Focus on Partnerships to Increase Funding Options

If your organization is based in a developing country, you may not be able to secure funding directly from some foreign donors. Many donors, while they support projects in developing countries, only fund projects led by nonprofits headquartered in the same country where the donor itself is located. Local partners—that is, the organizations located in the country where the project will take place—must join the projects as subcontractors ("subs").

For example, a U.S.-based foundation might be interested in funding projects in India. Instead of funding local organizations in India to conduct the work, the foundation will award grants to U.S.-based organizations with the expectation (and sometimes the requirement) that the U.S. grantees will partner with local organizations to carry out the work.

For the U.S. foundations, funding organizations based in the U.S. makes grantmaking easier. For organizations based in the country where the work will take place, it can be frustrating to have to rely on foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for partnership opportunities.

The Importance of Identifying Partners Early

If your organization is interested in tapping into the international donor community, you'll want to identify potential partner organizations early, well before you learn of a funding opportunity. To get a sense of the funding landscape in your country, you'll need to do some homework to find out which foreign governments fund projects in your country and how they fund them. Do they give money to local organizations, or do they limit funding to large international NGOs or nonprofits headquartered in their country? In addition, some donors don't fund NGOs at all, local or otherwise, choosing instead to give money at the country level (e.g., to the government of Tanzania), allowing the government to decide how to spend the money and who the project implementors will be.

Let's say you want money for a community project. Through your research, you learn that one of the donors funding similar projects in your country is a foundation based in the U.S.  However, the foundation only provides funding to U.S.-based organizations. To gain access to this funding, you have two choices. You can either wait and see if a U.S.-based organization approaches your organization about partnering on a project, or you can take the initiative and reach out to U.S. organizations active in your country or region to propose a partnership. Regardless of who initiates partnership discussions, you'll want to research your potential partner carefully. You'll be relying on this organization to submit a strong proposal and represent your interests to the donor.

Because most funding opportunities have a short application window, usually you’ll have less than two months to prepare and submit a proposal, identifying and cultivating potential partners is something you'll want to do on an ongoing basis. If you wait until you see an opportunity to reach out to a potential partner, in most cases it will be too late. Either the organization will already have partners lined up or there won't be enough time to develop the relationship before the proposal is due.

Donors Funding Work in Developing Countries

The following is a selection of funders working globally but only funding organizations based in the donor's home country. In most cases, the recipient organizations are responsible for identifying local partners for project implementation:

Finding Potential Partners

Below are four steps to learn more about potential funders and project partners.

  1. Visit the funder's website. Using the list above, click on each of the funders to be taken to their websites. When reviewing a funder's website, go to the section that discusses programs areas to see what the donor funds and whether they work in your country. If they don't fund work in your country, you can cross them off your list of potential leads and move to the next funder on the list. If the donor does fund work in your country, explore a little bit more. See what their programmatic interests are. If the funder funds work in your country and funds work in your area of focus, the funder may be a good fit for your organization and should be researched further.

  2. Find out who the donors have funded in the past. Once you narrow your list to the funders who fund projects in your country related to your area of focus (environmental, health, population, etc.), you'll want to do more in-depth research on the donor's history. Most donors list past grantees on their websites. As you go through the list of past grantees, make a note of any organizations that you know or recognize along with any points of connection (i.e., people you know at the organization).

  3. Research nongovernmental organizations based in the donor's home country. To find partners that have the potential to be a good fit, research international organizations that work in your geographic region or country on projects related to your organization's area of focus. You'll find lists of past and current grantees on donor websites. To identify other potential partners, you may need to follow several lines of research. This could include Googling the name of the country plus keywords such as NGO, nongovernmental, nonprofits, and civil society (i.e., "Finland NGOs"). You may also want to research universities based in the donor's country; universities often partner with foundations and government agencies to conduct international projects. Another place to look, regardless of whether the donor you are interested in is a government agency, is the country's government agency that oversees development spending (e.g., in the US this would be USAID, in the UK, DFID). On the government websites, you'll usually find a list—sometimes even an extensive database—of the organizations the agency has funded in the past organized by programmatic area and by country. Many of the past grantees are likely to be nongovernmental organizations based in the donor's country.

  4. Create a plan for reaching out to past grantees and potential partners. You may find organizations on the past grantee list that you recognize because they are based in your community. Schedule a meeting with these local groups to see if you can learn more about the donor as well as about any international NGOs the organization has partnered with in the past. To learn more about an international NGO, check to see where the organization has its offices. Many international NGOs have physical offices in the countries or regions where they work. If the NGO has a local office, try to arrange a meeting with the organization's local staff. If that is not possible, or if the organization does not have a country office, another option is to try to connect with representatives of the organization at a conference or donor-sponsored event. Another option is to see if the organization has any active projects going on in your country in any field, not just the area you work in. If they do, it may be possible to meet with a representative from the organization during one of their periodic field visits.

Main Takeaways

The key points to keep in mind are that you may not be able to apply to all funders directly; and two, you shouldn't wait until you hear about a funding opportunity before you begin researching potential partners. Research potential partners and donors as soon as possible and start scheduling meetings with organizational representatives. When a funding opportunity comes up that requires a local partner, by making these early contacts, you'll increase the chance that your organization will be approached for a potential partnership.