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Human Rights Day: Strengthening human rights organisations for long-term impact

In an era marked by global challenges to democracy, and increasing limits on the fundamental rights of citizens, human rights organisations play a vital role in defending values such as freedom and equality.

However, to fulfil their missions effectively, these organisations need to build their own capacity for sustainability. This is according to Inyathelo, a nonprofit organisation (NPO) established in 2002 with a mission to help build a strong, stable civil society in South Africa by contributing to the development of sustainable organisations and institutions.

The vital work carried out by civil society requires not only dedication and passion, but also financial resources and reserves, says Feryal Domingo, acting executive director of Inyathelo.

“Without the necessary capacity and resources, human rights organisations face significant obstacles in their ability to address pressing issues and advocate for change. Understanding key elements of sustainability empowers them to maintain their effectiveness and extend their impact over the long term.”

Inyathelo’s experience in developing training workshops for grantee organisations, to bolster their longevity, has shown the importance of understanding and implementing several key concepts, says Domingo:

Advancement principles:  Inyathelo teaches an integrated approach, known as advancement, to position an organisation to attract support. Key elements include leadership, governance, strategy and planning, financial management, fundraising, human capacity, relationship building, monitoring and evaluation, voice and visibility.

The fundraising cycle: This involves identifying prospective donors, building relationships with people who may support the organisation, solicitation, which involves negotiating and asking for support, and stewardship – looking after donors so they will continue to support the organisation.

Investment readiness: NPOs should analyse where there are gaps in attracting external support, and what they need to do to address these. There are several organisational tools available for this, such as the Ford Foundation’s Organisational Mapping Tool, and Inyathelo’s Investment Readiness Tool.

Strategies for diversifying incomeDepending on a single source of donor income leaves an NPO vulnerable to fluctuations in funding. Diversifying income streams, on the other hand, helps mitigate this risk. It was once frowned upon for an NPO to generate its own income, but now it is acknowledged that initiatives to raise funds, such as renting out a portion of office space, or charging for some services, empower NPOs and give them more control over their financial futures.

Building a reserve: Growing a financial reserve, and investing and managing it prudently, ensures that the organisation has a safety net in place for emergencies, or when there are fluctuations in funding. A reserve helps the organisation maintain operations, fulfil its mission, and weather challenges without compromising services.

Good governance: An NPO should select board members carefully, and it is critical that these members be aware of compliance requirements and changes in the law, in order for them to exercise their fiduciary duties.

“Building robust financial and operational frameworks enables human rights organisations to ensure continuity in their efforts to promote democracy, justice, and equality,” says Domingo.

“Whether they offer legal advice, defend marginalised communities, or work to combat systemic injustices, human rights organisations that are stable and  sustainable are better equipped to navigate complexities and become catalysts for positive change.”

Inyathelo offers numerous resources for NPOs and civil society organisations. These include articles, publications, training videos, toolkits, research reports, bespoke workshops and one-on-one clinic sessions.

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