Changing Hands – Donor Support to NPOs Between 1998 and 2011.

Douglas Racionzer compares funding for the citizen sector in South Africa between 1998 and 2011, and finds that state assistance has virtually collapsed, while foreign aid has more than made up the difference.

In 2002, Swilling and Russell published a paper, “The Size and Scope of NGO’s in South Africa.”  The paper was part of the Johns Hopkins International Study of the Non-Profit Sector and it proved to be a seminal and foundational contribution to understanding the citizen sector in this country.

The Swilling & Russell report has, alas not been repeated.  This article is, in part, an argument for doing just that so that we can update and compare the changes that the citizen sector in South Africa has experienced in the intervening twenty years. 

The gaps and conflicts in available data and information are an indication of my inability to readily find the required data as well as an indication of the need to update information on the citizen sector in this country.

A number of sources were used to gather data for 2011, including SACSIS, the SAIRR and Stats SA.  The data sources are diverse and do not agree with each other on periods, definitions and details but I have attempted to manage these discrepancies without detracting from the veracity of the sources used.  For example, I have retained Swilling and Russell’s broad definition of NPOs, referring to them broadly as the “citizen sector” because the register of non-profit organisations fails to account for unregistered organisations in the broader citizen sector. 

I have also taken data that I believe is consistent and aligned with other data sets rather than highlight discrepancies between data sets.

The citizen sector in 1998

Swilling & Russell took data from 1998 and found that South Africa had then some 93 000 non-profit organisations deploying a workforce of around 645 000 people, of whom just half were employed.  Swilling and Russell found that only 22 755 NPOs were working in the social services field

With regards to funding the sector, Swilling and Russell found the following (1998):

State funding R5.8 billion
Foreign donors R4 billion
Corporate and business R3 billion
Volunteer contributions R5.1 billion
Self-generated funds R4.6 billion
Total Income to NPOs R22.5 billion


The citizen sector in 2011

My research for 2011 found the following:

State funding R2 Billion
Foreign donors R15.6 Billion
Corporate and business R6 Billion
National Lottery R2 Billion
Volunteer contributions R7.5 Billion
Self-generated funds R18 Billion
Total Income to citizen sector R51.1 Billion


The register of non-profit organisations had 85 000 organisations listed.  The majority of NPOs registered with the Department of Social Development fall under the categories of “social services” and “developmental and housing organisations”.


Inflation stood at around 5% per year between 1998 and 2011.  So if we adjust Swilling & Russell’s total income for inflation over 13 years, then the 2011 value of the 1998 NPO sector would be just over R37 billion.  The data we have for 2011 suggests that the citizen sector grew in real terms to R51 billion in 2011.

This data show that the state’s contribution to the citizen sector has decreased in real terms over 13 years, making them perhaps the smallest contributor to this sector.  Foreign donor contributions to the citizen sector have increased, however, by more than three times what it was 13 years previously. 

The contributions of business and corporate social investment have increased as well and the introduction of the LOTTO has provided a significant, if small, contribution to this sector.

Volunteer contributions increased over the period and self-generated income increased four-fold in 13 years.


Kane-Berman. J. et al,   “South Africa Survey 2012”.   South African Institute of Race Relations.

South African Civil Society Information Service. Interview in March 2013 with IDASA Director, Paul Graham by A. O’Riordan.  Downloaded 16th July 2013.

Statistics South Africa.  “The status of the non-profit institutions satellite account for South Africa” Downloaded 16th July 2013.

Swilling, M & Russell, B. “The Size and Scope of the Non-profit Sector in South Africa.” Graduate School of Public and Development Management, University of the Witwatersrand, Centre for Civil Society Studies; Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies (2002).