The helpfulness of helpdesks


The National Lotteries Board (NLB) recently announced its intention to call for funding applications in the Arts and Culture Sector in February. In anticipation of an avalanche of applications, the donor agency has warned that it may not fund entire projects, that funding will be capped and that organisations should seek additional funding partners.

The NLB will commit 50% of the available funds to projects in rural, underprivileged and previously disadvantaged areas, and is calling for more applications from the Northern Cape, Free State and North West Provinces. The NLB is setting up helpdesks in these provinces to facilitate applications. But do these NGOS have the capacity to take advantage of the plan? And is a helpdesk the most appropriate response to the problem?

Let’s assume that organisations in these provinces did not previously get lotto funding due a lack of capacity and/ or skills to complete the lotteries application process. Let’s also assume that, along with this lack of capacity, many of these NGOs are probably unable to comply with all the requirements of corporate donors and big foundations, whose application forms also call for details such as organisations’ objectives, programme descriptions, budgets, monitoring and evaluation plans and exit plans, as well as board and banking details. Will the NLB helpdesks assist NGOs in terms of their capacity to monitor, evaluate, draw up budgets, manage projects, etc? Will they assist NGOs to complete non-lotto applications, especially since the NLB is raising the spectre of only granting partial funding?

These provinces have in common low employment, long distances between settlements, poor infrastructure, poor access to education and all the social problems associated with poverty. Ironically, these challenges constitute both the reasons to have NGOs in those provinces and the reasons why establishing and sustaining NGOs there are so difficult.

Helpdesks and information sessions suggest that people will have to travel to NLB-selected urban venues. Given the extreme poverty and cost of travel, how many NGOs will be able to access this intervention?

Will the NLB acknowledge the fact that many people who operate NGOs in these rural communities do not have the English language capacity to navigate the NLB’s application forms? Will the NLB now finally make these forms and its website accessible to other language communities?

One of the reasons why few good lotteries applications come from these provinces is that there are simply not enough relevantly skilled people running NGOs there. And often, once staff have been trained and have developed the necessary skills and knowledge base, they leave to seek more gainful employment. While this is not the NLB’s problem, it is a factor that is going to affect the potential success of the helpdesks. How do we help NGOs to retain and grow skills?

Finally, the NLB is in step with the latest trend in corporate and foundation giving, in shifting the focus to the rural areas. How will funders ensure that deserving causes in urban communities continue to access funding? Or is this not their problem either?