Corporate champion builds basis for sustainability: the Topsy Foundation

Wednesday, 28 August, 2002 - 23:00

The following case study comes from Ashoka's booklet Creative Strategies for a New Era - South African NGOs Mobilise Local Resources, written by Fazila Farouk and edited by Lisa Cannon.

The following case study comes from Ashoka's booklet Creative Strategies for a New Era - South African NGOs Mobilise Local Resources, written by Fazila Farouk and edited by Lisa Cannon.

Established in early 2000, the Topsy Foundation is a non-profit organisation providing sanctuaries for infants and children directly or indirectly affected by HIV/AIDS. The foundation's directors hope that their first sanctuary will become an international model of excellence in this field. Topsy is achieving its vision by successfully securing the material and other resources for its first sanctuary through strategic partnerships with a diverse set of individuals and organisations.

Make the most of social networks to mobilise support and resources
The founding director of the Topsy Foundation seized an opportune moment at a social gathering to share his vision for an AIDS sanctuary with the managing director (MD) of Zoom Advertising, a specialist agency within the Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) Group in South Africa. Zoom's MD was so taken with the idea that he became its champion and volunteered to become a director of the Topsy Foundation.

Moreover, the Topsy Foundation's vision has appealed tremendously to Zoom and led to it completely changing the manner in which it engages with the social sector. In the past, Zoom chose one charity per year with whom to get involved. Now the company has made an open ended long-term commitment to the Topsy Foundation treating it as a special project. It handles the strategic direction, creative direction and execution, publicity, public relations and preparation of advertising for the Topsy Foundation. In the meantime, O&M South Africa have wholeheartedly adopted the Topsy Foundation, providing it with free office space, covering the offices' operating expenses and sponsoring the salary of the founding director.

Mobilise material resources
From the onset, Topsy's plan was to harness the energy and resources of other individuals and organisations for the establishment of their first sanctuary. The core team of three directors set about targeting, approaching and getting commitments from high-level individuals from the corporate, media and government fraternities, for its governing board and membership base. Using its high-level connections and appealing to the philanthropist in all the individuals it engages with, Topsy's strategy is to seek out major material donations in addition to financial contributions.

After long negotiations, the seller of Topsy's first sanctuary was gently persuaded to sell his property, which was listed at 4,9 million Rand for the giveaway price of R600,000. In addition, the Foundation has secured almost half a million Rand worth of refurbishment material for the sanctuary from a few key donors in the building and home ware industries. Two toy chain stores are collaborating to create the sanctuaries recreation space. A car rental company has donated a van. Finally, a bookstore is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary by building a library at the sanctuary.

Sell off naming rights
As a way of raking in additional revenue, the Topsy Foundation is selling off the naming rights to various buildings that comprise the sanctuary village. Big companies and rich individuals wishing to leave behind a legacy have been approached. Six million Rand will be generated from the sale of all the buildings. Approximately 3,5 million Rand will be used to complete the refurbishment of the sanctuary. The balance will be invested in a fixed deposit account to generate maximum interest, which will partially fund the sanctuary's operating budget. To date, the foundation has raised 700,000 Rand through the sale of buildings.

Develop a self-sustainability plan
At maximum capacity, the operating costs of Topsy's first sanctuary are anticipated to be in the region of 1,9 million Rand per month. Topsy's directors are astutely aware that the survival of their sanctuary cannot be exclusively tied to a dependence on donors. Based on an insightful planning document prepared by Zoom Advertising, Topsy is attempting self-sustainability by launching a range of self-financing projects. One of these include the 'Topsy Doll', a cute, soft rag doll that will be sold to the general public to generate the necessary funds for the ongoing medical and practical care of the sanctuary's children. The sale of the first million dolls is expected to earn the foundation in the region of six to eight million Rand.

With minimal financial input, and in only a year, the Topsy Foundation has swiftly built its first sanctuary in the rural town of Grootvlei in the province of Mpumalanga. At a maximum capacity of 2000 children and 350 staff, it is the largest HIV/AIDS children's sanctuary in Africa, possibly the world. The Topsy Foundation intends replicating the sanctuary nationally once the flagship facility in Grootvlei has been operational for a period of time. Land for Topsy's second sanctuary has already been secured.

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