Essential Tools for NGOs in this Tough Climate - Lessons from the Legends Magic Conference

Sentiments of doom and gloom among non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attending the recent Legends Magic Conference in Johannesburg dissipated as over 20 expert speakers tackled strategies for accessing funds effectively and using those funds to build sustainability and growth.

Legends is a national business support programme funded by Old Mutual and implemented by Fetola, and one of the few (if not the only one) that works with both nonprofit and for-profit organisations. The Legends Magic event was held in response to a survey conducted by Fetola that showed that 93 percent of NGOs in South Africa struggle to access sufficient finance or funding.

“While social enterprises are the new buzzword, clearly not all nonprofits can implement a self-sustaining business model,” says Anton Ressel, senior consultant at Fetola. “However, what they can all do is start thinking and behaving more like a business - professional, client-focused and aware that in these tough times, unless they are offering value to donors as well as beneficiaries, they will struggle to maintain the funding relationships they need to survive.”

Common Ground

One of the strongest themes to emerge from the conference was the feeling that very similar guidelines apply to for-profits approaching potential investors, as they do to nonprofits approaching potential funders.

Speaker and angel funding specialist, Jason Goldberg of Edge Growth, says that it is a business entity’s responsibility to win investors over in less than 20 minutes. “Being investment ready refers to an approach that addresses the investor’s needs, while ensuring that the applicable business is ready to fulfil these needs,” says Goldberg. In the same vein, nonprofit management consultant, Ann Bown, advises NGOs to drop the ‘begging bowl’ mentality and to strategise in the same way that for-profits would when approaching investors. “With over 85 000 registered NGOs in South Africa, you need to really differentiate yourselves from the competition,” says Bown.

Legends project manager, Chantal De Kock, says that most of the nonprofits she works with initially seem deflated and frustrated with the difficulty in accessing funding. “They are clearly feeling the economic pinch and are concerned about the difficulty in reporting on their performance, often social in nature,” says De Kock. “Through the Legends programme, we encourage NGOs to consider alternative and innovative funding channels, such as crowd-funding or providing their services on a cost-sharing basis to beneficiaries who can afford to contribute something.”

Partnerships and Making Success Visible

“In Legends, nonprofit programme participants are encouraged to see donors not just as funders, but as strategic partners in reaching common goals,” explains Fetola director, Catherine Wijnberg. Conference presenter and corporate social investment practitioner, Samantha Braithwaite of Tshikululu Social Investments, agrees and says that it is imperative for nonprofits to focus on the positive when handling and winning over donors. “Try and avoid just highlighting problems and challenges. Tell success stories, emphasise the impact that you’ve made in your sector and work on community partnerships,” says Braithwaite.

Position Yourself

“We recognise that although we constantly try and build bridges between the nonprofit and for-profit organisations in Legends and encourage both sides to build on the best of what works generally, there are indeed some fundamental differences, especially when it comes to marketing and promotion,” adds Wijnberg.

Jonathan Robinson of Bean There Fair Trade Coffee agrees. He uses success stories to great effect in his marketing strategies by emphasising the social impact that his business has made in Kenya. One of these stories is of a coffee farmer called Agnes, who has sent her two children through school due to their investment in her. “If people remember anything of my presentations it’s Agnes,” says Robinson. “People approach me months later and ask about her – human stories are so powerful.”

NGO director, Erica Lüttich of Boitumelo Sewing Project, who attended the Legends Magic Interactive Conference, compared it to a ‘fun roller coaster ride’ and commended the organisers for creating a conference that has translated her needs into something recognisable and manageable for the NGO world. Another NGO delegate, Louise Batty from Keep the Dream 196, described the programme and conference as being sensitive to the needs of NGOs in a creative and dynamic way. “A lot of nonprofits seem scared of money, or at the very least mistrustful of it. This conference helped me see that the money is still out there, and the onus is on all of us to learn new and better ways of accessing it,” she concludes.

The Legends Magic Interactive Conference is an annual event on the Legends calendar. To access the speaker presentations from this workshop, visit To learn more about Legends or apply for the programme in 2013, refer to

- Franki Black is training manager at Fetola.

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