William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Charitable giving: Don’t squander your generosity

This is a generous nation but a country with boundless needs. So there is no shortage of worthy causes competing for attention, spare change or unwanted household goods.

While some government funding – too little, often too late – goes to not-for-profits (NPOs) that benefit people, those working with animals get nothing. The plight of the latter is aggravated by most South African corporates also supporting only human welfare.

Consequently, the competition for animal welfare funds is particularly intense, with charities for domestic animals attracting more money than wildlife ones. In turn, among wildlife charities, those with the word ‘rhino’ in the name draw greater support than others that are as important in conservation terms but lack the glamour imbued by constant news exposure.

The travails of my two favourite animal charities illustrate some of these problems.

With 98 branches, SA’s biggest animal charity by far is the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which aside from statutory powers of inspection and prosecution, operates municipal pounds, collects strays, and disposes of carcasses. Recently, however, some municipalities, including Tshwane, have simply stopped paying the agreed fees to their local SPCA.

This blow coincided with National Lottery funding to the SPCA dropping from R20.1-million in 2011 to R8.7-million in 2012. As a result, some branches have had to close or at least trim their operations and retrench staff.

At the other end of the scale is Free Me, a tiny wildlife rehabilitation NPO operating only in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Like the SPCA, its sterling work benefits the local authorities where it operates – these are animals and birds which otherwise would be put down – but unlike the SPCA it gets zero municipal funding. So Free Me operates under unrelenting financial pressure, surviving from hand to mouth, month to month.

With the number of sporting, welfare and arts organisations competing for lottery funds more than doubling over the past few years, animal charities will in future have to rely more than they already do on public generosity.

If the international experience serves, the public will become more careful about whom it supports. The watchwords will be transparency and accountability, areas where local animal organisations have a mixed record.

For example, many – including about a third of SPCAs – are not on the government’s national register of 108 000 NPOs. Although this is a voluntary register, it does guarantee the prospective donor that the charity is filing annual financial accounts to certain standards.

Others are just foolhardily secretive. In April I approached four SPCA branches and one branch of Free Me for their annual financial statements to gauge the transparency of their operations.

Cape of Good Hope SPCA deserves to be the benchmark for every NPO in the land. Its accounts were immediately accessible online and are admirably detailed. Free Me KZN, too, supplied the information unhesitatingly.

Tshwane SPCA was helpful but provided limited information because it said it couldn’t email large files. Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg) SPCA complied but with some reluctance. East London and uMngeni (Howick) SPCAs were also reluctant and have yet to provide accounts, despite further approaches. Any notion of accountability to the public was notably absent – Who are you? Why do you want to see the accounts? How will the information be used?

The National SPCA’s chief executive, Marcelle Meredith, was outraged to hear this and is unequivocal that such recalcitrance on the part of its largely autonomous branches will not be tolerated. The crux of the matter, however, is that this is not solely an SPCA problem. It is more than likely that a similar lack of transparency is widespread, especially among the estimated 50,000 NPOs – mostly engaged in human welfare activities – that are not on the government register.

The solution is in the hands of donors. Whether you want to donate to human or animal charities, it’s your purse strings. Make certain that the recipients are above board, are transparent and accountable, and are not squandering your largesse.

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  • 9 Responses to “Charitable giving: Don’t squander your generosity”

    1. Call for Honesty #

      When giving to a charity make sure it is a reputable charity, transparent about income and expenditure, with low administrative costs and a good track record. Charities that help people and not some exotic cause should receive priority.

      Support those charities that focus on getting people independent and self supporting rather than those that make people more dependent on hand outs. Distinguish between those that work in addressing natural disasters and those that merely target poor people. Take note of the failure of charitable giving for heartwrenching situations so you can direct your giving so that it actually gets to and helps the people who need this most.

      September 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm
    2. Good article calling for greater transparency of NPOs.
      Similarly, NGOs (Section 27, Equal Education…) also need to be transparent about the funding sources and financials.
      Btw. I couldn’t help noticing how you refrained from belittling and insulting NPOs as you usually do when you criticize that other public institution – our government. I wonder why?

      September 8, 2013 at 7:55 am
    3. The Praetor #

      It is every persons duty to help those in need, as in the words of Jesus Christ..’ Give as freely as you receive. But….

