Chapter 4. Foundations as partners

Historically foundations have partnered with civil society and non-governmental organisations. However, over the last 15 years foundations have changed the way they operate and now work with a wider spectrum of development actors. Yet, while there is a trend towards collective action and multi-stakeholder initiatives, many barriers to forming coalitions remain.

This chapter examines the drivers and hurdles for collaboration. It finds interactions between foundations and other actors working for development differ significantly depending on the type of stakeholder and highlights how and how much foundations collaborate with other foundations, with the donor community, with governments in developing countries and with civil society organisations.


Historically, foundations have worked primarily with civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). However, over the past 15 years, several factors have drawn foundations to co-ordinate and partner with a larger spectrum of actors.

First, many foundations are considered influential figures on the international development scene. To live up to their reputation, ambition and mission, they recognise the need to scale up their relatively modest financial contribution by capitalising on other resources. To that end, they have begun cultivating networks with other foundations, governments and the ODA donor community to enhance their footprint and impact. Such partnerships have helped foundations influence policy and develop innovative, cross-sector solutions to address social and environmental problems.

Second, venture philanthropy has achieved more widespread appeal. The increasing number of foundations following this approach has further drawn foundations to focus on impact and to explore how to achieve systemic change.

Similar trends have been more widely observed among other development actors, such as national governments, the donor community, civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector. The development community at large has recognised the complexity of global challenges. It has progressively embraced the idea that impact at scale requires a better understanding of the political economy, of collaboration with a variety of stakeholders and a multidimensional understanding of issues at stake. Uncoordinated, “pick and choose” or ad hoc interventions among disparate stakeholders simply cannot succeed in achieving results expected from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Indeed, Agenda 2030 recognises that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will hinge on multi-stakeholder involvement. Success requires mobilising resources from a range of groups across the public, philanthropic and private sectors, as well as civil society (SDG 17). Building on this momentum, and in the run up to the adoption of the SDGs, there has been a surge of collective action. The period of 2000-15 alone saw more than a fourfold increase in multi-stakeholder partnerships (GDI, 2015[47]).

Despite the rise in collaboration, barriers remain. The very factors that make partnerships seem so auspicious – the benefits of combining different outlooks, competences and expertise – may well be the same factors that render them difficult to create.

Figure 4.1 shows that foundations’ interest in working with other stakeholders differs considerably by their type. For example, foundations are more inclined to work closely with each other than with the private sector. The sections below discuss the drivers and barriers for collaboration between foundations and other actors working for development.

Figure 4.1. Engagement of foundations with other actors

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


4.1. Partnering with other foundations

According to the OECD qualitative survey (OECD, 2018[26]) (Figure 4.1), collaborations between foundations are the most common form of engagement with other actors. More than three quarters of foundations say they always or often consider engaging with other foundations when designing and implementing their programmes. Foundations may collaborate in several ways: they can network to exchange experiences and good practice, engage in joint advocacy or co-fund programmes and projects.

4.1.1. Networking between foundations is on the rise, but slower in developing countries

The increase in the number of networks and associations of foundations reflects the general trend towards increased collaboration. In the “network society” (Castells, 1996[48]), complex problems require multiple perspectives and actors joining forces to solve them. Indeed, networks provide an opportunity for foundations to learn about one another’s activities, experience and priorities. This, in turn, builds a solid base upon which joint programmes and partnerships can be forged.

While networks of foundations are on the rise, there are fewer in developing countries1 and regions than in North America. The Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) – a global network of networks and organisations serving philanthropy – mapped the date of establishment of their members. During the 1980s and 1990s, 141 philanthropy networks in North America and Europe were launched, but the growth of such networks has since stagnated. Since the early 2000s, WINGS has increasingly seen networks emerge in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. Yet the 49 networks in these countries still lag substantially behind those in Europe and North America. For example, there are only four WINGS-affiliated philanthropy networks in the Middle East (WINGS, 2014[7]).

Most networks are geographic in scope (established at national or regional level) and often focus on networking, sharing good practice and advocacy activities (e.g. pushing back against policies that limit the scope and independence of philanthropy and civil society). Fewer networks have a thematic focus, such as education, governance and health. Although thematic networks are smaller, they are more conducive to building more tangible partnerships and sharing funding and good practices (Box 4.1).

4.1.2. Foundations partner in a variety of ways

Other forms of foundations’ co-operation include funding one another, joint advocacy or co-funding of projects and programmes.

According to the OECD qualitative survey, half of the foundations sometimes fund other foundations. This happens for several reasons. First, some foundations may not have a presence in certain countries. Therefore, they rely on other foundations with field offices to identify recipients, register with local or national authorities, or monitor and evaluate joint grantees. Further, some foundations may have established legitimacy and expertise in specific regions. On the other hand, many foundations, despite having endowment and resources of their own, are also actively looking for additional funding from other foundations. This is the case of several foundations from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The public sector often covers their administrative costs, but they need to fundraise to implement their programmes and financially support their partners in-country.

Co-funding of joint projects and programmes is another form of collaboration among foundations. Although examples of fruitful coalitions and pooled funding exist (Box 4.1), examples of large-scale partnerships and repeated co-funding between foundations are still rare.

Box 4.1. Examples of philanthropic coalitions
  • ClimateWorks Foundation is a group of foundations committed to addressing the challenge of global climate change through strategic collective grantmaking. Five foundations have provided core funding (the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, KR Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Oak Foundation, and The David and Lucile Packard Foundation). Other foundations such as Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), the Ford Foundation, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation co-finance specific projects.

