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Downes Murray International News

Time for non-profits to invest in their own development

When we embarked on this scoping project in mid-2014, our aim was to hear from a wide range of voices in Southern Africa, so as to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current funding environment, the challenges and barriers faced by organisations who operate within it and what they most need/want in order to be more successful.

The Resource Alliance works globally to strengthen the social impact sector, by helping organisations of every size and type develop the resources needed to build a better world.

Through our global network we bring together the very best thinking and curate the knowledge, tools and connections most vital to help social impact organisations succeed in delivering on their missions and build a better world.

Through extensive face-to-face interviews conducted with funders, CEOs, fundraisers and consultants and an online survey completed by several hundred people in the region, we gained valuable information.

  • The following key findings emerged:
  • The funding landscape is changing throughout the region and the majority of organisations are finding it harder to find sustainable sources of income;
  • The majority of organisations are dependent on grant funding from a few donors and largely as a result of lack of know-how haven’t developed a diversified resource mobilisation strategy. This is seen as a major barrier to achieving financial sustainability;
  • Whilst the importance of strong leadership is recognised as directly impacting on an organisation’s success, investment in the development of leaders is very low, largely as a result of a lack of resources;
  • In more than half of the organisations surveyed, the fundraising and resource mobilisation responsibility rests solely with the director/CEO, i.e. there is no fundraising person/department, and in most cases this person is expected to deliver results without training and with little support.
  • There are funders who recognise the need to invest in organisational capacity building, however too few grantees ask for this investment as part of their grant funding.  We were encouraged by organisations that are growing and thriving as they find new, innovative ways to mobilise resources, largely as a result of the investment they have made in developing their fundraising capacity and know-how.

Strong organisations were characterised as those who have:

  • Invested in fundraising and resource mobilisation (i.e. diversified programme);
  • Have strong leadership; and
  • Good financial management. However they are in the minority and the reality is that most are battling to survive and are crying out for help. Weaker  organisations were characterised as those with:
  • Poor management (most common reason given); and
  • A lack of fundraising expertise by leaders, who are expected to automatically know how to build strong organisations and attract and sustain resources. 


The value and importance of social impact organisations in Southern Africa is undisputed.

However their sustainability is dependent on their ability to invest in their own development (i.e. leadership; fundraising and resource mobilisation skills; financial management) so that they are able to adapt to a changing funding landscape and find innovative and creative ways to generate resources. Whilst lack of resources was the main reason cited for lack of investment in resource development, money alone is not the issue.

We need to shift attitudes around fundraising and resource mobilisation and make it a collective responsibility – one that is embraced by everyone in the organisation from the board down.

For the social impact sector to thrive we have a responsibility to allocate the time and resources to invest in ourselves and share our knowledge and experience with others through networking and peer learning.

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