      Giving has become such a minefield when considering various aspects of giving.

      There are those that are really in need, but then there are those who just simply take advantage of charitable nature, and refuse to do anything for themselves. It is easier to wrap yourself in a dirty blanket and stand on the corner looking miserable and begging, then working. So by giving, are we not fostering a culture of begging, instead of creating a nation of hard-working people?

      Then you get the charities NPO’s, and NGO’s etc, who ask the public to support them with funds for charitable works. Yet if you think about it, these charities have CEO’s and admin staff, similar to any company, So it leaves you wondering what their monthly overheads are, and what percentage of what you give actually get to the intended recipients, and what salaries and bonuses the CEO’s earn.

      I have witnessed first hand, where some ‘enterpreneur’ hires beautiful college girls with short mini-skirts to stand at intersections with a box that simply says charity, and males who are obviously enjoying the spectacle drop R50 and R100 notes, like its going out of fashion. However, when enquiring as to what charity is being collected for, the girls looked dumbfounded.

      So yes, I want to give, but it is so damn difficult.

      The Praetor

      September 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm
    4. Charlotte #

      Typical of D.Harris: The government isn’t a ‘public institution’ – although many of its members should be in an institution.

      It is a political party that puts its gravy-train members into positions of power – in charge of municipalities, organisations and departments which they do not have the foggiest idea how to run – except into the ground; and from which they seem to have carte blanche (taking a leaf from their leader’s book) to steal as much as they can unconscionably get away with.

      WSM is talking, in the main in this post, about animal charities. At least animals are true to themselves and to the laws of nature. They don’t pretend to be what they’re not and do what they cannot (like the present Zuma-led ANC government.)
      Nor do they act in a manner which is detrimental to their own kind. (like the Zuma-led ANC gravy-train).

      Furthermore: I have never found WSM guillty of racism in any shape or form. Whereas Dave Harris never loses an opportunity to don the hate-filled racist cap which, with his distorted mind-set, he seems to think fits him like a polished-up halo. – (and which he wears so tight that it has squeezed all the blood from his brains.)

      September 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm
    5. Loudly South African #

      Dave Harris:
      “Btw. I couldn’t help noticing how you refrained from belittling and insulting NPOs… unlike our government. I wonder why?”

      Try: Because these NPO’s do good work and deliver (within their resourcing) instead of stealing and covering up unlike your Z-ANC in government.

      September 8, 2013 at 7:05 pm
    6. DeeGee #

      One wonders, given the enormous needs of the NGO/NPO community and the day-to-day strain under which donors operate (as your opening sentences correctly point out. And by ‘donors’ I’m referring to the general person in the street), whether a more appropriate solution would be the merging of some NGOs/NPOs to get best bang for the charitable buck? I’d love to give to everyone, but I feel my my donations would be more effective if divided amongst 5, not 10…. Competition is healthy amongst commercial enterprises, but amongst charitable ones, not so much.

      September 9, 2013 at 3:31 am
    7. DeeGee #

      Another point that should be abundantly clear to everyone – how difficult must it be for some of our NGOs to see their government support cut, but the State ‘approving’ a R200m spend on that bloody Nkandla is no problem at all….

      September 9, 2013 at 7:15 am
    8. Baz #

      Charity should be given to those trying very positively to improve themselves by making an active attempt to get out of their situation but are at times are marred by financial straits and need a gentle push in the right direction.
      Wisdom must applied and trhose assisted, generally make a success of their lives and end up assisting those who are in a similiar postion to where they were some time ago.
      Our national lottery shouls be audited again. But that’s another entire issue on it’s own.

      September 9, 2013 at 10:43 am
    9. Momma Cyndi #

      I love animals. Everything from snakes and lizards to buzzards and vultures through to elephants and meerkats. Never in my life has there not been a pet who was loved and pampered to within an inch of their lives.

      Having said that, it is hard to feel sorry for the SPCA having their funding cut when the same thing has happened to special needs schools. Most special needs schools don’t even get any lotto money or government grants.

      The ‘good’ news is that the South African Pingpong team is very well supported by the lotto. Apparently their ability to be non-entities makes them a prime candidate for funds

      September 10, 2013 at 6:15 pm

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