  • The Freedom Fund receives support from five anchor foundations; CIFF, Humanity United, Legatum, Minderoo Foundation and the Stardust Fund. Other major investors include the C&A Foundation and the UBS Optimus Foundation, and the United Kingdom Home Office. The coalition seeks to mobilise the capital needed to drive systemic change and strengthen anti-slavery infrastructure globally. The group identifies and supports more than 100 partner organisations working to end slavery across the world.

  • The Global Dialogue for Human Rights and Social Change, which has five programmes supporting human rights around the world, specialises in collaboration between funders across Europe. Its biggest programme is Ariadne (European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights), a network of more than 600 funders and philanthropists. Ariadne is a practical mechanism for funders to cut costs and increase the benefits of working together.

  • The With and For Girls Collective is a group of organisations – Comic Relief, FRIDA - The Young Feminist Fund, EMpower, Global Fund for Children, MamaCash, Nike Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Plan International UK and Stars Foundation with combined annual grantmaking of over USD200 million that share the belief that girls’ voices matter; girls are best placed to lead and inform on issues that affect them. The Collective has developed a global awards initiative: the With and For Girls Awards, which identifies strong grassroots girl-led and girl-centred groups around the world and provides them with flexible funding, profile raising opportunities, capacity building support and training to ensure that they have the resources and platform they need to drive change. It also works with funders to leverage additional resources for girl-led and girl-centred groups, and to shift funding practices so that these organisations can receive more of the support they need to take action and to thrive.

Sources:; Websites accessed on 10 January 2018.

4.1.3. Overcoming barriers to the formation of further partnerships

There is scope for further and deeper collaboration that goes beyond sharing information and good practice to developing a common strategy, sharing decision making and pooling resources. These more intricate forms of partnerships permit foundations to achieve greater impact, and also allow less experienced or smaller foundations to benefit from the expertise of more established players (Seldon, Tierney and Fernando, 2013[49]).

However, three main factors inhibit these deeper forms of collaboration between foundations:

  • Lack of information - According to the OECD survey, more than two thirds of foundations share data with other foundations. However, they may not be sharing the information that could lead to partnerships. Foundations are cautiously transparent about their strategy, performance and grants, which could mean that potential partners are hard to identify. Few organisations share data about their strategy (37%), performance (26%) and evaluations (33%). More share data about their endowment (49%) and their grantmaking (56%), but this still leaves a sizeable share that prefers to keep this information private.

  • Independence - One of foundations’ most prominent claims and most closely guarded assets is their independence from other actors, particularly government (Missika, 2016[50]). The habit of independence may become engrained, which could render it costly to sacrifice. They are accountable only to their trustees and founders, whether it be an individual, a family or a firm. Foundations may be reluctant to give up this independence, especially when the implications for beneficiaries on the ground have not yet been assessed. Even when the case for collaboration is strong, some funders may be reluctant to dilute the credit they can earn for successfully tackling social and environmental programmes (Seldon, Tierney and Fernando, 2013[49]).

  • Scale and scope - As Chapter 2 highlights, many foundations have limited means compared to bilateral and multilateral donor agencies. As one way to manage this constraint, trustees and staff focus on a few areas and geographies of interest to achieve a quantifiable impact on a targeted area. This limited scope, however, could make it difficult for foundations to find partners with the same or similar focus. Further, a study suggests that differences in foundation size will have a deleterious effect on funding partnerships. (Sandford and Scharf, 2015[51]) point out that large donors tend to exert a greater influence on grantees. This means that partnerships will tend to emerge between foundations of comparable financial clout. A theoretical argument shows that partnerships that could be socially beneficial between large and small donors will not be formed, leading to fragmentation and inefficiency within the philanthropic sector.

4.2. Partnering with the donor community

4.2.1. Development policy dialogue: Gaining ground following a sluggish start

When the OECD commissioned an earlier study on the role of foundations in development (OECD, 2003[1]), interactions between foundations and the donor community were rare, particularly at the policy level. Several major declarations on global development policy and financing were endorsed between 2000 and 2010, including the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the 2002 Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development, the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action. None mentioned philanthropy as a development actor or as a source of finance.

A few large foundations, notably the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), had participated in some of the above policy discussions. The UN Secretary-General appointed Bill Gates to his MDG Advocacy Group, for example, to support Gates in building political will and rallying additional support to achieve the MDGs. However, this was the exception rather than the rule (Martens and Seitz, 2015[52]).

From 2010 onwards, partners in the global development agenda began formally recognising the potential of foundations. As a result, the donor community has progressively opened the development policy space to foundations. In addition, due to the scarcity of available funding, it has recognised the importance of financial contributions from foundations.

In 2011, the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness recognised CSOs and private actors, including foundations, for the first time as one of the partners of the donor community working towards a common development agenda (OECD, 2011[53]). In 2015, the Addis Ababa Forum on Financing for Development explicitly welcomed the role of foundations and their financial and non-financial contributions towards development goals (United Nations General Assembly, 2015[54]). In a speech to the Global Philanthropy Forum Conference 2015, delivered by Amina J. Mohammed, UN Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon praised foundations’ role as drivers of social, economic and political transformation (Martens and Seitz, 2015[52]).

Following this growing recognition, several global dialogue platforms have evolved from inter-governmental into multi-stakeholder initiatives. These platforms include the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) or the International Health Partnership for Universal Health Coverage 2030 (UNHC2030). They have all made space on their governing boards for the private sector, civil society and foundations (Box 4.2).

