How to elevate community philanthropy

A donation box. Local giving is inherent in many cultures but squashed by donors, according to Natalie Ross, program officer for civil society. Photo by: Kathryn Harper / CC BY-NC-ND

What happens to development efforts when donor money dries up? Normally, they are discontinued, but that could be a thing of the past if local communities were willing to pitch in to fund those initiatives, according to the Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy.

Initially forged by the Aga Khan Foundation USA, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, GACP seeks to elevate the role of this model in international development circles, and is preparing to roll out this month several activities that will focus on how local giving can help sustain international development projects.

Community philanthropy is not a set-in-stone model, but is instead a “definition by characteristics,” including that it “is organized and structured,” “uses local money and assets,” and “seeks an inclusive and equitable society,” according to a study commissioned by two GACP partners in 2010-2011 and which set the stage for their efforts.

For instance, the Aga Khan Foundation believes in holistic, long-term investment as a central role in civil society, Natalie Ross, program officer for civil society, said at a panel hosted by the Society for International Development in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Ross added that local giving is inherent in many cultures but squashed by donors, and mentioned the success story of a program they started in Kenya in the 1990s and has now become a completely independent organization.

At the same event, U.S. Agency for International Development democracy specialist David Jacobstein pointed out we need to pay more attention to the strength of local systems that co-produce outcomes, while Justin Fugle from Plan International said the problem is that aid groups are doing the government’s job on top of paying for the projects — which makes it even harder to take over them when the funds vanish.

Often overlooked

Despite the rapid growth in the number of this type of organizations in developing countries, their potential role in garnering local resources for the long-term sustainability of development efforts has often been neglected or circumvented by traditional donor-funded projects, even if many donor agencies are pushing to focus increasingly on finding “local solutions.”

GACP’s campaign builds on the recognition that local giving is often a deeply embedded value and practice, and even within low-income communities and community philanthropy organizations can play a vital role in securing local resources to sustain development efforts past the timelines of individual projects.

Last fall, the alliance announced it would be housed within the Global Fund for Community Foundations, which will serve as its new secretariat.

Have you had any experience working with community philanthropy organizations to help sustain development outcomes? Please leave a comment below or email us at to share your story.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.