“People don't give money to strangers; they give it to friends. Therefore, I regard myself as a friend- as well as a fundraiser."
This is the philosophy of Felix Spies, Manager: Fundraising and Partnerships of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Services (FMHS), who has championed the cause of departments and staff members in need of funding since October 2022.
Spies, who was born in Barberton and matriculated in Cape Town, was appointed to help realise the Dean, Prof Elmi Muller's vision of making fundraising, especially by means of philanthropic donations, a key objective of the FMHS.
The mandate of this BSc graduate of Stellenbosch University (SU), former science teacher and successful social entrepreneur includes reaching out to corporates and alumni regarding donations and bursaries and arranging special events like reunions and webinars for alumni.
“The friend-raising part of the job involves actively engaging with alumni throughout the world daily and pulling them closer to the Faculty by means of social media, emails, meetings and SU hubs (13 in South Africa and 13 overseas)," he explains.
The idea is to create awareness and generate support for the FMHS, and to foster mutually beneficial relationships with alumni. “We don't only want to ask them for money but also want to offer them value by arranging events where they can engage with us.
“An example is the reunions for six year groups that are taking place on 16 September, when SU's Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Wim de Villiers, will also be celebrating his 40-year reunion with his classmates.
“Another example is the recent webinar series that I arranged in collaboration with Stellmed (which forms part of the Division of Continued Professional Development), offering alumni the opportunity to gain CPD points."
The recent inauguration of the world-class Biomedical Research Institute was another opportunity to showcase the latest FMHS developments. Spies organised the Breaking Boundaries event during which thought leaders addressed alumni on the topic of improving lives with breakthrough science.
Potential funder streams range from undergraduates and interns to young working professionals, registrars, postgraduates, established working professionals, retired alumni, and institutions.
“We want each of these streams to donate one of the three t's: time, talent, or treasure. So, we don't always ask them for treasure," he explains.
Spies is currently enrolled in an MBA at Henley Business School under the Henley Africa Dean's Scholarship and has achieved many successes during his diverse career that have amply equipped him for his new role. In 2017 he founded Split Second Science, which specialises in creating tailor-made I-STEM education programmes and experiences. He also founded the Split Second Science Education Foundation, which provides a platform for learners and youth in rural and semi-urban areas to engage with I-STEM to develop sustainable skill sets. In 2021 Spies was appointed Head of Operations of The President's Award for Youth Empowerment, a leading youth development and empowerment programme.
Asked why the FMHS needed to create a fund-raising position, Spies said the FMHS is very dependent on grants and many departments operate in silos. “The role involves coordination between various departments to create multi-disciplinary offerings that speak to philanthropic donors.
“Furthermore, many departments don't know how to raise funds and my job is to lead the process. A perception exists that departments will lose a part of the donation if I become involved. That is not true – departments will receive 100% of the donation and I can make it happen much faster."
To prove this point, Spies mentions the more than R4 million raised for Prof Carine Smith of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology. An annual donation of R2,2 million by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is also currently being structured in collaboration with Prof Jantjie Taljaard, Head of the Division of Communicable Diseases.
Postgraduate bursaries to the value of R2,2 million have been realised. “Companies often want to donate bursaries, but departments don't have the know-how or they are too busy. I can follow up on the process continuously and ensure that bursaries don't fall through the cracks," Spies explains.
Crowdfunding is another option and Spies has recently been instrumental in reaching 140% of the target amount when Prof Karin Baatjes, FMHS Vice-Dean: Learning and Teaching, set herself the goal to run 49 km to raise R49 000 for the Ithemba Bursary Fund.
Asked why Faculty members should be encouraged to contact him with fundraising ideas and needs, Spies says by accessing a stream of philanthropic donations, the FMHS' work can be furthered, and more well-trained healthcare professionals can enter the public sector to address the massive shortage in the health system and the quadruple burden of disease that South Africa is facing.
Photo caption: Felix Spies
Photo credit: Wilma Stassen