Box 4.2. Foundations’ participation in global dialogue platforms
  • Global Partnership for Education: The GPE is a coalition of actors working together to achieve SDG4 (Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning). More specifically, it seeks to strengthen education systems in developing countries. It also finances projects and encourages new funders to join the coalition. Its latest strategy is based on setting standards for education planning and policy making with local buy-in and mobilising development financing from public and private donors around the world. The GPE created a seat on its board for foundations and the private sector in 2012. The Porticus Foundation represents foundations on the board, while consulting around 30 other foundations. In December 2017, the GPE had adopted a formal Private Foundations Engagement Strategy 2018-2020 (Global Partnership for Education, 2018[55]).

  • Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation: The GPEDC is a multi-stakeholder platform that provides practical guidance and shares knowledge to boost development impact. It officially recognised foundations as partners at its 2014 ministerial meeting (First High-Level Meeting) in Mexico. Its final communiqué recognises the power of philanthropy to surpass its financial contribution through contributions of knowledge and expertise. Thus far, foundations have been represented on its board by (consecutively) the Stars Foundation, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Aga Khan Foundation. OECD netFWD, hosted by the OECD Development Centre, has been providing ongoing secretariat support to the foundations’ representative on the Steering Committee of the GPEDC.

  • International Health Partnership for Universal Health Coverage: UHC2030, named IHP+ at its creation in 2007, is an international partnership to improve effective development co-operation in health to help meet the MDGs. Initially, the partnership included developing countries, bilateral donors and international development agencies, while CSOs were not formally involved. In 2016, IHP+ transformed into UHC2030 to respond to the health-related SDGs. To that end, it expanded its scope to include health systems strengthening to achieve universal health coverage (UHC). In addition, it expanded its steering committee, creating a separate seat for foundations. Three foundations are cited as UHC partners: the BMGF, Rockefeller Foundation and United Nations Foundation.

Source: GPEDC website accessed 10 January 2018; GPE (2018); UHC 2030 website accessed 10 January 2018.

Other inter-governmental organisations made space for foundations to make their voices heard at the policy level and strengthen dialogue and co-operation with policy makers. In 2012, the OECD Development Centre launched the Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD). In 2014, the UN Development Programme launched the SDG Philanthropy Platform (Box 4.3).

Box 4.3. Global platforms for co-operation between foundations and policy makers
  • Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD) was launched in 2012 by the OECD Development Centre. It recognises the increasing role of foundations in the development arena, the innovative practices emerging from the philanthropic sector and the demand for an effective platform for co-operation between foundations and policy makers. netFWD brokers dialogue with governments and traditional development actors to enhance mutual understanding and spark collaboration. As part of the OECD Development Centre, netFWD can facilitate links with the Centre’s 52 members. Beyond governments, netFWD has access to bilateral and multilateral donors through the OECD DAC and connections with the UN system.

  • SDG Philanthropy Platform facilitates dialogue between philanthropic organisations, the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses, and other stakeholders, mainly at the local level. SDGPP is led by UNDP and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and supported by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, Brach Family Charitable Foundation and UN Foundation.

Source: and Websites accessed on 10 January 2018.

4.2.2. Despite progress, the development policy space remains open and attractive to a small group of foundations

Foundations actively taking part in global development dialogue tend to be drawn from a rather small group of wealthy North American foundations. These include, among others, the BMGF, the Warren Buffet Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Mott Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation. With a few notable exceptions (e.g. the Aga Khan Foundation, Porticus Foundation), those foundations tend to be based in North America.

This group is rather homogeneous compared to the sector worldwide. The American philanthropic tradition of supporting social causes, along with the geographic/cultural proximity of many to the United Nations, allows these foundations to embrace and participate in the global development policy dialogue more easily. Their considerable financial resources, personal networks and active advocacy enable them to have a credible voice when engaging with governments, and bilateral and multilateral donors.

Another group of foundations, while mindful of the 2030 Agenda and the importance of connecting with the donor community, keeps its distance from international conferences and United Nations discussions. It remains unclear on the value of engaging at the global policy level, or the means to do so. As a result, it prefers to focus on more tangible co-operation opportunities, such as partnerships on the ground.

Finally, numerous foundations do not see the value of engaging with the donor community on development policy. Indeed, according to the OECD qualitative survey, 25% of foundations say that a seat at the policy table is not even a consideration for them when thinking about partnering with official development agencies.

There are many reasons why foundations are inclined to take a backseat in policy processes and do not enter into collaboration with the donor community. Some wish to avoid red tape or lack capacity to engage. Others want to maintain an active, value-driven mission independent of governments. Still others believe that development policy forums have not sufficiently proven their value to the foundation community (Missika, 2016[50]). Failure to establish clear pathways for engagement might perpetuate the “go it alone” model of engagement of philanthropy (Van Fleet, 2012[56]).

By remaining open and attractive to a small group of large foundations, the development policy space creates risk – intended or unintended – of undue influence of large foundations. In other words, a few rich philanthropists or vested interests could determine policy and funding priorities. This concern is particularly relevant to areas of global health, food and agriculture. It also concerns highly visible and wealthy philanthropists like Bill Gates or George Soros and other prominent foundations, such as the Rockefeller Foundation (West, 2008[57]) (Martens and Seitz, 2015[52]). Consequently, the donor community needs to provide more clarity, rules and tools to ensure that foundations’ engagement in policy dialogue is more diverse, transparent and accountable.

4.2.3. Partnerships: A greater appetite for collaboration on the ground

Only a few foundations systematically participate in global policy-making processes. However, both foundations and the donor community show a greater appetite for concrete partnering opportunities on the ground, often involving joint financing or advocacy.

Following the first OECD study on global philanthropy (OECD, 2003[1]), bilateral donors in the United Kingdom, France and Germany2, as well as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, commissioned further exploratory studies. These sought to better understand the challenges and opportunities of foundations’ engagement in the developing world, and to identify potential partners. In 2012, a United Kingdom parliamentary report urged the Department for International Development (DFID) to foster closer ties with private foundations to maximise the impact of philanthropy in the developing world (House of Commons International Development Committee, 2012[58]).

