Please don't call us "charities." Shelagh Gastrow

Recently the CEO of a well-respected local non-profit organisation lamented that the philanthropic sector had not changed in 400 years. This simply isn’t true. However, it is entirely likely that our assumptions about non-profits are based on stereotypes that are indeed centuries old. 

Please don't call us

The use of the term “charity” has very negative connotations that we have tried to shed in South Africa. The non-profit sector needs to move beyond this old fashioned concept.

We prefer to use the term “civil society organisations” that promote the concept of citizen action or “non-profit organisations”, the term used in our legislation to describe those entities referred to as “charities” in the UK and elsewhere. 

The term charity is linked to old forms of patronage, and it is unfortunate that it persists to describe wide range of social development organisations engaged in a myriad of activities – welfare, education, the environment, research, government policy advisory services, think tanks, and so much more.

Charity implies a power relationship that expects the organisation to fit a specific needy profile while the donor is the entity that has the power and the money.  Thankfully we have largely managed to move beyond this paradigm in South Africa.