Briefing paper 31The landscape of donor funding for international development appears to be changing significantly. Support from official donors has come under pressure, in large part because of the global financial crisis; at the same time, new official donors are emerging. Some countries are experiencing sustained growth, leading to changes in the support that they receive both from official donors and from NGOs. Within this changing landscape, private philanthropic donors are playing an increasingly important role, working on international development issues through a range of mechanisms: as direct operators, in partnership with governments, and with international NGOs and civil society organisations as grant-givers and partners.

We anticipate that this trend will expand, with NGOs and civil society organisations finding themselves working more and more with private philanthropic foundations and trusts. Yet there is limited knowledge amongst many NGOs about philanthropic funding in international development, and we are only just beginning to see a surge of interest in expanding understanding of philanthropic foundations amongst development scholars and practitioners. It may seem that traditional international development actors and private donors inhabit two separate and different worlds in their approach and language; however, it is clear that there is much common ground.

This paper provides an introduction to private donors’ engagement in international development, particularly philanthropic foundations. It describes the scale of foundations and their importance to the field of development aid. The paper then examines some of the common perceptions and misperceptions about private donors, the challenges faced by NGOs when working with such grantors and the opportunities. By bringing some of these issues to the fore, this paper aims to lay the groundwork for future research into an area of sparse formal evidence, and for better collaborative work between NGOs and foundations.


Briefing Paper 31: Understanding private donors in international development

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