As a result, several bilateral and multilateral donors have strengthened their collaboration with private foundations, mainly to implement projects and programmes. For example, between 2005 and 2013, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) worked with about 60 foundations, 47 of them from Germany (BMZ, n.d.[59]). The French Development Agency (Agence Française de Développement, AFD) and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs have developed bilateral agreements with the BMGF and the Aga Khan Foundation. DFID has worked with some large foundations. It has a strong and structured relationship with the BMGF on a wide range of projects and programmes in the health, agriculture, financial services and sanitation sectors. In addition, it works with smaller foundations on a practical level.

The World Bank Group partners with more than 100 foundations on initiatives ranging from tuberculosis treatment to preserving the Amazon. Foundations contributed USD 1 billion – about 2% of the total budget – to World Bank-managed trust funds between 2008 and 2013 (World Bank, 2013[60]).

According to the recent OECD qualitative survey, 45% of foundations claim that they systematically consider engaging with official development agencies when designing or implementing a programme (Figure 4.1). Further, 32% of foundations fund intergovernmental organisations. Indeed, multilateral organisations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the World Bank, are among the largest delivery channels (Chapter 2). Foundations perceive several benefits of working with the donor community. For 70% of foundations, increased long-term stability is considered very important. In addition, foundations appreciate the capacity for collaborations to bring initiatives to scale, the potential for risk-sharing and increased funding.

Figure 4.2. Main drivers for foundations to engage with official development agencies

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


As a result, partnerships between foundations and the donor community around specific issues are becoming increasingly widespread (Box 4.4). In most cases, foundations contribute resources to donors’ programmes or co-develop and co-fund joint projects to leverage their own investments.

Box 4.4. Examples of multi-stakeholder partnerships involving foundations and the donor community
  • Better Than Cash Alliance is a coalition of bilateral and multilateral donors, private companies and foundations (e.g. Ford Foundation, BMGF, Omidyar Network) united around the promotion of electronic payments in developing countries.

  • The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor is a partnership of more than 30 organisations, including governments, multilateral organisations and foundations (BMGF, Citi Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, MetLife Foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Omidyar Network) that seek to advance financial inclusion.

  • Global Alliance for Clean Cookstove is a coalition of over 1 700 partners, including foundations, governments, multilateral organisations, private companies, NGOs and academics. Thirty-nine foundations participate in the roll-out of the partnerships interventions. Other foundations contribute financially, including the Shell Foundation, Accenture Development Partnerships and the Caterpillar Foundation. The Alliance seeks to create a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. In particular, it aims for 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020.

  • The Power of Nutrition is supported by two foundations: CIFF and UBS Optimus Foundations. Other partners include UNICEF and the World Bank – its first two implementing partners – and UK Aid. Its model focuses on turning investment into impact, ensuring each invested dollar is multiplied by four before being directed to the approved programme. Implementing partners deliver programmes.

In rare cases, foundations can also act as implementing partners (especially operating foundations). They may also encourage bilateral and multilateral donors to assume responsibility for projects supported by foundations over the long term. In the Middle East, for example, the AFD channels funding through the Aga Khan Foundation, which has the field presence in the region that the AFD lacks. In 2011, DFID made a grant to the Shell Foundation enabling it to extend its support for M-KOPA-Solar, a small start-up company based in Nairobi, Kenya. The company helps low-income consumers in off-grid communities access what would normally be prohibitively expensive energy products such as solar home systems.

In that case, DFID wanted to support enterprises in its target countries directly, but wanted to work through intermediaries to do due diligence and relationship-building. Shell Foundation was identified as a partner who could identify innovators; build strong, trusting relationships with partners; and provide business expertise to support them to scale. These two examples show foundations can complement the work of donors, providing expertise and field experience that official donors can amplify with additional funding.

4.2.4. Attracted by financial resources, the donor community still lacks deeper knowledge and a more strategic approach to partnerships with foundations

While partnering is on the rise, the bilateral and multilateral donor community seems predominantly attracted to foundations for two reasons. First, foundations bring increased financial resources to the table. Second, they leverage donors’ development co-operation policies and programmes. Beyond that, the donor community still lacks deeper awareness of foundations' distinctive characteristics and a more strategic approach to collaboration.

Several international bodies (particularly, the United Nations) and bilateral donors lump foundations with the private sector or civil society. They have a single point person or approach for all these actors. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations do not consider foundations to be CSOs. They are thus missing out on the potential role of foundations as funders, policy experts, partners and evaluators of CSOs that they support.

Several multilateral development banks and international organisations have a unique point of contact for foundations within the resource mobilisation departments. Such a policy reveals a primary identification of foundations as financers. This is the case for the Islamic Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The largest foundations may have high-profile partnerships, but such engagement is far from the norm for smaller foundations. Most donors tend to concentrate on relationships with the largest funders as they believe transaction costs for collaborating with foundations outweigh the benefits to countries (House of Commons International Development Committee, 2012[58]).

Some foundations showing increased interest in becoming active partners at all levels. They want to bring their expertise, networks and financing to the table, in addition to financial resources. However, poor understanding of foundations’ incentives and high transaction costs for setting up partnerships remain important barriers. Indeed, when asked about the disadvantages of working with the donor community, foundations cite reduced flexibility (53%) and increased bureaucracy (61%).

Figure 4.3. Foundations’ perception on main downsides of collaborating with developing agencies

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


The OECD qualitative survey shows that foundations aspire to improve relations with the donor community: 48% seek a better understanding of mutual goals and incentives; 48% support platforms of dialogue and collaboration; and 47% want to see greater transparency.

