Having spoken with over 40 CSI industry practitioners in March, I can’t help feeling sorry for NGO fundraisers, social sector representatives and managers. It is unfortunate, but there are some practitioners who are not interested in your success – their focus is on their careers and their own success. They are happy to tick the boxes to ensure their job is done, but that’s about as far as it goes. Their priority is to build a resume for themselves, and be seen and noticed. They rarely last long in a company.
I assure you, however, that all is not doom and gloom in the CSI sector. There are practitioners who see the big picture – who are passionate about making a difference, who are focused and dedicated to your success, and who recognise that without great, well-funded NGOs their companies would be missing an essential component. They live to bring positive change to South Africa through their own and your hard work. At CSRNEWSSA, we mean to highlight their sterling work, one by one, and celebrate those who love their jobs and do them well.
CSI managers – an interesting lot
During my month-long round of phone calls and meetings with CSI managers, I met some fascinating characters. Some committed themselves immediately to work with us for the benefit of the broader funding picture; some slammed down the phone when they heard the word ‘funding’; some asked whether we have a consultancy, because they needed help developing a CSI strategy, and some said, ‘we’re coming to The Great Funders’ Conference, because we want to do our CSI better.’ That was encouraging. We have some new companies signed up for the newsletter … and we have the usual percentage who promise to call back and never do.
(A personal bugbear of mine – and of many of you; the well-paid professional who never returns a call or email. There are no calls or emails that are too much trouble to respond to – not if it pertains to your work! And if the workload is too much, hire someone to help. Simply by responding to calls and emails you immediately establish some rapport with the caller, and spread a positive image of yourself and your company. Worth bearing in mind, in my opinion, by both CSI and NGO managers.)
The most invigorating conversation I had during my round of calls was with a newly appointed CSI manager of a listed company that owns three other listed companies.
‘Simphiwe,’ she said, ‘at this stage we’re still working on our strategy, we’re not ready to commit.’
To which I responded, ‘Even if you give ZAR20 000 now to an NGO in a deep rural area, it’s fine. You’ll be making a difference and you can use it as a test to establish the direction of your future funding.’
‘Simphiwe, that is true,’ she said. ‘In fact, we’re coming to The Great Funders’ Conference in September, because I want to see what other practitioners are doing. It will help inform our vision. The conference is exactly what we need.’
Another major company asked to be called back in May, saying the conference sounded like something they needed; they were already in the process of considering NGOs, and felt the conference might give them a broader perspective and more things to consider.
What I love most when inviting companies to The Great Funders’ Conference is when they say, ‘Count me in! I see value in this – it ties in with our mandate and we can’t wait!’
Funding – both an investment and a responsibility
Funding, at the end of the day, is the mandate for every CSI practitioner, whether they have ZAR20 000 or ZAR970 million to give away. They’re managing funds to disperse. Some may see their funding primarily as an investment (‘What do we get out of this?’) and some may see it as their responsibility (‘We reaped the benefit of cheap labour and unjust laws during apartheid – we have a responsibility to make amends’). Many understand that CSI, done well, can fulfill both aspects. And even if a company was not around during apartheid, there is still a responsibility factor – all businesses are called upon to put something into the socio-economic development of our still massively skewed society.
In danger of closing down
The big companies cannot do it alone. They truly need the NGOs to be their hands and feet. And yet so many NGOs are in danger of closing down due to lack of adequate funding. I recently received an email from a prominent and outstanding NGO marketing manager who said, ‘Simphiwe, the email you wrote last year hit the nail on the head (Is your NGO in trouble of closing down). I don’t know if our doors will be open by the end of the year, and whether I’ll still have a job.’
This surely should be alarming (I keep on saying this), for both NGOs and CSI managers. If we’re half-heartedly funding an NGO, and the excellent person at the helm sees the immanent collapse of the organisation, we’ll have wasted our funding. We’ll have lost another experienced, well-intentioned person in the crucial NGO sector, and CSI will become all the poorer. Funders need to have strategies that go all the way – that keep our many excellent NGOs doing the great work they do.
The healthy and the rotten fruit
On many occasions I’ve wanted to write about the mean-spirited CSI practitioners and blatantly shame them. But I hold myself back. I noticed something at my grandmother’s home in Nelspruit during the December holidays that taught me a lesson.
My grandmother and aunt were hovering around a mango tree, wanting a particular mango that was just out of reach. As I’m over 6-foot tall, they called upon my services. I could not reach it. I shook the tree in the hopes that the mango would fall away – with the result that every rotten mango on the tree showered down upon us and the healthy one stayed put. Eventually I got it, and presented it to my grandmother, who then said she wanted a pawpaw, instead! Repeat performance … eventually my 70-year old aunt enjoyed the mango and my grandmother enjoyed the pawpaw from the tree in the yard.
This got me thinking about our CSI industry; that, as in so any things, the rotten fruit will be shaken from the tree. The uninterested, self-centered CSI practitioners will be shaken out of the industry tree, and the committed and dedicated ones will remain. I sense this already happening.
Fly-by-nights and the matter of ‘alignment’
Some CSI practitioners are fly-by-nights – they up and leave companies with amazing speed. They’ll brag about a programme they started in their previous company – a programme one has never heard of – and what a great success it was. Later you find that within weeks of their leaving, the programme was closed by the new CSI manager.
It makes for a bewildering situation. Every CSI manager tells you that programmes have to ‘align with’ their strategies, but as soon as a new CSI manager takes the reins in almost any company, the first thing he or she does is close down the programmes started by the previous manager. But I thought the first ones were aligned? Are the new ones somehow better aligned? I guess there are many ways to align strategies – or maybe ‘alignment’ is based more on individual taste, upbringing, social and political stance (a topic for another day!).
The good and the astonishing
One of my more exciting face-to-face meetings last month was with the BBBEE Commissioner. They’ll be partnering with us in the investigative work of the newly formed CSI Council and speaking at our upcoming The Great Funders’ Conference 2019.
What I learned in that one-hour meeting – much of which will be shared at the conference – will astonish you. She had much to say on where corporates and NGOs are going wrong when it comes to social development. We’re all learning – even those of us who have been in this business for over fifteen years – because our country is changing and our knowledge about what works and what does not is expanding and refining.
More on the exciting developments at CSRNEWSSA and within CSI generally in our next newsletter! Hold tight – changes are coming.