Funding and NGO's.
Recently, we went through the annual process of applying for funding to the major national public funders. I was struck by how as NGO'S, we remind me of the animals who arrive each year at the crocodile infested rivers, for their annual migration. We are all optimistic, and somehow each year, we believe that when we cross the river this year, the outcome will somehow be what we want, and different to last year. Inevitably it is not, and the we are either left despondent or else bleeding or even worse dead and buried. Somehow we seem to naively think that this dance we engage in with the big local funders, will have a positive outcome for us?
What worries me with the public funders currently in South Africa, is that they fail to understand a number of issues. Firstly, that competent and available administrators should be put in charge of the various funding application windows. Let me give you an example. Recently we applied for funding, and the person who was put in charge of liaising with candidate applicants, was mysteriously never in his office, and then on the day when results were due, booked himself into a workshop the entire day. This is either an ego trip or incompetence?
Secondly, that the notion of public funding and the allocation thereof is understood, by the people doing the allocating. Public funds are meant to be allocated. NGO's, as long as they are registered, can produce the relevant documents and can supply a suitable motivation, are entitled to public funds. There is a curious trend towards finger wagging at NGO's, and telling them to become self-funding, and to also take budgets, which are carefully worked out, and allocated to vital line items, and to give a percentage of these amounts, as if the applicants are greedy children, who need to be sent to their rooms, with a portion of what they asked for.
Thirdly, when people are rejected for funding, in the interests of transparency, open disclosure, and to improve future applications, 'NO' should not suffice as a reason for not funding NGO's. The argument is made that we have to petition the funder for details. Surely as part of an effective public funding system, this should be automatically forthcoming. Telling people they have unsuccessful, and that they should keep an eye on the site for future funding windows should hardly qualify as adequate.
Finally, public funders should by law be committed to a publicly disclosed timeline for the application process. Many of the large local national funders move at a glacial pace, and can keep applicants waiting for as long as they see fit, with no rhyme or reason provided.
I probably sound very old fashioned and romantic here, but we are in a state of crisis in terms of local public funding. If we do follow the line of argument that as NGO's that we should become self funding and wean ourselves off public funding, then the question does deserve to be asked, of what will happen to public funders and those funds, once we are all independent of them? I would imagine this has not been thought through in any shape or form, as we are lectured by the very bodies who should be serving us as NGO's.
I am keen to hear how other NGO's feel about this? I watch good organizations who qualify for this money closing down around me. I also watch public funders paying good salaries, to administrators, who blunder along and mismanage these funds, and who seem to fundamentally misunderstand the very nature of public funding and their role in it. At some stage, will some kind of a national debate be started, and will some kind of effective remedial action be taken against the public funders? The stakes are high here, and valuable programmes who are tackling all the issues which our leaders constantly prattle on about, are closing down around us, as the public funders are allowed to be incompetent and unaccountable.