Figure 4.4. Foundations’ perception on how to improve collaboration with other development actors

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


For the donor community, partnering with foundations requires sufficient staffing, financial resources and operation procedures. In this way, it can develop and maintain relations, while ensuring robust, yet more flexible, modes of partnership. To date, few bilateral and multilateral donors have established designated positions for relations and partnerships with foundations. In Germany, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has created two full-time positions in charge of German and international foundations. In the case of multilateral donors, the World Bank has a small team dedicated to engaging with foundations at all levels. Similarly, few donors seek to engage in more systematic and structured arrangements that go beyond ad hoc joint projects (Box 4.5).

Box 4.5. Co-operation of Germany (BMZ) with private foundations and philanthropists

The 2030 Agenda and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda call for renewed partnerships and stronger co-operation among all actors in the pursuit of sustainable development. Against this background, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has stepped up efforts to engage more strongly and more strategically with German and international private foundations and philanthropists. BMZ’s aim in this context is twofold: to encourage more foundations to support the sustainable development goals as spelled out in the 2030 Agenda; and to implement new partnerships between foundations and the German government in development co-operation.

To this end, BMZ:

  • operates, together with “Engagement Global” (an implantation agency of BMZ supporting civil society activities in the context of development co-operation), a service point for foundations and philanthropists interested in the 2030 Agenda;

  • funds four experts to help major German associations of foundations and leading advisory organisations increase their activities related to the 2030 Agenda;

  • offers “foundation matching” to help foundations find experienced non-governmental partners to finance their activities or to carry out activities jointly;

  • works with KfW Development Bank to enhance impact investment options that meet the needs of foundations; e.g. funds which finance micro finance institutions or start-ups in Africa and guarantee a certain rate of return;

  • intensifies its partnerships with international foundations, e.g. by signing a new Memorandum of Understanding with the BMGF.

These efforts will contribute to Germany’s efforts towards the SDGs. They are underpinned by the belief that partners need to combine their expertise, networks and resources, and harness the resulting synergies.

Contributed by Joachim Schmitt, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)

4.3. Partnering with governments in developing countries

4.3.1. An enabling environment for philanthropy: An aspiration not universally shared

Developing countries set the tone for philanthropy on their soil. On the one hand, governments can encourage philanthropy through conducive regulation of civil society and favourable tax policies. On the other, they can inhibit the sector directly through repressive crackdowns on NGOs and limitations on international giving. Policies such as anti-money laundering regulations can also indirectly discourage philanthropy. While over three quarters of countries now offer tax incentives for giving, more than 30 countries have imposed or extended limitations on cross-border philanthropy since 2012 (WINGS, 2017[61]).

Governments around the world overwhelmingly encourage private giving. They recognise that philanthropy can provide targeted resources in ways that respond to community needs. Such giving is also agile in the face of changing conditions, can be used innovatively and is trusted by the public (WINGS, 2014[7]). According to the 2014 Rules to Give by Index, 66% of countries offer tax incentives to individuals and 77% offer incentives to companies. There is considerable variation around the world, with lower income and African countries tending to offer fewer incentives for giving to not-for-profits. For example, only 44% of low-income countries and 46% of African countries offer individual tax incentives for giving (Quick, Kruse and Pickering, 2014[62]).

Countries that offer individual or corporate incentives for giving have a higher incidence of charitable giving than those that do not. However, this does not mean that tax incentives encourage giving in all countries and contexts. Studies show the effect of tax incentives differs across countries. Many studies in the United States, for example, show that tax incentives that decrease tax revenue by one dollar result in at least one dollar of donations to non-profits. However, a study in France (Fack and Landais, 2010[63]) shows that donations respond less strongly to incentives. Even in the United States, tax incentives may not lead to more effective use of funds. Much depends on whether non-profits produce the same quality of public goods that the government could achieve through direct funding and policy. Finally, the benefits of tax breaks on the use and impact of philanthropic funding would have to be systematically evaluated and compared with similar interventions performed by, say, a development agency in similar contexts.

Government policy can also increase – or diminish – trust in the not-for-profit sector. Requiring non-profits (which are exempt from tax in 95% of countries worldwide) to report to government on their use of funds is one way to build confidence. They could do this by filing financial records or providing a detailed account of activities. This approach would not reveal the impact achieved with these funds. Still, the increased traceability and transparency could increase the confidence of taxpayers and governments that non-profits are committed to using their resources to achieve a social or environmental mission. Worldwide, 80% of countries impose reporting requirements on not-for-profit organisations. Yet this measure alone is not sufficient to measure countries' openness towards philanthropy.

Since 2012, 30 countries have introduced or extended restrictions on cross-border philanthropy (Rutzen, 2015[64]). Causes vary, but may include rising nationalism, a questioning of Western power and a clash between a country’s economic interest and the agendas of NGOs funded by foundations. As noted earlier, anti-terrorist and anti-money laundering legislation, albeit introduced for the best of intentions, can also make it harder to give to organisations in developing countries (Carothers, 2015[65]). In Kenya, an Act of Parliament attempted to limit international donations to 15% of an NGO’s funding – a move that could have jeopardised many large foundations' activities on the ground. This law was eventually not adopted, but it did disrupt emerging collaboration between the government and international foundations (Pickering, 2015[66]).

Countries may also have a seemingly ambivalent approach to philanthropy. On the one hand, they want to restrict foreign influence and advocacy. On the other, they want to create favourable tax incentives. This ambivalence may well reflect underlying attitudes to philanthropy's tendency to support civil society’s role as watchdog of government policy. Governments may welcome the resources that private donors steward, while fearing loss of control over the country's national moral and political narrative. As a result, countries are tempted to encourage philanthropy that supports its own agenda and inhibit philanthropy that challenges it (Pickering, 2015[66]).

