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Partnership funding

Donor partnership funding is a means for donors to combine their resources in joint support of a particular organisations or issue. Such partnerships can contribute to field building and enhance project outcomes and impact.



As with all models of practice, partnerships have great potential for successful delivery but are not without areas of difficulty. Partners have to take care that the collaboration does not become an end in itself, rather that it remains one of many mechanisms for grantmaking. Partnership funding models may require that particular attention be paid to managing egos, cumbersome decision-making processes, and less nimble practices of partnership than what partners might be used to on their own.

left-quoteright-quotePartnerships take time and the nature of partners is that different people do things at different times and at different paces.*

Gerry Salole, CEO, European Foundation Centre

Two examples of donor funding partnerships supported by Atlantic relate to getting to the grassroots and committing to constitutionalism.

Getting to the grassroots

The South African non-profit sector is diverse in the range, size and scope of organisations and formations that comprise it. Non-profit organisations have varying degrees of access to and contact with prospective funders.

Often the established platforms and social networks through which to engage donors are not accessible to smaller, non-urban community based organisations. However, for grassroots organisations, challenges of capacity, access and infrastructure can be addressed through targeted support in the form of relatively small funding grants. Yet this area of investment tends to often be overlooked by donors due to the rudimentary infrastructural frameworks of many community-based organisations, perceived as requiring more risky and complex granting processes.

The Multi Agency Grants Initiative (MAGI) was established in 2006 under the leadership of Atlantic and Hivos. MAGI was a response to a need for small grants to be made directly to grassroots organisations, in particular but not exclusively community-based organisations (CBO), in order to assist communities to get their voices heard on the platforms of mainstream development agendas.

The objective of MAGI is to support and promote a stronger and more sustainable CBO sector by serving as a responsive mechanism for grantmaking support, capacity building, the brokering of services, partnership building and CBO monitoring and evaluation. MAGI focuses on small grants through a simple administrative system of application, assessment and evaluation, enabling small organisations to access its funds.

The three areas that are targeted through these small grant initiatives are:

  • Capacity (how to use their knowledge and skills in ways that will allow them to be meaningfully participatory)
  • Access (ability to find and reach channels of communication, debate, advocacy and funding)
  • Infrastructure (internal organisational ability to best utilise the capacity and access)

MAGI provides large scale funders with a mechanism to make small grants requiring quick turnaround times and easy evaluation and reporting requirements. For the participating donors the initiative provides an opportunity to strengthen smaller organisations in areas in which they already fund, and thus assist in building stronger networks between the different levels at which organisations in the wider NPO sector work.

The founding partners were: Hivos, Atlantic, Bread Line Africa, Women’s Hope Education and Training Trust (WHEAT), Uthando and The Ford Foundation. Other partners have subsequently joined the initiative, including The Raith Foundation, The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The Open Society Foundation of South Africa and Tshikululu Social Investments (TSI).

By the end of the second year of its establishment MAGI had registered a total of 62 community based and membership organisations across a number of sectors. The sectors initially supported were those in which the collaborating funders operated: HIV and AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and rights; sustainable economic development; culture and recreation; refugee and migrant rights; farm workers’ rights and the rural poor; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender emancipation; and gender-based violence. In 2014 the thematic focus shifted to deepening democracy, with a focus on access to justice including socio-economic and cultural rights; access to services and local economic development (creation of an enabling environment for sustainable livelihoods); social cohesion; and initiatives that address drivers of inequality, gender-based violence and other forms of violence.

Hivos takes overall responsibility for the administration of MAGI. This has enabled MAGI to benefit from the experience and infrastructure of a major donor without having to reinvent core systems. It has also provided MAGI the freedom to explore a model of grantmaking and partnership between grantmakers and grantees that facilitate swift responses to issues that directly affect the lives and livelihoods of communities.

MAGI has played an important role in facilitating discussion and learning around the ways in which the participating donors understand social issues and the responses these require. Added value is achieved through the leveraging of additional funds through the networking strengths of the funding partners. MAGI is an example of responsive and collaborative grantmaking that utilises the involvement of donors, grantees, staff and strategic partners.

This kind of responsive partnership further guides matters such as ways of giving, the size of the grants, the forms of capacity building and infrastructure development, the expectations of MAGI grantees and the negotiation of exit strategies. MAGI operates under the guidance of an advisory committee that brings together the experience and knowledge of the donors, strategic partners and organisations that are identified on the basis of specialist knowledge and expertise at different times. This deepens understanding in the relevant sectors for all of the consortium members – donors, staff, beneficiaries, partners – which in turn expands the philanthropic field of practice.

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Committing to constitutionalism
The Constitutionalism Fund for South Africa, which is a ten-year fund to support and advance human rights and the spirit of our Constitution, will give effect, over time, to the values that underpin the Constitution – the rights of dignity, equality and non-discrimination. All of these issues are very close to the hearts and missions of Atlantic, Ford and Open Society.*
Fatima Hassan, Executive Director, Open Society Foundation for South Africa


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Perspectives on Donor Collaboration

Marking the 20th year of South Africa’s democracy, in 2014 The Atlantic Philanthropies, The Ford Foundation  and the Open Society Foundation of South Africa established a $25 million fund for the purpose of supporting organisations that advance and uphold constitutionalism in South Africa. The Constitutionalism Fund is an extraordinary gift that marks the passing of a critical milestone in South Africa’s democratic journey.

The establishment of the Constitutionalism Fund was announced in February 2015. One of its stated intentions is that the grants it makes are to be administratively light on recipients. In this regard, the fund aims to combine high accountability with uncomplicated reporting and evaluation requirements.

Yvonne Mokgoro, Chair of the Independent Selection Panel which will advise on grantee selection, stated at the launch of the fund that it would be directed at “making real the promises of the Constitution”.32 She stressed the panel’s objective to achieve this by empowering organisations from across the broadest spectrum of South African civil society to protect, preserve and uphold the rights encapsulated in the Constitution.

The fund is expected to run across three to four funding cycles over the next 10 years. The three founding partners have each, in their own right, made extensive investments in civil society organisations, the philanthropy community and government in the post-apartheid period. The Constitutionalism Fund directly builds on the substantial impact that the three donors have had in the areas of human rights and social justice in South Africa. In particular, it builds on Atlantic’s grantmaking efforts and secures the space for constitutionalism to be supported, through direct financing, in the wake of Atlantic’s departure from South Africa.

The idea of the [Constitutionalism] Fund has been that it will create a precedent and spur South African philanthropists who are wealthy, from family Trusts to business interests, to contribute to work that pursues the interests of social justice in South Africa.*
Fatima Hassan, Executive Director, Open Society Foundation for South Africa

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