The Non-Profit Sector is playing a central role in the development of South Africa’s formerly disadvantaged and today impoverished communities. The sector tries to render services in an environment which is often not attractive for the profit sector and which mostly gets neglected by the public sector. Most public sectors, whether it is public works, health or education seem to underperform in the communities and are often simply dysfunctional.
One would expect that our society on all levels rolls out the red carpets for the non-profit sector and bends over backwards to ensure the organisations who bridge the gap and who fill the void are able to do their job. But reality shows that this is unfortunately not often the case and the support simply ends in empty promises, backslapping and warm words of praise. Let’s face it: When it really matters, NPOs are on their own. And not only that: In some instances the regulations, red tape and control measures are higher for non-profits than for any other legal entity in the country. Instead of assisting them it is made extra hard for NPOs to succeed.
No wonder so many NPOs pop-up, filled with good ideas and intrinsic motivation, and simply vanish after some months or years. Not many manage to grow beyond the point of being an informal structure of selfless souls who want to help where they see a need. Most of them simply end their initiatives frustrated and disillusioned.
And those, who grow beyond the state of being informal, and who are small and medium sized NPOs find themselves way too often highly overwhelmed by the needs of the communities which they are trying to serve, the state’s legal requirements, as well as the expectations of funders, stakeholders and their own team. The lack of management know-how, shortage of well-trained staff and the lack of resources to simply bring in the professional expertise, make it virtually impossible to see such organisations grow sustainably and survive the first years of their existence.
I feel that our society must change their general attitude towards the non-profit-sector. Give them the benefit of the doubt, take them by the hand to overcome the hurdles of building an organisation, allow them to learn from mistakes and ensure our legislation does not block development of NPOs but incubates and enhances them. That would be one of many necessary puzzle-pieces towards turning our society around.
Written by: Jonas Schumacher