4.3.2. Foundations and governments perceive value in forging closer co-operation

Since foundations are considered to be financially independent and privately governed, it is often assumed they may not recognise the benefit of close co-operation with others. Such co-operation could take the form of aligning their funding to support national development strategies or co-ordinating other development actors at the country level (Marten and Witte, 2008[67]) (Edwards, 2008[68]).

Independence from politics and governments has both positive and negative implications. It may allow foundations to focus on issues neglected by the government and advance innovative or potentially unpopular ideas. However, detachment from governments and national co-ordination could also create parallel structures, as well as duplicate and interfere with other strategies, programmes and projects. As such, foundations may be perceived as a potential challenge to the international development effectiveness agenda.

Information obtained through the OECD survey does not provide strong support for the claim that foundations avoid alignment and co-ordination with governments. In fact, 67% of foundations interviewed say they systematically consider engaging with governments when designing or implementing their programmes and projects (Figure 4.1). In addition, 59% of foundations surveyed claim to align their projects to the SDGs (Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5. Foundations’ alignment with the SDGs

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


The latter figure must be interpreted with caution. Foundations may share overall goals with the donor community and national governments, or even use national development strategies as a point of orientation for their work. However, they may engage in little or no dialogue or formal co-ordination for managing development co-operation in-country within national systems. The broad nature of the SDGs and national development strategies also makes it easy to claim alignment, even if a foundation does not consider its activity to be closely aligned with governmental policy.

The OECD netFWD has led3 on the development of guidelines for engagement between governments and philanthropies: Guidelines for Effective Philanthropic Engagement (OECD netFWD et al., 2014[16]). The Guidelines, which are voluntary and non-binding, comprise three pillars: dialogue, data and information sharing, and partnerships (Box 4.6). They seek to promote mutual recognition and to help governments and foundations connect at the country level. In this way, the Guidelines can enable collaboration for development, poverty reduction and the creation of effective public policies.

Since 2014, netFWD has been using the Guidelines in several pilot countries, including India, Mexico, Myanmar and Kenya. Using data collected on the relationship between foundations and governments, netFWD is testing whether a better application of these principles could lead to more effective collaboration. In addition, these pilots have led stakeholders in the four countries to identify concrete steps – in the form of action plans – for more effective future collaboration.

Box 4.6. Guidelines for Effective Philanthropic Engagement


  • Engage in multi-level dialogue and co-ordination among foundations, governments and other development stakeholders.

  • Promote inclusive dialogue and co-ordination between foundations and governments.

  • Engage in dialogue for policy-setting processes and designing development frameworks.

  • Set up permanent forums for community dialogues.

  • Build public-private partnerships.

Data and information sharing

  • Gather timely and accurate data to support better decision making.

  • Share knowledge and experience across sectors to help development actors engage more effectively.

  • Amplify effectiveness by working together more closely with other foundations and governments.


  • Collaborate among foundations at different levels, through different approaches.

  • Set up partnerships to increase impact and support innovation.

  • Empower local partners and contribute to a more conducive enabling environment for philanthropy in which local partners can thrive and operate more effectively.

  • Initiate and consolidate partnerships across sectors that enhance synergies and leverage the distinct comparative advantages of foundations, government and other development actors towards advancing a shared vision for a more inclusive and sustainable world.

According to the OECD survey, foundations primarily engage to enhance scale and long-term stability by working together (see Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6. Main drivers for foundations to engage with governments

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


Many governments in developing countries engage with foundations as a way to access philanthropic funds that can compensate for diminishing ODA. In the case of recent graduates to the middle-income category, foundation funding can help make up for a progressive withdrawal of ODA (see Section 1.5). Beyond the economic pressures that have helped push philanthropy and government together, many governments recognise foundations’ capacity for innovation and risk taking. They also appreciate foundations’ implementation capacity, particularly their technical expertise and proximity to communities (OECD, 2017[8]).

Foundations’ engagement with governments in developing countries can take place at various levels. These can range from participating in dialogue about the national development agenda to engaging in concrete partnerships to implement joint programmes or projects.

4.3.3. Policy dialogue between foundations and governments in developing countries is nascent and ad hoc

Many foundations and policy makers perceive value in forging closer bonds. However, there is little evidence of institutionalised and systematic participation of foundations in national co-ordination structures (often called Development Partners Group, DPG). A public list of formal multi-stakeholder engagement platforms recently created in developing countries4 includes a fuller range of development actors in policy dialogue (GPEDC, 2017[69]). However, no conclusions can be drawn about the type of foundations involved and the extent of their involvement.

Even below the level of formal co-ordination, governments and foundations could improve the consistency of their respective programmes and policies through dedicated dialogue platforms. However, evidence suggests that consultation between government and foundations is largely ad hoc, often without any established platform for systematic engagement. This means that dialogue is fragile, particularly to changes of government that give rise to shifts in priorities. Sweeping changes of personnel can erase the benefits of personal relationships built up over several years.

Apart from Rwanda, governments in Africa have limited strategies or platforms to engage with philanthropy (Moyo, 2017[70]). South Africa has ad hoc engagements with philanthropy, particularly through the departments of health, education, science and technology, and treasury. Liberia introduced a philanthropy secretariat in 2008, but its impact has been minimal; its primary goal was to be a one-stop shop to collect philanthropic giving (Moyo, 2017[70]).

