November 12th, 2015 - 10:06 am § in Good Practice

Getting money to the ground, directly

This week CIVICUS’ Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah gave “Five reasons donors give for not funding local NGOs directly” on the Guardian Global Development Professionals Network. In response, I offered Five reasons funding should go directly to local NGOs.”

Luckily I see a growing number of small NGOs and foundations (though still not enough) that are specializing in direct funding to grassroots leaders, locally-led organizations, and small, often “informal” movements. I’m sharing a list of those that I know below.

These funders create broad guidelines, focus areas, and selection criteria to respond to what local leaders and stakeholders view as important. The funding mechanisms they create often consist of small grants, long-term grants, and general operating support, otherwise known flexible funding that an organization can determine for itself how to use – whether it be keeping the lights on or piloting a new project.

As the role of grassroots leadership and initiatives as key drivers of social change enters the development discourse in a more profound and imperative way, international small grantmakers’ experience and wisdom are an untapped resource that has increasing relevance for the sector as a whole. When compared with “old-school” donor-controlled, large-scale, risk-averse project-based international aid funding, small and direct grants mechanisms exhibit a profound shift in attitude and practice in working with impoverished and marginalized communities – from being passive recipients to active leaders of their own development.

Here are three questions for anyone working in any kind of global development organization:

  • Are donors and INGOs really interested in supporting local civil society to become more mature, autonomous, networked, and able to manage funds without their permanent presence?
  • What’s needed to incentivize the “risk-taking” needed on the part of donors of all sorts to get more money to the ground, quicker than ever before?
  • What are the best kinds of funding mechanisms that will increase grassroots organizations’ responsiveness and resourcefulness, rather than distract them from their constituencies with undue administrative and reporting burdens?

International Small Grantmakers in the Development Sector

(Small grants are defined as approximately <US$25,000 that are given directly to locally- and community-based NGOs.)

Click on each for a link to their website and please add other funders you know in the comments section!

Accountability Lab

African Women’s Development Fund

Abilis Foundation

American Jewish World Service


Association for the Development of Pakistan

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

Commonwealth Foundation’s civil society responsive grants

Cottonwood Foundation

Dalia Association

Disability Rights Fund

Donor Direct Action


Fondo Accion Solidaria (FASOL), Mexico

The Foundation for Civil Society, Tanzania

Foundation for a Just Society

Foundation for Sustainable Development

FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund

Front Line Defenders

Fund for Global Human Rights



Global Fund for Children

Global Fund for Community Foundations

Global Fund for Women

Global Greengrants Fund


Global Health through Education, Training and Service (GHETS)

Go Campaign

Grassroots Global Development Foundation

Grassroots International

The How Fund

IDEX – International Development Exchange

Independent Development Fund, Uganda

The International Community Foundation

JustAct Middle East

Kenya Community Development Foundation

KIOS - Finnish NGO Foundation for Human Rights

The Lambi Fund of Haiti



Mary’s Pence


New England Biolabs Foundation

New Field Foundation

The Niapele Project

The Norwegian Human Rights Fund

One World Children’s Fund

Peace Direct

Rainforest Information Centre Small Grants Fund

Rising Voices

Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation

Spark MicroGrants

Spirit in Action

Stars Foundation

Stephen Lewis Foundation

Swift Foundation


UNDP Small Grants Programme, The Global Environment Facility

Urgent Action Fund

USAID Office of Transition Initiatives

U.S. Institute of Peace

Village X

The Violet Jabara Charitable Trust

The Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund

Womankind Worldwide

World Connect

…and hopefully more to come!


Related Posts (there’s a lot of them!) 

Hot money or cold money?

When an international NGO plans its obsolescence

Small is Beautiful…Grants, That Is (Part 1)

Sorry but it’s not YOUR project

The Marginalization of CBOs by Development Actors: A Perspective from Zimbabwe

Already “of” the community

Overlooking the Capacity of Local Organizations

Briefcase NGOs: How widespread is this, really?

How to reframe the #globaldev message: Local organizations telling their own story

Is there a better way for indigenous and international NGOs to work together?

Do grassroots organizations in poor countries have an image problem?

Building a Fire: An organizational capacity self-assessment tool for grassroots organizations

“Create” nothing, a new social good mantra

Spotting community ownership: A reminder

Listening to local leaders: Just more data points?

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