Case Study: Community Chests and Nonprofits Rely on Volunteers

Tuesday, 27 August, 2002 - 23:00

Nonprofit organizations in South Africa, like elsewhere in the world, depend upon donations to keep their doors open. Increasingly, charitable groups are redefining "donation" to mean much m

Nonprofit organizations in South Africa, like elsewhere in the world, depend upon donations to keep their doors open. Increasingly, charitable groups are redefining "donation" to mean much more than checks and cash.

   "One doesn’t always think of giving in terms of money. There are many other ways of giving, like in talent, professional skills, hands-on time and being a member of a board," said Amelia Jones, who made two historical breakthroughs when she was appointed chief executive officer of the Western Cape Community Chest. She is the first black person and the first woman to lead the large nonprofit agency. Jones is also a promoter of local philanthropy and serves as a board member of the Southern African Grantmakers Association (SAGA).

   In existence for 73 years, the Community Chest is the oldest such group in the world outside of the United States.1 It is a major fundraiser in the Western Cape, having raised R16.5 million ($2 million) and allocated grants totaling more than R13 million ($1.6 million) to 472 welfare and social development programs in 2000.
   Like the nonprofit organizations it funds, the Community Chest relies heavily on volunteers.
   "We would not be able to do the diversity of fundraising, which includes special events, without our 9,000 volunteers," Jones said, adding that its Allocations Committee is comprised entirely of volunteers. Many are professionals, such as social workers and accountants, who give substantial time to deciding which projects to fund.

1 The Western Cape Community Chest is a member of United Way International. The term "Community Chest" was one of the original names for United Way organizations.


   Just as the Community Chest recruits volunteers from varied backgrounds, it has renewed efforts to solicit financial support from a broader base of the local communities. To promote more workplace giving, the agency appointed a trade union officer to boost the agency’s Give-As-You-Earn program. Factory shop stewards increase awareness of the program and encourage workers to give a donation every payday. The workplace effort raised over R2 million ($250,000) in 2000.
   Still, fundraising is tough due to increasing competition for the same rand, Jones said. Some of this new competition comes from businesses that use promotional strategies to emphasize their own development efforts.
   Instead of giving to the Community Chest, which serves as an umbrella agency that distributes funds to nonprofit organizations, several former corporate donors now ask the agency’s advice on where to give their money directly.

Amelia Jones, Western Cape Community Chest

"They want immediate recognition," Jones explained. This new funding environment has challenged the Community Chest to be innovative in its approach to fundraising, and it has established a Business Development Department to look at new ways to work with the corporate sector.
   The Community Chest is not alone in its attempts to increase ways in which the business world can help address the nation’s social and development needs.
   Joan Daries, director of the Cape Town Volunteer Centre, has observed that far too many professionals suddenly feel the need to do something meaningful in their communities after they retire. She challenges people to make a difference before retirement.
   "There’s an incredible heritage of formal and informal caring in South Africa," Daries said. "We encourage people to move to the next step, to move from the informal to the formal. The joint effort has much more impact than an individual’s single efforts."

Joan Daries, Cape Town Volunteer Centre

The Volunteer Centre’s goal is to encourage formal volunteering as a way of life for people of all ages, races and economic backgrounds. "Each person has something to offer," Daries believes.
   The centre aims to professionalize the volunteer experience by training nonprofit organizations in how to recruit, place and manage volunteers effectively. With a database of names of potential volunteers and hundreds of nonprofit groups in need of help, staff members try to make successful matches. They are aided by the Mott Foundation’s two-year $50,000 (R400,000) grant to the centre for general operating purposes.
   The centre, like its longtime funder the Community Chest, tries to tap the spirit of giving in the workplace. As a result, the organization is piloting a new initiative called "Employer Supported Volunteer Program." In this program, employees give their time and talent to a specific project while employers agree to give a donation to the project that is equal to the value of their employees’ volunteer time.
   Cheryl Leite of Cape Town was given a Community Builder award from her employer, Old Mutual, for coordinating a preschool garden project. Leite said corporate programs are good for staff, communities and businesses.
   "Recognition is a big thing," she said. "It inspires you to do more. And the company gets an opportunity to market itself and its brand."
   The centre sees volunteering as a win-win for South Africa. As more citizens reach out to help others, volunteerism becomes an increasingly valuable tool for bridging the nation’s social, cultural, and economic divides, Daries said.
   "It’s not comfortable to live in South Africa," she said. "I don’t go to bed cold and hungry, but I know people that do. That’s uncomfortable. It’s a pain that we carry around with us. But we can get involved. We can do something. We can volunteer."

- KAREN HURT

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