Reviewing our work
After each five-year strategy cycle, we normally take a year to review our strategies to see whether we are primed to achieve our goals. The review process includes studying available data to understand progress towards the outcomes that we set for ourselves. It also involves engaging with grantees, partners, trustees and staff to understand what strategies people perceive as working well or not, and what people think we should be working towards in future.
A club meeting of early childhood development practitioners in Keiskammahoek in the Eastern Cape.
At the end of our previous five-year strategy cycle, we conducted an anonymous survey with our grantees and applicants (those who applied for grants but were unsuccessful). We asked them to assess our services, systems, communication and support mechanisms. Although the feedback was generally positive, civil society organisations complained about the long length of our application process and the responsiveness of our staff. In response, our CEO David Harrison wrote about the measures in place to improve DGMT’s systems and processes going forward.
Yes, Covid made us juggle many balls, but we dropped too many
By David Harrison
The Covid-19 pandemic was a hectic and tough time for all of us. We all had to respond to the urgent crises, sometimes at the expense of our other work. DGMT set up project management teams to distribute 340 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) to community-based workers, produced daily radio inserts (Sikhaba iCovid-19) on 15 stations, fought for zero-rating of digital content of public benefit organisations, distributed over R150 million through food vouchers to cellphones of hungry people (redeemable through spaza shops) and seized on the alcohol bans to push for a more enduring and effective set of policies to curtail heavy drinking. DGMT also convened foundation donor funding to the National Department of Health and managed a team of over 250 people across all districts to support the vaccination programme.
In all of these efforts, civil society organisations were key partners – helping to drive these initiatives, identifying community-level workers and ensuring they were protected with PPE, generating local content for the radio inserts, providing data-light digital content to children and learners identifying people in desperate need of food, mobilising in support of alcohol harms reduction and vaccine uptake. It was a massive collective effort involving close to 300 community-based organisations.
At the same time, these and many other organisations were trying to keep the lights on – not only as a result of load-shedding but also substantial reductions in revenues. Even as they confronted Covid-19, they tried to sustain their activities to protect and develop their communities. They needed the resources to do this, and many turned to funders like DGMT. In 2020 and 2021, we distributed R600 million of our own resources and those of other funders who channelled their relief funding through us, roughly double the amount normally distributed per year.
But many of our long-time partners and those looking for basic funding to sustain their core work found us slow and unresponsive. Sometimes, our edges frayed badly. We frustrated some and infuriated others, for which we apologise. We understand the importance of being a transparent, responsive and responsible investor, and want to get it right.
These experiences and feedback are captured in an anonymous survey of implementing partner perception and experience which DGMT undertakes periodically. We asked our grantees and applicants (those who applied for grants but were unsuccessful) to assess our services, systems, communication, and support mechanisms via an anonymous survey.
We contacted over 700 organisations between June and July 2022, and received feedback from 110 applicants and 129 grantees, implying a response rate of 25% and 39% respectively. We then compared the findings of the survey to the findings of a similar survey completed with a different cohort in 2014 as a benchmark. This 2022 survey is published below.
We are really grateful for the honest feedback on how our work is perceived and how our strategies and investments are impacting the sector. The feedback was generally very positive, but our shortcomings were exposed. The length of our application process and the responsiveness of our staff during this period emerged as recurring issues.
We are always aware that the more funding we spend on our own internal operations, the less we have to distribute to implementing partners. We knew we had to make trade-offs during the Covid period, but we didn’t hold our internal management processes tight enough. We’ve taken note of our failings and implemented a number of strategies to address them.
Late in 2021, DGMT restructured its internal operations and expanded its capacity to meet the increased demand for resources from the sector. We further increased our grant adjudication capacity in September 2022.
We will achieve the following:
- Improve our systems and processes to make it easier for NGOs to apply for funding;
- Improve our turnaround times; and
- Build the capabilities of our staff to enable effective and honest engagements with our partners.
While our dedicated responsive grant-making team is addressing the concerns raised by the recent survey, we are committed to the following changes in the medium-term:
- Reduce the turnaround time for a decision to less than three months.
- Introduce exit surveys to enable quick feedback loops with our applicants and grantees;
- Introduce efficient customer relationship management (CRM) systems to provide up-to-date and relevant feedback on the progress of each application;
- Introduce opportunities for engagement between our staff and applicants through virtual or in-person events on a consistent basis; and
- Improve internal management systems to ensure our grantees are not affected by staff turnover.
Managing grant adjudication processes is not easy because resources are limited and the need seems limitless. As we increase our own capacity, the number of applications increases. Many foundations have opted not to accept unsolicited proposals or to limit applications to narrow windows for submission. DGMT chooses not to go this route because we see our role as nurturing a broad network of civil society partners. Our challenge is to optimise our investments – getting behind long-term national strategic initiatives that could change the trajectories for the next generation while supporting the rich and diverse network of community-based organisations that sustain our nation’s social fabric.
Thank you for your honest feedback. As we expect you to use our investments wisely, so you should expect us to support you to the best of our abilities.