Dilemma of donations

Non-profit organisations often have the challenge of deciding when and how to give. George Louw brings the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) under the spotlight

Unemployment and poverty are QASA’s initial response was to jump in with worldwide issues and very much a reality of life for large segments of the South African population. For persons with disability these realities cut closer to the bone and present challenges that require courage and perseverance to overcome. This is why organisations such as QASA exist; to serve as a facilitator that sources funds, expertise, knowledge and skills; and to channel all these resources to where it is needed.

When a need is specific, the process is relatively easy: Powerchairs need batteries. Many powerchair users cannot afford batteries. To assist, the organisation should find a willing donor of batteries; create a checklist of eligibility criteria; and supply them to eligible applicants.

However, when the need is general and greater than the available resources, things become tricky as we have experienced this year with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our government focused on managing the pandemic and the regulations that were implemented caused our already struggling economy to crash.

Many breadwinners lost their jobs, poverty broadened and intensified. Persons with disabilities suffered along with the rest of the population and persons with quadriplegia and paraplegia turned to QASA for help, particularly those that lived in self- help centres.

Their staff required salaries, their infrastructure needed ongoing financing and living expenses needed to be covered. Donor companies donated less or just walked away, unable to contribute as before. So, expenditure did not change but the income dried up.

QASA’s initial response was to jump in with support funding to tide them over, but before payments were made, a finger was raised. Only three percent of quadriplegics and paraplegics live in self-help centres. What about the other 97 percent? The problem here was that, although the argument was valid, the other 97 percent were largely not visible.

Very few approached their regional associations or QASA for help. In general, their needs remained unknown and therefore unquantified. But the principle of fairness to all and equal support prevailed and caused the promised support to the self-help centres to be placed on the back burner. So effectively, in the interest of fairness to all, nobody got anything.


QASA is not there to feed the hungry. This can become a bottomless pit.


Specific individual needs are still being addressed with specifically dedicated funding, but general needs are drowning in a quagmire of rhetoric on what to do and how to go about it. While this is happening, the pool of donors shrinks as businesses try to stay afloat. As a result, QASA had to tighten its own belt to ensure it will survive this difficult time.

So, what to do? How does QASA sustain its own viability and at the same time address the needs of our constituency in a fair and equitable manner? How does QASA determine what to focus our general, unspecified funding on, in order to get the best value per rand spent? The inward focus is obvious; tighten our belts and make do with as little as possible.

The challenge, however, is in managing the massive needs of our constituents: to identify those needs, triage the needs (for QASA support or not); determine and quantify the needs (what exactly is needed and what will it cost?); and lastly, allocate the resources (can QASA deal with it or must an external resource be found?). Thus, I propose some ground rules:

QASA must focus on its reason for being

QASA is not there to feed the hungry. This can become a bottomless pit that rapidly drains our reserves. Also, there are hundreds of organisations that already focus on providing food. So, this is where triage kicks in. Identify quads and paras that are going hungry and refer them to organisations in their area that are providing food parcels.

Alternatively, an itemised voucher could be negotiated with a store; including non-perishable foods and household items to a value of say, R500.

The recipient could then receive three or six post- dated vouchers to be redeemed at the chosen store. This ensures that the family gets food and essentials, and not cigarettes and beer.

The number of monthly vouchers is determined by the need, with allowance for re-motivated extensions. So, funding must be well structured and dedicated.

QASA funding must add value 

For example, if I have R1 000 per month to donate and I dish it out to 200 recipients at R5 per person, it adds no value to each of the individuals. But, if I decide to support one family in dire need, I will have made a difference for that family.

The same principle holds true for QASA. Don’t donate resources to just delay the inevitable, but rather focus on empowering the receiver to become self-sufficient. For example, skills training rather than financial support. Funding must serve an enabling purpose.

Funding must have a quid pro quo

For example, tiding a person or even a self-help centre over a difficult period to allow them to find their feet must come with an understanding that funding will only be for a pre-specified period and that the receiver will use the period of reprieve to re-establish themselves. This appears harsh but the interest of the collective QASA constituency must be weighed up against the needs of the individual person or entity.

Advocate, advocate, advocate

Actively promote QASA’s efforts in using its reserves to support its constituents and challenge donor organisations, existing and new, to follow suit and support QASA in its efforts.

On the principle of fairness

All QASA members must have an equal opportunity to motivate for assistance, but the granting of assistance must only accommodate actual dire need, based on predetermined need- criteria. Giving to Peter because I gave to Paul, even though Peter does not need it, is a road to inefficiency and bankruptcy. The fairness lies in the equal opportunity to apply, not in the giving of equal measures.

These ground rules are not cast in stone. They are merely examples on how to channel resources constructively. The better organised and structured QASA’s support of its constituents is, the better our chances of securing donor support and the better our chances to survive and fight another day.


Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity. email: yorslo@icloud.com


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