Solidarity, Ubuntu & iPads: canvassing in South Africa

Published by Rebecca Davies on

South Africa. A beautiful, complicated country that’s only recently emerged from a very difficult past. In terms of fundraising, it’s considered an emerging market.

From the story and webinar below, I hope fundraisers around the world find in canvassing inspiration and interpretation anew. Face-to-face: the political and intensely human acquisition channel.



This story is from 1991-1992. I was part of an organization that organized and built community support. All progressive organizations working in South Africa were united in the struggle to fight for equality. Solidarity was deeply entrenched in everything we did, and extended internationally as well. The pivotal role played by the Scandinavian countries, and movements in the US and Canada are well documented. We chanted, “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Through this action, many young workers were involved in organizing underground Community Defence Units against the rampaging attacks by Apartheid state-sponsored organizations. In the process, a prominent community member – his name was Philomon Mauku – from a township called Alexandra in Johannesburg, was arrested and imprisoned. Philomon’s arrest was made when he was attempting to smuggle in weapons to arm his Community Defence Unit, set up to protect the community. During the days of Apartheid, the use of torture to force political prisoners to confess is also well documented. Philomon’s bail was posted at R5000. We needed to mobilize to get him out before he was killed in state custody.

And so we went door-to-door in the township and raised R5000, the total needed for the bail, within one week. There were many organizations at the time speaking about the illegal actions of the police and their failure to protect black people living in townships. It was also a fact at the time that no black person was granted a license by the state to own a gun legally. So our appeal for financial support was based on the fact that Philomon was forced to carry out an illegal act because the state was failing to protect black people and was actually sponsoring the violence that resulted in innocent people being killed with no means to defend themselves. Based on the call for solidarity, people in the community contributed anything from one rand upwards, and with these rands and cents we reached our target.

– Sharon Ekambaram, anti-Apartheid activist (& current Head of Programmes, MSF South Africa)



Webinar Highlights (click on the timing to jump to that section in the webinar):

2:35– Ludivine gives a context overview of fundraising in South Africa, and how it relates to Face-to-Face specifically.

9:30 – Nelson explains the African concept of Ubuntu (“It’s in us as Africans to want to give”).

11:49– Nelson speaks to how fundraising was restricted during Apartheid, and how democracy has opened it up.

19:40 – What are somemisconceptions about fundraising in South Africa?

22:42– Rebecca: Racism is real. How does this play out for the canvassers – both black and white?

29:15 – Nelson, how do you motivate your team and help them handle rejection?

35:00 – The program: Carli speaks to income growth, and developing the technology to support this growth.

36:40 – Happy Birthday, app! Mthulisi shows off the team’s new iPad app.Landing Page

40:20 – Please describe the welcome process.

45:13 – What happens to incomplete forms?1

47:08 – Do you have problems convincing Africans they can and should give to NGOs working in Africa?

48:20 – What’s your average monthly donation?

50:05 – On the competition, and the importance of cooperation between organizations.

52:13– Hello mates! How is the perception of the tablets in your society?

54:41 – What is your brand recognition or awareness level?

56:45 – Your most memorable donor story, Nelson?



Thank you webinar guests (all from MSF South Africa):

  • Ludivine Houdet (Head of Fundraising)
  • Carli Snyman (National Face-to-Face Coordinator)
  • Mthulisi Ncube (Database Coordinator)
  • Nelson Mafulo (Regional (Pretoria) Face-to-Face Team Leader)

And thanks as well to the following for your technical/administrative support or fandom: Gavin van Hees, Sbu Maseko, Chipo Tazvishaya, Agnes Pietersen, Daniel Berman, Claire Hawkridge, Conan MacLean, Zethu Mlobeli, and Kevin Hill.

Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies

Rebecca Davies is incoming Chief Development Officer of Save the Children Canada. As past director of fundraising for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Canada, from 2007-2014 she lead a team that in seven years increased private revenue from $19 million to over $50 million. Prior to joining MSF, she held senior fundraising positions in some of Canada’s top hospitals and the University of Toronto. Her current volunteer passion is the Ripple Refugee Project, where she and a group of concerned Torontonians are sponsoring and settling five Syrian families over the new few years. Rebecca’s an active musician (French horn), plays hockey and golf, and very proudly is on the executive for and was the inaugural blog post contributor to 101fundraising.org.


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