However, promising platforms for dialogue exist in some countries. For example, the Kenya Philanthropy Forum was set up in 2014 (OECD netFWD, 2017[23]). A four-country OECD study indicates that 91% of foundations in Kenya had participated in dialogue with government in the previous year (OECD netFWD, 2017[23]).

4.3.4. Engagement with governments appears to be more prominent at the level of implementation

A second level of co-operation between foundations and governments related to implementation seems to be more prominent.

Co-implementation of projects and programmes was the most common form of collaboration identified across the four surveyed countries – India, Kenya, Myanmar and Mexico. The nature of collaborations mainly involves co-financing for initiatives in education and health (which tend to be more consensual topics). Fewer partnerships involve co-design or programmes, or collaborative evaluation of those that are supported (OECD netFWD, 2016[71]).

Box 4.7. Examples of partnerships between foundations and governments in developing countries
  • Ananya partnership (India): the BMGF is working with three government departments in the state of Bihar, India, to accelerate progress towards health care goals, particularly health care and nutrition for pregnant women and young children in the state.

  • OneFamilyHealth Partnership (Rwanda) is a public-private partnership between the Government of Rwanda, Ecobank Foundation, Pharmaccess Foundation, the Pfizer Foundation and several private companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline. The partnership aims to improve access to basic health care and prevention services in isolated rural communities in Rwanda. Through OneFamilyHealth, a sustainable franchised network of clinics is being set up to decrease the burden on government funds and resources. The clinics are owned and operated by community-based nurse franchisees, the majority of whom are female. These nurses conduct regular outreach activities in communities to promote healthy behaviour. For example, they visit schools to encourage hand washing and good hygiene.

  • Writing the Future (Brazil) is a partnership between Fundação Itaú Social and the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC), and several other NGOs. The partnership aims to improve the reading and writing skills of Brazilian students by providing training to public school teachers.

Domestic foundations work a lot with governments at the sub-national level – particularly community foundations, which are defined by their limited geographical scope. Some governments seem to privilege working with these actors. In Kenya, community foundations make up 50% of the foundations that collaborate with the government, while in Mexico the corresponding figure is 36%. The operational expertise of these foundations in a community can make them valuable partners for a national government. In contrast, in India, small foundations, including those with limited geographical scope, tend to have a harder time getting government buy-in. The latter tend to focus their partnering on international and corporate foundations (OECD netFWD, 2016[71]).

4.3.5. Barriers: Lack of understanding and weak structures inhibit closer collaboration with national governments

While the degree of engagement and joint work between foundations and government varies across countries, those interactions are generally at an early stage. Lack of understanding and weak structures are two key barriers to closer collaboration with national governments.

Lack of mutual knowledge and understanding between foundations and governments creates confusion and mistrust. Governments in developing countries are often unaware of foundations' potential added value and how they operate. Some cannot distinguish foundations from the broader CSO community. There are several explanations for this. First, many countries lack regulations for foundations. For example, no country in Africa has a specific philanthropy law. Regulations governing philanthropy usually apply to CSOs, particularly NGOs or to corporate social investment (Moyo, 2017[70]). Second, even when some legislation exists, it varies considerably from one country to another. Moreover, many laws do not restrict organisations from calling themselves “foundations’’. This further hampers identification of these organisations and development of relevant regulations surrounding their activities. As a result, in some countries many NGOs call themselves foundations without meeting the definition set out in Section 1.2 (OECD netFWD, 2016[71]).

The sustainability of foundations’ relationship with governments is limited by the lack of co-ordination structures and platforms for institutional engagement. From the government’s perspective, there are several obstacles to the formal inclusion of foundations into national co-ordination structures. These include the unclear distinction between foundations and NGOs mentioned above, as well as foundations’ limited or non-existent presence on the ground; this is particularly true of international foundations (OECD netFWD, 2016[71]). Further, the integration of too many foundations, especially the numerous smaller ones, may overburden already complicated co-ordination structures (Marten and Witte, 2008[67]). From foundations’ perspectives, other factors limit their participation in formal government-donor co-ordination processes. Compared to bilateral and multilateral donors, for example, foundations are smaller with limited capacities. Smaller foundations with no country presence will understandably have difficulties committing resources for co-ordination processes in developing countries. They must thus rely on the ability of their grantees to align and co-ordinate with local governments and partners.

Rigidity of government structures’ and procedures makes it hard to collaborate. Foundations often perceive governments' structure and procedures to be rigid. Conversely, many take pride in their ability to deploy their resources flexibly and to take risks. Further, the difference in budgetary calendars is problematic. Governments often have annual budget timelines, while foundations make multi-year commitments. This can prevent partnerships involving joint funding. Increased bureaucracy (66%) and reduced flexibility (58%) are foundations' most common concerns about working with government (Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7. Main downsides when collaborating with national governments

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


4.4. Partnering with non-governmental organisations

In developing countries, many foundations can play a decisive role in the development of the civil society ecosystem. Two trends are worth noting.

First, foundations have become an important funding source for NGOs as their more traditional funding sources, such as ODA, have come under pressure after the global financial crisis (Leibl and Van Severen, 2016[72]). A global study of 640 NGOs around the world found a more difficult financial context for them between 2008 and 2010 (Hanfstaengl, 2010[9]). These challenges are particularly (though not exclusively) experienced by NGOs that prioritise human rights and social justice. Many in this sub-group lack a strong domestic resources base, and tend not to have a strong membership base either. Further, many are unsuccessful at accessing domestic funding from the state or private sector. Domestic funding may not be available or be withheld because NGOs are seen as working on controversial issues (Leibl and Van Severen, 2016[72]).

