Non profits that are struggling to successfully apply for funding from the National Lottery Board (NLB) should persevere in their attempts – even if it means finding a public interest lawyer to stand in their corner.

That's according to Louise Bick, public interest lawyer at Werksmans Attorneys, who refers to a recent judgment in which the Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal made by the NLB.

At the appeal the NLB tried to refuse to approve certain grant applications made by registered charities including the South African Education and Environment Project (SAEP) and the Claremont Methodist Church Social Impact Ministry (Sikhula Sonke).

The NLB has been called to task in the judgement regarding applications for funding made by the two charities. Several issues have been highlighted in the process:

  • Major under-expenditure and consistent failure to meet targets by the NLB;
  • Time delays in assessing the applications under review for 13 months, seven months and four months respectively;
  • Failure by NLB officials to make a "single telephone call" that could clarify a contentious issue and instead declining applications merely on the basis that:
    • An abbreviation of the charity's name was used in some instances instead of the same name throughout (as required by the guidelines);
    • The financial statements provided were not signed;
    • The 'auditor' be recognised as one of three professional bodies prescribed in the regulations but not prescribed clearly in the guideline;
    • NLB officials applying a "formulaic approach to the application of guidelines, treating them as 'peremptory requirements' without exception".

Bick says that although not all non profits have the resources to step into the ring and defend themselves against the heavy hitters, the required legal resources can be found in the Public Interest Departments of law firms. These organisations often qualify for pro bono assistance if they fall within the parameter of the applicable Law Society rules.

Bick expands, "Organisations in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the North West Provinces can qualify for pro bono assistance if they are working 'for the public interest' or 'to secure or to protect human rights which are mainly funded by donations' or are 'groups who cannot afford to pay for legal assistance and would otherwise be denied access to justice' ". 

It is when this fighting spirit of charities is matched with the legal resources of a large law firm that bodies such as the NLB can be brought to task.

Recently Child Welfare stepped into the ring with the NLB when its CEO commented on a trend of large charitable organisations becoming dependent on NLB funding by saying, "If you take Child Welfare nationally, they probably receive between R80-million and R100-million from us. Now they believe we should continue funding them. They have completely stopped all their other fundraising".

Bick comments "Child Welfare issued an immediate response setting the record straight by stating that it had only received R16.5 million in total from the NLB since its inception in 2001. Child Welfare also raised, "the lack of consistency in terms of amounts received in relation to amounts applied for", as well as the "sometimes extended delays in receiving grants" as issues which have a further impact on funding.

"Child Welfare should be applauded for their prompt and pertinent response.  I encourage all non-profit organisations who are struggling with funding applications on all levels to seek legal advice for the betterment of those they serve," concludes Bick.

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