What philanthropic intermediaries bring to the table


Magazine article
The Arcus Foundation is pleased to sponsor this issue of Philanthropy Impact focused on different philanthropic approaches to supporting human rights. The fast-paced and ever-changing political, economic and cultural landscape demands a suite of solutions from the philanthropic sector.
This reality is also true for Arcus where we focus our support on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and the conservation and respect for the world’s great apes who are under threat in every country where they live. The Foundation’s support of these two evolving movements ranges from tried and true strategies to new models that deliver support to those who need them quickly and in situations that require nuance.
At Arcus, intermediary partners remain an important approach to amplifying our work. For most, an intermediary partner can be a practical and cost-effective philanthropic solution to complex grant making, particularly for foundations beginning to think about international funding. But an intermediary partner can offer additional bandwidth to a foundation like Arcus with a fixed amount of resources. An intermediary also provides the freedom to support innovative and untested solutions in concert with other funders who want to collectively pool resources and minimise risk.
Last year, the Arcus Foundation in partnership with the NoVo Foundation announced the creation of the Global Trans Initiative, a five-year commitment to elevate transgender issues in philanthropy as well as to provide critical support to this significantly marginalised and underfunded community. As part of this philanthropic effort, the Initiative committed US$20 million to transgender issues around the world.
Early into its creation, Arcus and NoVo made the strategic decision to use intermediary partners that were positioned to competently deploy funding in the field. I am delighted to share that the Global Trans Initiative recently announced the creation of the Fund for Trans Generations, providing grant-making support to transgender organisations in the United States. The Fund is administered by Borealis Philanthropy, an intermediary partner that we identified in a rigorous selection process. We anticipate a similar process for when we identify a separate intermediary with the expertise and capability of delivering support to transgender communities around the world.
Arcus has employed the strategic use of intermediary partners for our ape conservation programme, particularly in the Foundation’s earliest years when we lacked the ability to provide international grant making and had not yet built the level of credibility and trust among many of the organisations actively engaged in the work. Today, Arcus’ Great Apes Program has evolved to focus primarily on high-impact grant making to organisations operating in ape range states across Africa and Asia. But we continue to leverage intermediary funders so we can deliver support to nimble organisations responding in real time to urgent and emerging needs affecting ape populations in their natural habitats. Arcus’ work with intermediary partners like the Global Greengrants Fund means that our Foundation is able to provide an increased number of smaller grants – ranging from US$5,000 to $30,000 – to groups often on the frontlines. But the decision to partner with this conservation intermediary was also rooted in their access to subject matter experts who enhance developments in the field as well as inform the funding process.
Working with a variety of intermediary partners has strengthened Arcus’ philanthropy to be smarter and responsive to the needs of those we serve. Over the years, the Foundation has walked away with some insight into what it takes to develop an effective partnership with an intermediary. Here are three of those takeaways:
Make sure your values and mission align – An intermediary provides more than just a transactional service of re-granting support to organisations. In some instances, they become an extension of you and your philanthropic vision. It’s critical to understand if an intermediary partner is the right fit for what you aim to accomplish. Take some time in the exploratory process to be honest about what core values will form the basis of your potential partnership.
Build an authentic relationship – An intermediary partner and its grant-making services are ultimately guided by the funder’s aims. Conversely, a funder places a great deal of trust in an external partner re-granting resources to organisations. That’s why it’s important for both parties to foster a relationship centered around communication and trust. At Arcus, our programme officers want to know about the key milestones as well as any challenges or gaps experienced by the intermediary. We also want to receive constructive feedback on how we can either improve upon or even enhance our philanthropy.
Set clear expectations – Intermediary partners can be a valuable tool for increasing your philanthropic capacity. But an effective partnership requires you to be upfront about your project’s goals, priorities and metrics. For example, be clear about an end date, so the intermediary can plan accordingly. You should also develop a shared understanding of how an intermediary partner intends to document outcomes and if any opportunities exist to monitor the execution of funding.
Working with philanthropic intermediaries is only one approach of many to consider when developing thoughtful funding strategies to support urgent or emerging causes. It takes time, a certain amount of resources and a shared commitment. But even a modest investment in this kind of partnership can deliver the most powerful of outcomes for your work. Because after all, you don’t have to do it alone.