Individual Giving: The Holy Grail of Fundraising

fundraising philanthropy ngos civil society Economic Justice giving
Friday, 29 June, 2012 - 11:07

As many donors leave South Africa due to its ‘middle-class’ status, it is time for NGOs to consider individual giving as one of the possible ways to raise funds to sustain their programmes

At the tail end of last year, I tried to answer a question: Why do South Africans give?

If I could understand this, I could understand the complexity of individual giving, which on paper looked to be the next strategic step for fundraisers in South Africa (SA).

Securing regular donations from ‘Joe Public’ has long been the Holy Grail of fundraising.

It delivers predictable, unrestricted funding to the organisation, eliminating dependency on large donors and creating diversity in types of income.

The flood of international money into SA post-1994 and then in response to HIV and AIDS, changed the way we sourced funding. It became easier to secure millions from a donor for specific projects rather than raise funds for the organisation and its services, and as a result, development has become programme and arguably donor-driven.

The result is that now many nonprofits are top-heavy in their funding, reliant on a handful of large donors to provide restricted funding, which comes with consequences.

The collapse of the American and European financial systems, coupled with our status as a middle-income country means that international money is moving out quickly. And our long-standing difficulties in securing funding from government means that many nonprofits are in, or at least facing, financial crisis.

It is imperative that nonprofits find new channels of funding. Which is why I want to understand why South Africans give.

Our academics tell us that South African’s are generous at heart.

Studies by the University of KwaZulu-Natal value the time and money donated by South Africans at R12 billion per annum.  This is supported by Adam Habib’s 2004 findings which show that 54 percent of South Africans collectively give over R11 billion a year.

These are sizeable figures – double the more than R5 billion given by South African business to social investment annually.

Yet, are we harnessing the power of individual giving effectively?

To answer this, I headed to my local shopping mall with a 10-question list, to grill Joe and Josephine Public on why they give. I wanted to understand the types of causes that have broad appeal and identify the barriers to giving.

The results were excellent – confirming first hand that the attitudes of our small sample group of Saturday shoppers (79 completed the survey, 200 were approached) were similar to those sampled in the larger surveys.

This is a very brief summary:

  • People really do want to give, for a number of reasons: it makes them feel good but more interestingly, because they see it as a way to give back to our society;
  • Men and women are committed to giving equally, challenging the assumption that women are more likely to donate;
  • People are nervous of debit order giving: there is a lack of trust in the system that would build predictability in donations.

There are three key issues that come through in these findings:

Firstly, South Africans want to give – and do give. Yet our giving is largely unstructured and emotional, with an emerging consciousness towards growing our society. The nonprofit which markets its work to Joe Public and connects with them, will be in an excellent position for the future. To use a cliché, fundraising will be about capturing hearts and minds.

Secondly, South Africans - battered and bruised by our expensive banking system - are understandably cautious of signing over an agreed sum of money to a nonprofit every month. Feedback here was common: that debit orders are difficult to cancel, and that the number can be increased at the whim of the drawing company. Debit order giving is central to any individual giving strategy as this is what brings predictability. It is therefore important for nonprofits to build trust with their donor by committing to codes of conduct, allowing people to cancel their debit orders with 24 hours notice, and being available to discuss concerns.

Here less was also more: 40 percent of those interviewed donated in the R0-R50 and R50-R100 brackets than any other – indicating that there should also be a focus on building volume to build income.

Thirdly, we need to start talking to men – who are proving to be generous, committed supporters of their chosen cause. The assumption that women are the primary givers to nonprofits has been held for so long that is seen as a truth.  Building a consciousness across the gender lines of our society by targeting men and women equally, should show rewards.

I would encourage everyone to conduct a similar survey in your local shopping centre, sports stadium or school, as it brings the dry facts and figures of academia to life when you talk to people about their motivation to give.

It confirmed for me that a critical step to securing sustainability is individual giving – talking to our public, connecting them to our cause and persuading them to respond through active support.

This moves fundraising from the traditional ‘write-a-proposal-wait-for-a-response space’, into one of marketing and communications where we actively promote our work and demonstrate our value.

The recession and retraction of donor funding is forcing us into a pro-active approach where the focus is not how much money is in the account, but rather what type of money is coming in, and how predictable is it?

A nonprofit that recognises the time and accountability that goes into building a base of individual donors will be rewarded with a loyal fan base that produces a generous kitty of predictable, unrestricted funding. This will enable growth, stability and quality of service delivery.

- Kerryn Krige is the former Director of Communications and Income Development at Child Welfare South Africa. She has over 10 years experience in the nonprofit sector managing programmes before morphing into fundraising. She is passionate about building a stable civil society by strengthening the performance of nonprofits in South Africa. You can get in touch at or through

NGO Services

NGO Services

NGO Events