Kindly hosted at The Protea Hotel in Midrand, Johannesburg on 27 March
and Vodacom’s head offices in Century City, Cape Town on 28 March 2018
The first Trialogue CSI forum for 2018, presented in partnership with the Vodacom Foundation, explored some of the ways that corporate donors can ensure the sustainability of the projects that they fund when exiting.
The most common reason for companies exiting projects was lack of strategic fit, following a change in strategic direction (Vodacom, Transnet, Telkom, Nedbank and Denel have all recently revised their CSI strategies). Companies are becoming more focused, with CSI more aligned to the business, which is necessitating the exit of many projects. This is a tough process, especially when the organisations have been supported for many years and exit plans are not in place.
Developing an exit strategy
A well-crafted and consistently communicated exit strategy reduces a non-profit organisation’s (NPO) dependency on a funder, strengthens resilience and can help to foster a greater sense of community ownership. It assists in clarifying expectations, roles and the extent of responsibilities, and ultimately helps to avoid conflict.
- Phase the exit so that NPOs and communities have time to prepare and build up alternative sources of funding.
- Assist in identifying alternative funders (which can include other parts of the business or business partners, such as suppliers or customers). Resources that help with this include Connect for Good and Trialogue’s Handbook.
- Companies can refer NPOs that they can no longer support to other companies that they may be better aligned to. There is great potential in companies collaborating and communicating, towards a shared ecosystem of development. “When someone comes to you for help and you can’t give it, you can refer them to someone who can. From a commercial aspect there are competition laws but from a CSI perspective should we be viewing each other as competitors? If I’m putting a certain amount into education and I hear that a competitor is doing the same, should I then feel aggrieved that they are getting into the same space? The approach now is that from a CSI perspective there isn’t much competition and companies should be happy to have others contribute into those spaces,” advises Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer of Corporate Affairs at the Vodacom Foundation
- Apart from finding new funders for projects, encourage NPOs to find other effective means of sustaining themselves, such as developing social enterprises.
- A well-planned exit strategy should ideally incorporate aspects of capacity-building and knowledge-sharing with the NPO and broader community. Vodacom Foundation runs forums at which beneficiaries get together to speak about their projects and discuss challenges. Often, they find that they have commonalities or can provide each other with support.
- Companies can find ways of grouping smaller projects together as there may be synergies that can be leveraged for greater impact.
- Companies can consider programmes similar to the Vodacom Change the World Volunteer Programme, in which employees get a paid opportunity to work for an NPO for a year. Thus, leveraging employee engagement, as well as empowering the NPO with an opportunity to have extra skills at their disposal.
Monitor, evaluate and communicate for impact
- Define objectives, outputs and results with the understanding that the results are not seen in the short term but are long term.
- Consider conditional grants that are based on agreed milestones. Ideally, project plans and agreements not only contain milestones and measures, but also criteria for continued participation in a project. The Zenex Foundation does this, which makes it easier to exit if things are not going according to plan e.g. if there is not a certain level of attendance and participation by the principal and teachers of a school, that school is taken off the programme.
- Visit the NPOs that you support and observe how the projects are being run. Make incremental changes along the way, rather than imposing a number of significant changes onto an NPO in one go.
- Building a culture of accountability is crucial. This can be done by defining the terms at the beginning of a project, using contracts and MOUs conditional to meeting the outcomes agreed upon by all parties. Evaluating projects in retrospect can be difficult, whereas transparency about your process and strategic changes with NPOs are key.
In summary, to mitigate the social and company reputational risks involved in withdrawing support from an organisation or initiative, it is imperative that CSI practitioners keep their intended impact front of mind and ensure that the implementing partners that they work with share this vision. Internal and external stakeholder interaction, open communication and transparency are critical for smooth transition and exiting that does not result in antagonism or conflict.