Social & Community, Sustainability, April 1, 2020, 6:19 a.m.

Navigating the coronavirus pandemic: 10 tips for NPOs from Inyathelo


Many South African non-profit organisations (NPOs) are already on a precarious financial footing, and their financial future is even more uncertain given the coronavirus pandemic.

Department of Social Development (DSD) statistics put the number of local NPOs at 201 644 in 2019. A study by the Funding Practice Alliance showed that the majority of local NPOs are newly established and micro (annual income below R50 000) to small (annual income above R50 000 and below R0,5 million) and thus particularly vulnerable financially.


“Leading up to, and now during the lockdown, NPO leaders have obviously prioritised the care and wellbeing of their staff,” says Nazeema Mohamed, Executive Director of Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement. “Many NPO staff live in under-resourced areas where housing, healthcare, safety and security have been a pressing challenge, even before the pandemic worsened the situation.






























"In addition to grappling with how best to support their own staff, NPOs and their boards are aware that demand for their organisations’ services – whether this is assisting impoverished and vulnerable communities with access to water and food parcels, providing care to the elderly, or helping to combat domestic violence is likely to escalate.


“Yet they face the conundrum that many NPO supporters (whether they are individual donors, or companies that channel their corporate social investment through company foundations) could generate far lower incomes, and could cut their philanthropic donations accordingly. This is a grave concern for all of us.”


Given the possible scarcity of funding, and more competition for those resources, NPOs need to focus more than ever on building strong, long-term relationships with funders and adopting a professional, holistic approach, says Ms Mohamed.


“Funders do not donate simply because they have read a proposal.”


Inyathelo offers 10 tips to help NPOs navigate the current crisis. This is based on the 10 elements of Advancement, a systematic and integrated approach to building and managing external relationships with key constituencies and stakeholders in order to attract support.


Human capacity: Staff are grappling with uncertainty, fear and anxiety. Manage concerns and questions. Provide data and airtime, keep communication open and continual with check-ins using communications tools such as WhatsApp, Skype and Zoom. Don’t hold your cards to your chest. Rather be clear about the challenges facing the NPO, and its financial health, and the goals you are prioritising. Ask staff to voice their ideas and you’ll have stronger buy-in when it is time to implement changes. It is important to apply the values and culture of the organisation during these difficult times.



Build relationships: Check on the wellbeing of individuals and foundations that have supported you. Keep in contact with emails, calls and online briefings show that you care.


Leadership: The scale and unpredictability of the pandemic are making extraordinary demands on leaders. Recognising the uncertainty, while projecting hope and confidence that your organisation will weather the storm, are key. “Deliberate calm” is being able to detach yourself from a complex situation and to consider how to manage it. Nurture the vision of your organisation. Consider special briefings with stakeholders on issues pertinent to the pandemic.


Financial management: With expenses still coming in, and potential damage to your revenue streams, get to grips with your cash position as soon as possible. Update your cash flow projections and develop various scenarios. A helpful article by author Steve Zimmerman can be accessed online in Nonprofit Quarterly here.


Fundraising: Strive to keep your funders informed. Let them know how you are affected, what actions you are taking, the impact of your work, and what short-term help you may need.  Fortunately, many donors are co-operating by making the terms of their existing grants more flexible. They are allowing some funds to be re-allocated from programmes, towards covering operational costs.


Governance: This is the ideal time to review the technical aspects of governance – registration and legislation – and ensure your organisation is compliant. Strengthen your internal governance arrangements. The role of your board members is also vital in giving strategic direction and helping to ensure there are sufficient resources, possibly by calling on their own contacts.


Strategy and planning: Strategy is about how an organisation understands its context. Planning is about how an organisation responds to changes in that context. Keep your business focused on supporting those who need you the most. Review and revise projections.  The need to adapt will be critical.  This situation is likely to change our world as we know it and we need to establish a new ‘normal’.


Monitoring and Evaluation: Check your capacity for evidence-informed implementation, a key requirement of donors. Examine your organisation’s effectiveness at tracking programme activities and reviewing outcomes of your work. Examine how to improve the ways in which you operate and what you offer beneficiaries.


Voice:  Share your organisation’s point of view on issues relating to the work you do and the sector in which you operate.  For example, healthcare organisations can highlight what they are doing to improve access and care at a grassroots level.


Visibility: Demonstrate innovation and resourcefulness.  For example some arts NPOs are offering online performances. Share your news with podcasts and virtual presentations.


Inyathelo has numerous publications, training videos, toolkits and research reports online, many of which can be accessed free of charge, says Ms Mohamed.


“We encourage NPOs to make use of these resources to help them navigate the current crisis and to better position themselves to attract support in the long term.”


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