is a critically important instrument in ensuring a strong democracy in our country. A strong democracy depends on a strong, vibrant and independent civil society. The challenges facing our society are formidable and the role of civil society in finding solutions for many of these challenges is fundamental to achieving social change and development. This is context in which both grantmaking and grantseeking take shape.

Simply put, civil society is heavily reliant on philanthropy to achieve its long-term social change objectives. Currently, South Africa's vibrant civil society is still heavily dependent on international funding - clearly a short-term solution in the ongoing global climate of recession and deepening demand. In addition, South Africa is now classified as a ‘middle-income' country, meaning that the expectation internationally is that, in the near future, South Africa should be more fully supporting its own civil society.

Philanthropy has resonance for our inherited African tradition of giving and sharing, where community participation and community responsibility serve as the foundations for sustainable development initiatives. In the African context, this giving and sharing is built on an understanding of ‘Ubuntu’, where an individual is a person only through other people, forming the basis of ‘community’ (in its multiple forms). In this context, grantmaker and the grantseeker are not divided by the have/have-not chasm, and the notions of ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’ are superceded by the value of active and mutually accountable partnerships in social development. Such partnerships could be between, for example, members of a community; between a member of a community and an individual seeking to participate in and support a community initiative; or between a community initiative and partners from outside that community (including funding partners).

This presentation will pose the following key question: What is the social/developmental change we are looking for, and what is the role of philanthropy in achieving this? The question sits on the foundational approach that philanthropists and social change activists are part of the same continuum and are therefore partners in achieving social justice objectives, and where philanthropists are also positioned as activists. This view offers the option, then, of seeing donors as one of the beneficiaries of the activism of social change and social development organisations, in that the nonprofit organisations are offering donors the opportunity to realise donor objectives.

In an effort to disrupt the traditional money-based power relationships between ‘givers’ and ‘receivers’ in the world of grantmaking and nonprofit funding, donors can be positioned as value-based beneficiaries of organisational work and impact, rather than simply seeing grantseekers as beneficiaries of donor funding. From this perspective, funding is led by a social change agenda, rather than the more-often experienced relationship of ‘social change' being led by a funding agenda.

In its initiatives to promote South African philanthropy and to develop an enabling environment for effective funding and grantmaking, Inyathelo - The South African Institute for Advancement runs a number of programmes, the latest of which is the development of a local philanthropy portal at

- Gabrielle Ritchie is programme director at Inyathelo – The South African Institute for Advancement, and has worked at Inyathelo since 2007. This article was first published on the Inyathelo website and it is republished here with the author’s permission.

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