Second, foundations can contribute to strengthening the capacities of NGOs in developing countries (also called “frontline NGOs”). First, they can provide non-financial support (e.g. capacity building in grant proposals, monitoring and evaluation, access to networks, etc.), Second, they adopt a hands-on approach that falls short of venture philanthropy (Sandford, Gautier and Pache, 2017[73]).

The OECD survey results show that foundations provide substantial financial support to NGOs, including in the areas of human rights and justice. However, NGOs increasingly face competition from international organisations, social entrepreneurs, and/or large international NGOs. The nature of foundations’ funding (earmarked and short-term) offers several challenges to NGOs in developing countries.

4.4.1. Support for NGOs ranks high on foundations’ agendas but frontline NGOs face more competition when seeking foundations’ support

According to the OECD survey, over 2013-15, 90% of surveyed foundations have provided financial support to NGOs. This support accounted for half of overall philanthropic giving over the period (OECD, 2018[11]) (see Chapter 2).

Even though most foundations channel their resources through NGOs, they increasingly engage with a wider range of actors. Thus, NGOs face greater competition for funds. According to the OECD qualitative survey, 49% of foundations sometimes fund social enterprises, 37% sometimes fund governments and 32% sometimes fund multilaterals (Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.8. Types of organisations supported by foundations

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,


In addition, even when foundations do channel their funding through NGOs, data show that a substantial amount of funding goes to large international NGOs rather than local organisations. In the list of top 20 channels of delivery among NGOs majority are large international NGOs (Figure 4.9). The main beneficiary institutions of these funds were PATH International, Rotary International, ClimateWorks Foundation or Population Services International (each of which received more than USD 200 million). Outflows from these beneficiary institutions, including funding regranted to local NGOs, were outside the scope of the OECD survey.

Figure 4.9. Top 20 channels of delivery among NGOs

Source: (OECD, 2018[11]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Data questionnaire


Foundations’ quest for greater impact and scale to reach their social and environmental goals may partly explain their interest in larger NGOs. In line with venture philanthropy trends, some foundations have reduced the number of grantees. Further, they treat them as partners, and provide financial and non-financial support, while raising expectations for results (Chapter 3). This “high-engagement” approach means that NGOs face both greater opportunities and greater demands on their organisation. These dual impacts manifest throughout the selection process, in their interactions with funders, and with respect to reporting.

Larger, international NGOs find it easier to attract funding and comply with foundations’ reporting requirements than smaller or newer NGOs. With technology playing an increasing role in the screening and monitoring of grants (Chapter 3), some critics are concerned more sophisticated NGOs could manipulate reports through strategic use of key words (Sandford, Gautier and Pache, 2017[73]). In developing countries with a strong tradition of informal, religious or clan-based giving, NGOs may not be used to the accountability expectations of some foundations.

4.4.2. Most funding from foundations is earmarked and short term leaving NGOs in a constant battle to sustain their financial viability

Many NGOs struggle to cover their core (overhead) costs, such as office space and management time. In response, they scrabble around to fill holes or cut corners at the expense of their resilience, sustainability and efficacy (McCray, 2014[74]). As a result, some foundations are moving towards providing unrestricted funding to NGOs. In the OECD qualitative survey, 35% foundations claim to sometimes use this form of support. A 2014 study found that core support was making up a greater share of total grants in the United States than in 2011 (McCray, 2014[74]). Several foundations actively advocate and provide unrestricted funding. For example, the United Postcode Lotteries, the Comic Relief Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the Northern Rock Foundation, Stars Foundation and the Mulago Foundation actively support the need to treat partner organisations as financially responsible partners. They believe these partners should be awarded unrestricted financing to achieve their objectives in the best possible way (Cairns, Mills and Ridley, 2013[75]; OECD, 2018[26]). This trend is not yet mainstream. According to the OECD survey, 89% of funds channelled through NGOs were earmarked to specific projects as opposed to core funding (OECD, 2018[26]).

In addition, most funding from foundations is short-to-medium term, with longer term funding a rarity. Again, this leaves NGOs in a constant battle to sustain their financial viability, taking energy from achieving their mission. The OECD survey shows that only 11% of foundations provide funding for periods beyond six years, and 89% of foundations provide funding for periods between one to five years (Figure 4.10).

Figure 4.10. Foundations’ average engagement period

Source: (OECD, 2018[26]) Survey on Private Philanthropy for Development 2013-15: Qualitative questionnaire,



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← 1. The terms “developing countries” and “developing economies” refer to all countries and territories on the DAC List of Official Development Assistance (ODA) Recipients and consists of all low and middle income countries based on gross national income per capita as published by the World Bank, with the exception of G8 members, European Union members, and countries with a firm date for entry into the EU. The list also includes all of the least developed countries as defined by the United Nations (UN).

← 2. Respectively, these are (MacArthur, 2006[76]), The Scaling up of Private Philanthropy: Implications for Development Outcomes, Mimeo, DFID, London; (Chervalier and Zimet J, 2006[78]), American Philanthropic Foundations: Emerging Actors of Globalization and Pillars of the Trans-Atlantic Dialog, Agence Française de Développement; (Schuyt, 2017[77]), Philanthropy and Official Development Assistance: The Role of Private Foundations and the Potential for Collaboration, Agence Française de Développement; and (Witte, 2008[79]), Private Geber in der internationalen Entwicklungszusammenarbeit: Trends und Herausforderungen, Mimeo, Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin.

← 3. In collaboration with other philanthropic organisations: the European Foundation Centre (EFC), the Rockefeller Foundation, the Stars Foundation, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS).

← 4. Such platforms were created in Afghanistan, Botswana, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guinea, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Lao PDR, Liberia, Maldives, Myanmar and the United Republic of Tanzania.