Mandela Day is coming up, under the theme ‘Take Action Against Poverty’, a growing and serious problem in South Africa.


More than half of South Africans – or 55.5% – lived in poverty in 2015, up from 53.2% in 2011, according to Stats SA’s latest Poverty Trends Report.


In keeping with this year’s theme, organisations may opt to plant vegetable gardens at local NPOs. The Sage Foundation has done this many times, and we’ve learnt a few lessons along the way, one being that corporates that opt to do this need to be mindful of the long-term impact on the NPO. Often, there’s no one to tend to the garden once the volunteers leave or, because the wrong seeds were planted for that time of year, the garden never bears fruit.


Mandela day


We need a new approach to Mandela Day, one that prioritises long-term impact and sustainability rather than a once-off, big-bang approach.


Whether you plan on aligning your Mandela Day initiatives with this theme, or have something else in mind, take the time to first answer these questions to ensure your efforts deliver maximum and lasting impact.


  1. Which NPO will benefit most from your expertise?

Partner with a charity that will benefit the most from what you do best. Own a digital agency? Find an NPO whose website could do with a revamp. Run a business consultancy? Host a workshop for the NPO’s management team and teach them how to run their operations more efficiently.


The ultimate goal of all CSR initiatives should be long-term partnerships. Align your CSR strategy with your business strategy and soon you’ll have a powerful case study to share with potential customers.


  1. What does the NPO really need?

Ask, don’t assume. Get a wish-list from your partner NPO – you might be surprised that something as simple as office paper is on the list. The amount of money you would have spent on seeds and gardening tools could be enough to supply office paper for an entire year, taking some cost pressures off the NPO.


Don’t feel obligated to tick everything off the list. Focus your resources on one area you can make the biggest impact – there’s always next year (or next month) to focus on something else.


  1. What’s the plan?

As part of the overall business strategy, your CSR strategy should be thought through and properly planned for. This means working with your chosen NPO to develop a programme for the day that suits their schedule as well as yours. It means assigning roles and responsibilities to team members and communicating what is expected of them. It means measuring outcomes and figuring out how to do better next time. Approach it the same way you would any other business project, with goals and KPIs that can be measured.


  1. What will your legacy be?

Plan for this, too. While Mandela Day is a once-off initiative, your CSR strategy shouldn’t be. Partner with one NPO (or a few, if you have the resources) for the long-haul. Do something every month, year after year. If you designed the website, optimise it every month for SEO or help the NPO with content creation. As a business consultancy, follow up every month to find out what else the NPO needs help with. The goal of any CSR strategy should be long-term, sustainable and measurable impact.


And finally…


  1. How will you make it fun?

When we volunteer, we experience what scientists call Helper’s High. We get a happiness boost and we’re less likely to develop high blood pressure. When your team spends time in the community, they’re given an opportunity to develop new skills and to interact with colleagues that they don’t work directly with. They also get their own confidence boost knowing that they’re using their skills to help others – a great way to attract passionate young people to your organisation.


We all need to take a stand against poverty – all the time, not just one day a year. Mandela Day should be the start of a much bigger, long-term journey of giving back and should be seen as a catalyst to changing behaviours. Don’t wait until then to make a difference. Act whenever – and as often – as you can.

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