Five years ago, I took over leadership of a regional organisation and embarked on a restructuring exercise in response to the funding environment. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come. I got the news that our main donor who had set us up would be leaving South Africa and that we would be getting our last grant, for 18 months only. We had a very short runway to take off. It was very clear to me at that point that we were being asked to either close our operations or pivot into new and perhaps even unconventional ways of doing business. We chose to pivot and manage the change that was about to engulf us. This is what we did:
- Quickly questioned our funding model and adopted a hybrid between commercial and non-profit approaches. We quickly went into the property market in order to invest in real estate for income generation. We had never considered this and our donors would have never bought us a building anyway.
- Rebranded ourselves from a humble and conservative organisation to a more confident and visible modern organisation that utilises first world technologies to manage its affairs. We fully automated our operations and began working in virtual ways, including having flexible hours.
- Aggressively broadened our donor base by conducting donor intelligence reports as well as developing an infrastructure for fund management.
- We became lean, agile and nimble. We did not solve everything, but we were certainly vigilant. We took the opportunities presented by the best of times and mitigated risks during the worst of times. This is the future of organised civil society today.
Dr. Bheki Moyo, Adjunct Professor and Director, Centre for African Philanthropy. Article adapted from the 2018 Inyathelo Annual Report.