Foreword to WINGS Impact Case Studies

by Benjamin Bellegy, Executive Director, WINGS & Nadya Hernandez, Programs Coordinator, WINGS

You may know about them, but it’s rare to get a glimpse into their inner workings: Philanthropy Support Organizations (PSOs) are often the hidden heroes in combatting the rising trend towards heightened control and excessive, unwarranted restrictions of philanthropy and civil society throughout the world.

The networks, associations and other organizations supporting donors and foundations are developing unique and indeed successful strategies and solutions to overcome these challenges. Beyond simply responding to more restrictive operating envrionments, they are also playing a proactive role in expanding the space and creating new incentives for the sector to thrive.

Philanthropy and giving are critical to the mission of how we build more resilient, sustainable and democratic societies while helping to achieve the ambitions laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their success relies on two central pillars: the development of a strong Philanthropy Support Ecosystem (PSE), or infrastructure, and an enabling environment that helps civil society to thrive. The PSE is comprised of the organizations and individuals who help to create the conditions for philanthropy to achieve its potential.

Seventy-two percent of WINGS members have reported that they are increasingly engaged in advocacy to encourage a more enabling environment for philanthropy. Equally important, in a challenged context of shrinking space, the PSE is playing a key role in developing solutions to support civil society under restrictive or authoritative regimes. That’s why fostering an enabling environment and strengthening the PSE are WINGS’ strategic priorities for the years to come.

“Philanthropy and giving are critical to the mission of how we build more resilient, sustainable and democratic societies”

The enabling environment that underpins the work of philanthropy includes many components like bank de-risking, cross- border giving, burdensome reporting/ registration, tax incentives, civic space, the right of association, funding mechanisms, advocacy, amongst many others. Through their advocacy, PSOs can influence laws, regulations that surround these. The message in these case studies is clear: a strong support ecosystem for giving and philanthropy facilitates collaboration, professionalizes the field, promotes giving and builds standards.

“By bringing together our collective wisdom, we can help to strengthen our capacity, generate new ideas and multiply our impact”

Nonetheless, more is needed. An important part of the work of PSOs remains invisible despite their significant impact. This publication, therefore, aims to give visibility to PSOs’ successes in promoting a more enabling environment and to disseminate best practices and strategies that could inspire further collaboration toward concrete results. PSOs often feel isolated and challenged when addressing such complex issues and they do so with limited resources. By bringing together our collective wisdom, we can help to strengthen our capacity, generate new ideas and multiply our impact.

The introduction includes an article from ICNL that explains the role of infrastructure organizations in the process of creating a thriving civic space, alongside a joint article from the Enabling Environment Affinity Group, which was created to provide a space for collaboration between WINGS’ members interested in engaging on the key issues around the philanthropy environment. The objective of this group is to work towards a more collective voice for philanthropy, giving and private social investment at the global level.

The case studies that follow present different strategies that have been used to protect and grow the space for philanthropy and civil society organizations. We explore technical solutions, such as the innovative NGOSource which has streamlined US based equivalency determinations and significantly lowered the cost of compliance, by pairing technology with collaboration.

We also find out how coalitions between philanthropy and civil society can keep repressive regulations at bay, such as the creation of the NPO coalition in partnership with the European Foundation Centre, established to challenge the Financial Action Task Force, that has led to severe banking restrictions for philanthropy and civil society throughout the world. Other coalitions engaging in advocacy and evidence-based research, like those in Spain and Brazil, have helped to create a more favorable environment to encourage and grow private giving.

The lessons of each case is explored and some common themes emerge across our case studies:

• Diverse groups bring a stronger voice to ensure regulators and policy makers are more likely to engage in building solutions

• Deep and expert knowledge of policies, rules or technology by PSOs is critical to making headway in the pursuit of reform

• Collaboration takes time and investment as well as a dedicated focal point throughout any process, either independent of the individual organizations or embedded within PSOs themselves

WINGS works with a variety of partners, including other global networks, who develop and implement strategies to limit the effects of shrinking civic space. In 2017 WINGS, Forus (previously known as the International Forum of National NGO platforms) and CIVICUS-AGNA signed and released the Declaration to Support a More Enabling Environment for Philanthropy and Civil Society, including NGOs. This publication uses their collective voices as a way of harnessing the power of our networks to develop an unhindered global culture of giving and solidarity.

This process is an ongoing effort by WINGS to document the impact of the field. Most of the case studies presented have come from Europe and the US. We hope this becomes a living document, open to more contributions, especially from the global south, with experiences and ideas on how to make PSOs stronger in their role as advocates for an enabling environment.

This report is intended as a source of inspiration but it is also a call to action. We all share this responsibility and encourage you, our partners, to tell us about your own experiences or emerging plans to strengthen the philanthropy support ecosystem and overcome the challenges in your country or region. We hope more actors working in this field will engage in the cause of promoting a more enabling environment in which philanthropy and civil society can freely carry out their important work, now and in the future.

This excerpt can be found on pages 3 and 4 of WINGS Impact Case Studies: Promoting an enabling environment for philanthropy and civil society. Read the full publication here.

Circle Picture


Benjamin Bellegy,

Executive Director, WINGS 


Circle Picture


Nadya Hernandez, 

Programs Coordinator, WINGS


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