Not all intermediaries: A call for partnership in the #ShiftThePower conversation


Eva Rehse and James Logan


Readers may remember a 1980s television advert about the ‘Man from Del Monte’. It showed a representative of a global fruit firm visiting a farm somewhere in South America – European, patrician, clad in pristine white linen suit and panama hat. Local agricultural workers are seen preparing for his visit and holding their breath as they watch him sample their produce. A simple nod of approval from him would result in celebrations from the community and shouts of “The man from Del Monte says Yes!”

Practices by international funders can sometimes bring this ad to mind: Programme officers fly in from international headquarters to audit an applicant or grantee, beneficiaries line up to affirm the value of the NGO’s work, the staff wait on tenterhooks for the verdict of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Funding power sits in the hands of a remote and unaccountable elite and the relationship with grantees is all too often one of paternalism – not partnership. The ‘product’ here is also being sold to an international market and not to the local community.

As representatives of two funders established to challenge this paradigm – Global Greengrants Fund and the Fund for Global Human Rights (the Fund) – we wholly support the ‘Shift The Power’ agenda and the attempt to move funding power ‘closer to the ground’ and towards local people and their organizations. We therefore welcome the recent GrantCraft Leadership Paper, How Community Philanthropy Shifts Power: What Donors Can Do to Make That Happen, and the practical approaches it outlines for donors to support initiatives that are conceived, led and owned by local communities. The advice within, particularly the ‘Effective Interventions Toolkit’, is an important resource for any donor serious about sustaining meaningful change.

One important problem, however, is its narrow characterization of ‘intermediaries’. The paper conflates international NGOs acting as ‘pass-throughs’ at the behest of donors with intermediary grant-makers (like ourselves) who are, in fact, closely aligned with the approaches called for by the paper. We are concerned that this undermines a partnership between the Community Philanthropy Organizations (CPOs) and intermediaries like Global Greengrants and the Fund which is vital to realizing this agenda. It also overlooks the distinct value that intermediary grantmakers bring to this effort.

The paper defines intermediaries as organizations that simply “manage smaller grants on behalf of a donor to help that donor fulfill its grantmaking objectives”. CPOs, meanwhile, “…make grants because they want to, not because that is what they’ve been asked”. For CPOs, “grantmaking is a deliberate strategy aimed at devolving power and resources to grassroots organizations so that they can do things for themselves”.

In fact, the model of intermediary grantmaking we represent operates with a deep understanding of local contexts, and sets strategies in close collaboration with local communities, including through advisory-based or participatory models of grantmaking. The entire raison d’être for this kind of intermediary grantmaking is to shift philanthropic power and resources into the hands of local actors, while also providing specialized expertise to foundations and other donors, as programme and network builders. The objectives of this model of intermediary grantmaking align closely with the models of community philanthropy outlined in the paper and are not in opposition to it.

Additionally, intermediary grantmakers add distinct value to the funding system, including to community philanthropy. Our funding is responsive, flexible, and designed to support grassroots movements and movement-building. Efforts to build local philanthropy in the Global South are important, and both of our funds have supported this endeavor. Like community foundations, intermediary and participatory grantmakers are set up out of the deep belief that philanthropy in its current form is unable to reach local communities, but especially the most marginalized in society.

However, human rights causes, especially those by and for marginalized communities, are one of the hardest issues to raise funding for, particularly at the local level. Intermediary grantmakers are able to support work which seeks systemic change that community foundations may not always be able to – for example, related to human rights, environmental justice, and corporate accountability. This is especially true where local regulations, political pressure and public hostility may prevent or make it harder for CPOs from taking on such issues.

We play a critical role in linking local movements and actors across regions and borders, to help them build power and exchange knowledge with each other. We are also able to connect local movements to larger global processes and campaigns. This is particularly important given that the space for civil society is restricting around the world. Against this context,  local actors can be particularly vulnerable, but are also key to keeping democratic  spaces open and to countering negative narratives. Another example of this is in the area of corporate accountability where both Global Greengrants and the Fund can connect communities facing threats to their environmental rights by multinational corporations – in doing so, local responses to environmental abuses can add up to global change.

We are not blind, however, to the fact that all grantmaking models, even when they are fully participatory, can perpetuate existing power structures within movements and communities, a problem which also exists for community philanthropy. Most models of philanthropy are vulnerable to the ‘Man from Del Monte’ syndrome described at the beginning – what matters is to look at the values and practices of each funder.

Simply put, the ‘Shift the Power’ agenda is too important to sideline natural allies. Rather than create artificial distinctions between us, we need to look at how we can better collaborate towards our common goals. In particular, how we can jointly foster more collaboration at community level, including in addressing systemic issues, closing democratic spaces, and human rights challenges?

Eva Rehse is Executive Director, Global Greengrants Fund UK

James Logan is Director European Office, The Fund for Global Human Rights

Comments (1)

Inga Ingulfsen

Together with Peace Direct and LINC, Foundation Center has spent over a year studying financial sustainability of local CSOs across 6 different countries. One key finding stood out. The crucial role of both internally and locally based intermediaries in ensuring the sustainability of local CSOs. Our data really supports the argument offered here by Eva and James. Check out the research at

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