Donors’ Den has become a firm favourite at The Trialogue Business in Society Conference. This interactive session, adapted from the internationally acclaimed Dragons’ Den TV series, gives representatives from three carefully-selected non-profit organisations (NPO) the unique opportunity to pitch their projects to a panel of corporate donors and receive detailed feedback, empowering them with expert advice on how to hone their fundraising skills.

Introductory comments from the judges

Angela Abrahams, Executive Head of Gender Empowerment at Vodacom Foundation, Millicent Maroga, Head of the Old Mutual Foundation, and Steph Prinsloo, Programme Manager at Eskom Development Foundation served as judges. Each judge was asked for opening comments on their approach to funding and what they look for in funding proposals.

“We need to start considering the power that we hold as corporates. This is not perceived power. Economic resources and access to networks and resources is real power. In seeking NPOs to support, corporates need to consider whether the models they recommend or support enhance partnerships or encourage competition. The power dynamics between NPOs and corporates impact on development. NGOs also have power within their own communities, which needs to be considered within their own partnerships,” said Abrahams.

She explained that, when it comes to funding proposals, Vodacom Foundation considers organisational compliance, but also carefully determines whether the NPO understands its community and how it responds to the community needs. The measurement of impact is also a consideration. Vodacom Foundation is interested in project outcomes, as well as what happens after a programme has been completed, and has a particular focus on the development of women.

Acknowledging that bigger and higher profiled organisations often receive the most development funding, leading to unequal distribution of resources, Maroga spoke about the need for funders to consider how resources can best be shared across the sector. The Old Mutual Foundation seeks to partner in both the design and implementation of programmes, with priority given to financial inclusion programmes, and focuses on the sustainability, exit strategies and monitoring and evaluation of projects.

The Eskom Development Foundation considers the credibility, sustainability, compliance, quality and integrity of the organisations that it funds. Other factors include the organisation’s goals and ambitions, alongside the operational plan in terms of milestones, resources and execution. Monitoring, evaluation and lessons learned are also considered when the Foundation assesses NPOs. Prinsloo encouraged NPOs to develop their own business plans, saying that while passion is important, execution is paramount.

The pitches

Each NPO was given eight minutes to present their organisation, specific project, goals and funding requirements. While there was no guarantee that the full funding requirements would be raised through this exercise, cash prizes – kindly sponsored by Eskom Development Foundation – did include R25 000 for the NPO with the most well-developed and strategic pitch; R15 000 for the runner-up, and R10 000 for third place.

Ikamva Youth equips learners from disadvantaged communities with the knowledge, skills, networks and resources to access tertiary education and/or employment opportunities once they matriculate. Established in 2003, IkamvaYouth operates in the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Eastern Cape. Learners enrol at IkamvaYouth when they are in Grades 9, 10 and 11. The programme’s success is ultimately determined by the number of the Grade 12 learners who access tertiary institutions and/or employment-based learning opportunities when they matriculate.

Fundraising coordinator, Balisa Ntloko, pitched on behalf of the organisation, requesting R500 000 over a three year period, in order to provide tutoring, run a winter school and computer literacy programme in the township of Joza, in Grahamstown – where the organisation had already been working since 2013, with 140 beneficiaries.

Ntloko explained that the Ikamva Youth model draws from a large and growing pool of volunteers made up of students from nearby universities, local professionals and former IkamvaYouth learners. More than half of the volunteers at longer-established branches, and over 80% of the Khayelitsha management committee, are former beneficiaries.

Siyavuna Abalimi Development Centre, based in the South Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, aims to train and develop resilient micro farmers, capable of growing enough organic fruit and vegetables to feed themselves and to sell the surplus produce for income generation. Siyavuna mentors emerging organic farmers for food security, developing successful micro-enterprises through farmers’ associations and cooperatives that market the produce under the organisation’s Kumnandi brand.

Director, Sonja Pithey, pitched on behalf of the organisation, requesting R550 000 for the marketing, IT, institutional, legal and renewable energy support of an initiative which set out to use high-value and resilient crops to produce innovative commercial product.

Siyavuna has two core focus areas: skills development and enterprise development. The target communities are rural homestead farmers who mostly own their own land and operate under traditional tribal authorities. To date, more than 600 rural farmers have been trained and mentored in organic farming and three of the five new community-based agri-hub enterprises have been registered.

U-Turn Homeless Ministries equips the homeless with skills to overcome homelessness. Their innovative phased programme, crafted over 21 years, includes meeting basic needs, drug and alcohol rehabilitation support and work-based training. Participants graduate into the open labour market having gained a healthy work ethic and experience. U-turn’s innovation also includes a cashless voucher system for meals or clothing, which importantly provides access to occupational therapy support services.

Director, Sam Vos, pitched on behalf of the organisation, requesting R360 000 for the software licensing, user training and maintenance of an app that had already been developed at the organisation’s own expense, to track the availability of beds in homeless shelters across the Western Cape.

42% of U-turn’s income is self-generated through social enterprises such as Connect Consulting (a software consultancy to other NPOs) and retail businesses. Six months after participants had completed the programme in 2017, 75% had a stable income, 62% had stable accommodation (brick and mortar) and 75% remained sober.

Judges’ feedback

The judges offered feedback to all three organisations on the quality of their pitches, including their strengths, weaknesses and what to consider for pitching in future.

  • Prepare a business plan that outlines the organisation’s entire operating model, financial plan, governance, risk management and key milestones.
  • Be clear about how the organisation plans to connect the dots between aspiration and delivery.
  • It’s important to demonstrate the organisation’s understanding of the sector that it operates within, as well as its impact.
  • Outline the various partnerships that will be valuable for the achievement of project goals.

And the winner is…

Judges’ votes had greater weighting, but delegates were also invited to cast their votes using the conference mobile app.

Judges commended all the representatives, with first prize going to IkamvaYouth and U-turn Homeless Ministries in second place.

“The opportunity to attend such an inspirational event and to network with CSI leaders was an incredible experience. I’d like to thank the sponsors and the judges for their detailed feedback and advice. All the finalists do important work, but possibly what set us apart was our understanding of the sector we work in and its challenges. The judges also noted the number of people who are helped by our organisation and who return to volunteer. This speaks about the impact we have,” said Ntloko.


Fltr: Conference chairperson Thabang Skwambane; corporate judges Steph Prinsloo, Angela Abrahams and Millicent Maroga; NPO representative Balisa Ntloko; Eskom Development Foundation CEO Cecil Ramonotsi; NPO representatives Sonja Pithey and Sam Vos

Image © Brett Eloff

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