Charity Know How – imperial arrogance or valuable approach?

Andrew Kingman

Both foundations with growing assets and institutional donors such as the British Government Department for International Development are exploring re-granting strategies – making large grants to organizations with the capacity to make a larger number of smaller grants. Charity Know How has for the last ten years provided a re-granting service to a group of European and American trusts and foundations pooling funds to be matched by British Government funding. But is its approach now outdated?

Charity Know How (CKH) was set up in 1991 initially to help revitalize civil society in Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS through the funding of skill-sharing partnership projects between British NGOs and organizations in the region. Since then, CKH has supported more than 2,500 NGOs, making awards in excess of £3 million (US£4.5 million). It also implements a number of longer-term capacity-building and training programmes in particular regions. Although CKH is formally part of CAF, it has an Executive Committee made up of representatives of its various funding partners that helps shape policy and make final decisions about grants.

In Russia last week, where I was attending the NGO conference organized by CAF Russia, I met a consultant who suggested that our approach is ‘outdated’. It was reasonable in 1991, she argued, to believe that British charities could offer skills and experience to counterparts in Central and Eastern Europe, but surely the whole idea now smacks of a sort of ‘imperial arrogance’. Well yes, but the charge is misplaced because CKH has long since moved on. In any case, the CKH ‘approach’ is about much more than the subject of a particular grants programme.

The CKH approach

First, CKH is defined to a considerable extent by the interests of its funders. Many of them were first attracted by the original concept of enabling British NGOs to deliver training or other capacity development in CEE/NIS, but today many of those initial funders are just as enthusiastically supporting our efforts to promote partnerships between NGOs within the region, to explore the potential of our approach in Africa and elsewhere, and to develop pilot grants programmes to support specific sectors. In some cases our contributing foundations ringfence their funds for specific types of grant; others simply pool their funds for general use. Whatever the case, we work closely with them throughout, involving them to whatever extent they wish.

Second, the CKH approach is value-based. Talking with some of the CKH Executive Committee members recently, I realized that they see our grantmaking competency as much more than solid procedures – though these are essential. Just as important is that our grantmaking is built on a set of values:

  • Fairness – giving all applicants a fair and equal hearing or review.
  • Transparency – keeping all applicants informed of methods, policies and reasons behind decisions.
  • Accountability – applying the same rigour to ourselves as to our grantees.
  • Consultation – ensuring all initiatives have full support and that the need for them has been assessed. Our planning is based meticulously on an extensive consultation process with NGOs in whatever region we’re working in.
  • Learning – seeking always to be a learning organization.

Why use a northern re-granting organization?

Even with these values and solid procedures, it is fair to ask why any funder should use a re-granting organization based in the North when the grants are targeted elsewhere. Why not use grantmaking institutions in the country concerned? Certainly, this is the best option, and the most innovative funders are now prepared to provide substantial blocks of funds for onward grants through institutions such as the newly established Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe. But these examples remain the exception, and I believe that institutions such as CKH still have great value.

First, many funders remain cautious about transferring substantial funds directly to an institution in another country. The Trust for Civil Society is backed by major foundations which have staffed offices in the target region. It is a different proposition for a smaller foundation with one or two administrators based in London, Brussels or Chicago to consider similar investment. Second, direct funding is usually quite targeted – a specific need in a specific location, funded through a specialist agency. If funders are more interested in a regional approach or in supporting capacity across sectors (as with CKH), then it is more difficult to identify a single in-country or regional institution with the necessary experience and knowledge. Third, in many parts of the developing world and indeed in much of CEE/NIS, local grantmaking capacity is only now developing. Organizations such as CKH must support the development of such capacity, and we certainly seek to do so through our country programmes, but for the time being institutional weaknesses remain. After all, the Trust for Civil Society is a new institution, not an endowment for an existing grantmaker.

Attracting more international funding

Re-granting is not only a strategy for enabling large foundations to devolve some responsibility for making smaller grants. It should also be seen as a strategy for attracting more international funding. CKH has been able to draw in support from several UK trusts which have not previously supported international programmes. Some of these have continued to expand their international giving independent of CKH. The mobilization of new sources of international grant funding remains a key aim and a powerful rationale for our further development.

So no, I don’t believe that Charity Know How’s approach is outdated. Far from it, I believe that high-quality, value-based, targeted intermediary grantmaking is as important as ever in contributing to the development of healthy, vibrant, sustainable civil society around the world.

Andrew Kingman is International Director at CAF. He can be contacted by email at

For more information, contact CKH.
Tel +44 20 7400 2315
Fax +(44) 20 7404 1331

CRY offers comprehensive support for grassroots initiatives in India

Founded in 1979, today CRY (Child Relief and You) partners 312 grassroots-level individuals and organizations that work with underprivileged children spread across 17 states. Over the years it has disbursed over Rs 300 million (around US$6 million). Three-quarters of this money comes from within India, around one-third from individuals. About a quarter of its income comes from sales of products like cards and calendars.

CRY works to raise awareness of the needs of underprivileged children, harness resources and channel these resources to grassroots initiatives. The aim is to empower deprived communities to take responsibility for the future of their children. To this end we promote non-formal education for children and income generation programmes for women and young people. The girl child receives special attention. The core of CRY’s work is identifying and financially supporting small and struggling child development initiatives in their critical phases of growth.

CRY’s philosophy is to help people to realize their dreams in their own way. CRY thus plays the role of guide and mentor and enables its partners to become key instruments of change. It provides capacity-building support to all the organizations it funds. CRY calls this ‘Comprehensive Support’. We help our partners in establishing baseline data, looking at child rights holistically, project planning, financial management and organizational development. Promoting transparency and accountability is essential here. CRY also enables its partners to participate in local and national networks. Several state and national networks and strategic alliances have emerged as a result of CRY’s efforts.

For more information, contact Amita Puri at

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