Brimstone provides the necessary backing

In many spheres of social development, once-off donations simply don’t do the job when it comes to sustaining the work in which NGOs place most of their resources. While no donation is wasted, it stands to reason that a sustained approach to giving allows for confident, forward-thinking strategies to be put in place to ensure the kind of compound growth that can change lives in the long term.

Anyone who’s suffered financial hardship can attest to the distracting nature of persistent financial worries, and this is also the case for an organisation. For those trying to run an NGO, fundraising can be a time-consuming and emotionally taxing aspect of the operation, draining resources that could otherwise be used to putting social solutions into place. This becomes more apparent as an organisation grows: hoping day to day for the goodwill of donors can work to keep a small charitable project up and running, but a significant investment is needed to acquire a forward-looking resource.

An excellent example is Buhle Farmers’ Academy, where those new to the agricultural sector can obtain the support they need to begin a self-sustaining enterprise. It goes without saying that the outlay needed to start farming is a substantial one: equipment is needed, and for some the purchase of livestock and various other investments is necessary. By its very nature, farming is an expensive business, and for those literally reaping what they sow, there’s no option to skimp while starting out in agriculture.

When asked about what makes Buhle’s services so important, executive director Zamo Shongwe explains that those they support are often not viable candidates for more conventional credit applications: while they show high potential in the agricultural sector, they may not have the collateral or credit record needed to borrow from a bank, and it’s here that sustained support comes in. The revenue gained from Buhle’s Brimstone shares allotted by BEST (Brimstone Empowerment Share Trust) will be used to provide the long-term support to allow new farmers not only vital initial support for their enterprises, but also the resources needed to make it through each stage of development to become a self-supporting success.

Speaking on behalf of the Sozo Foundation, finance manager Kate Morton explains why this organisation is another beneficiary of BEST that has seen dividends in various areas. Having their Brimstone shares listed among their assets has lent extra credence to the foundation and allowed them to attract additional investment as BEST’s confidence in their work serves as a shorthand signifier for their value. In addition, Morton says that the organisation has benefitted from networking and workshop events facilitated by the trust. In turn, these opportunities have led to increased awareness about the foundation, and long-term investments from varied sources that might otherwise not have been aware of their work.

For the team behind Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA), a long-term approach to changing the way South Africa’s legal processes deal with cases of domestic violence and child abuse, has led not only to wins in individual cases, but also to new legislation that better understands victims’ realities. Executive director Kevin Barbeau points to the recent success of lobby groups to bring about a significant change in South African law affecting survivors of sexual assault: in 2017, laws changed to scrap the statute of limitations that previously existed against the reporting of sexual crimes more than 20 years after the incident occurred.

Hailed as a momentous victory for activism in a country plagued by sexual abuse against women and children, the High Court ruling allows survivors to pursue justice at any time, and was requested by the eight victims of now-deceased billionaire stockbroker Sidney Frankel. WMACA were vocal and persistent in protesting a law that appeared to dismiss the experiences of survivors who were long afraid or ashamed to share their stories — it’s this persistence that paid off, and it demonstrates the importance of empowering activist organisations to maintain their unfaltering positions.

A Q&A with Dr L Ramages, Chairman of the Brimstone Empowerment Share Trust

Why do NGOs in the South African context, particularly, benefit from a sustained approach to giving?

Nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) generally depend on the benevolence and philanthropy of caring citizens who have the disposable income to donate or spend at fundraising functions. With an unemployment rate exceeding 30% in South Africa, this pool has contracted significantly and it is from this small core that donations sustain our NGOs. Fundraising functions are indeed helpful to provide funds and establish networks, but are not the most efficient in directing their spend to the NGOs, because of contingent costs of hosting them. Since sustained giving is paramount to viability, the corporate world makes a huge contribution in providing such spend, devoid of contingent costs, by way of benevolent donations.

What measures do you take as an independent board to safeguard the beneficiaries?

BEST is a Trust formed by Brimstone. The board must not deal recklessly with the assets in our trust made available to us by Brimstone. We do meaningful due diligence on every prospective beneficiary before electing them to our cohort. Good governance, impact in their sphere of operation, percentage spend on delivery versus staff and administration expenses and measurable outcomes are all important. We feel that sharing and improving understanding, as can be gained from “cross-pollination” meetings, help to sustain viability and safeguard emerging beneficiaries from pitfalls others have traversed. Mini “seminars” at these joint meetings have been helpful and appreciated. We monitor our beneficiaries’ standing and progress by reviewing their annual reports that they send to us. Where we can be of assistance to any individual beneficiary, we endeavour to do so. We wish that those in the corporate world who are deciding to do similarly will build on our model, and interact with us, so that we may also improve on our initiative.

Is there one aspect of BEST of which you’re particularly proud?

We’re grateful that we’ve made beneficiaries more credible in the eyes of those who peruse their status and see that BEST has found them worthy of support by issuing shares to them. This is probably the most significant contribution that we’ve made to any beneficiary. The dividends received by them on these shares, we regard as being of secondary importance.

What has surprised you about the results of the Brimstone BEST programme?

It’s the great appreciation shown by each of the beneficiaries and their eagerness to participate in our annual networking meetings, which provide mini presentations to enhance governance, compliance and improved management.

Is the programme largely static, or still a work in progress?

Our programme is dictated by the terms of our trust document. All the trustees are acutely aware not to transgress the boundaries of our mandate. Our aim is to increase the number of beneficiaries who will benefit beyond the current 30+, particularly wanting to increase our footprint to incorporate all nine provinces: currently, we’re three short of that goal. We hope to accomplish our goal of full national representation and making greater inroads into rural areas.

BEST has lent support to a wide range of organisations. Why is it important to be involved in organisations with varied areas of impact, at various stages of growth?

Our country is in dire need of assistance in many and varied areas. It’s impossible to be everywhere, but in as far as we are able, we would like to be of assistance as widely as we can. Smaller, emerging NGOs need as much consideration as the longer-standing and established ones and therefore, should they meet our criteria and qualify, then we will willingly welcome them as beneficiaries.

Cayleigh Bright
Cayleigh Bright
Journalist, author, copywriter. Full-time freelance.
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