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Transforming South Africa's social impact sector: thinking small, thinking big

There’s never been a better time for the NPO sector in South Africa to make a huge difference. Your first reaction may be “what is he smoking”? But I didn’t say there has never been a better time to fundraise. And I didn’t say it has never been easier.

"Ja but” you argue “things are tough".

And that’s exactly the message I received after two weeks of speaking in South Africa. I heard dozens of fundraisers lament that things were tough. . . with good reasons.
  • Triple BBBE is changing and while an advantageous to some, it’s a disadvantage to others;
  • The economy is stagnant – donors are more reluctant to give;
  • There is increased competition in the NGO marketplace;
  • Corporate donors are being pressed more than ever before,
  • and many NGOs have fallen into a crisis fundraising mode, and to contemplate growth and development seems impossible.
Yes, things were tough with the Covid pandemic. And yes, things got even tougher. But it is in the very times that we need to think big.

If we want to contemplate tough, we need to consider this:
  • Consider working in some of the toughest fundraising environments in the world
  • Consider working in former communist countries where civil society was destroyed
  • Consider working in an environment where public trust has all but been destroyed, decimated, and where the fight to rebuild civil society is only 20 years old
  • Consider working in environments where countries used to bask in the generosity of foreign dollars, but those countries are no longer designated as “developing countries”. (Does that sound familiar). So foreign dollars are no longer as plentiful.

So, what’s the answer?

At the end of the day, we must become masters of our own destiny. We’re called to the most honourable and important work known to the NGO sector. We are called to support those in need. We are called to support those who are unable to support themselves. What more honourable profession is there, than to be a change-maker and to create a better world, one person at a time?
Nobody ever said to us as fundraisers, I want you to think small. I’ve never met a funder who said go forth, think small, and just get a little bit.

It is big ideas that attract big money. It is small ideas, that attract small money.

During my time in South Africa, so many reinforced the notion that the country was in transformation – it was changing – and it was transforming – and the NGO sector was in many ways, leading that change.

Think big

Transformative ideas attract transformative gifts. If we think big, we attract big gifts. If we think small, we attract small gifts.

At a time when South Africa is engaged in the transformation of a country and society, there’s never been a better time to design transformational giving opportunities. Big ideas attract big money. Transformational ideas attract transformational gifts.

We have two options. We can view the world as one of abundance or we can choose to view the world as one of scarcity. If we see a world of scarcity, we will attract scarcity. If we see a world of abundance, we will attract abundance.

I believe there may never be a better time for the NPO sector in South Africa to think big, and to pursue its vision for a better future for all.

Tony Myers is a fundraising consultant based in Canada who has more than 25 years of fundraising experience working on five continents around the world for NGOs big and small. In August 2019 he last travelled to South Africa with the Resource Alliance to present the Major Donor Masterclass Series for leading thinkers and practitioners in the NGO sector in South Africa. Contact:

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