A perspective from TechSoup's CEO

In March of 2008, the Council on Foundations, Foundation Center, Independent Sector, and InterAction sent out a request for proposals (RFP): “To Implement and Support a Centralized Repository of Information on Non-U.S. Organizations that Would Facilitate International Philanthropy from U.S. Grantmakers.”

The RFP was sent to a wide variety of likely respondents. TechSoup was not one of those organizations.

Gavin Claybaugh, then with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, knew TechSoup’s work and mentioned the RFP to our founder, Daniel Ben Horin. Gavin thought it might be a good fit for us. He was right. On June 22, 2008, TechSoup submitted a response and was selected to be the host for the repository.

It was an exciting moment in our history for so many reasons. Please allow me to share some of them.

TechSoup was not ‘top of mind’ for this project for most of those involved as we were best known for bringing in-kind tech and related programs to nonprofits.

Yet we were already doing many of the things that were required for us to take on the work described in the RFP. For corporate donors, we were already identifying organizations around the world so that companies could manage their product donations at scale, by:

  • Working through a global partner network that could speak the local language and was already familiar with diligence documents
  • Delivering one reliable process across many countries
  • Lowering the costs for the second, third, and fourth product donation through a repository-like model supported by technology

It’s what Gavin saw when he mentioned the project to us. It’s what I saw when I read the RFP. Ultimately, it’s why we responded. But it took a bit to get there.

First, we had to convince our internal stakeholders that this was truly something we could do well and that the effort was truly an open opportunity even to someone as relatively outside the initiative as we were. And then we had to convince the external stakeholders, too.

We were asked by several other responders to be a part of their RFP responses. As “extreme collaboration” was already built into our model, we readily agreed to be named as a partner but also were open with them that we intended to respond directly as well. Both because we felt we could put together a strong response and also because we wanted to signal to the stakeholders that TechSoup was a strong innovator who could be the right organization to join the coalition to co-create and host what was then called simply, the “NGO Repository.”

We felt this core capacity was seen when we were selected. We also felt that the work we did to build a network that got value from the work fit with the ethos of civil society. We still think that.

In its first 4 years of design and pre-launch preparation, TechSoup led the project that was to become today’s NGOsource. With the counsel of nonprofit law leaders like Marc Owens, at the time with Caplin & Drysdale, and John Harvey, then Managing Director of Global Philanthropy at the Council on Foundations, we further formed an Advisory Council made up of grantmakers at the largest US foundations and a donor-advised fund.

I vividly remember attending my first Global Philanthropy Dinner at the start of COF’s annual conference and learning of the work being done around the world to support charitable giving – hearing from experts at Harvard, people supporting the arts in Cuba and programs focused on the environment in rural U.S. as well as Mexico. Equivalency Determination was a small but mighty part of the process that could be standardized to make things easier and lower costs and grow international giving – and I couldn’t wait for us to apply ourselves to solving this problem.

The vision was always big and inclusive: turned out these were good matches for our culture. The design was to support not just big grantmakers but also small – bringing more funding to global organizations closer to the frontline. The vision always made it a priority to focus not only on grantmakers’ needs, but also on making the process of Equivalency Determination less of a burden on NGOs.

Getting the necessary approval for reliance from US Treasury and the IRS took 5 years of persistence and patience supported by grantmakers who also provided the investment to keep building the service to be ready for launch. Investments were made in agreeing on a standardized ED application process: building the necessary legal expertise, creating technology applications, branding the service, and developing a sound business plan.

And then, in October of 2012, primarily due to the fine work of COF and Caplin & Drysdale, along with key foundation grantmakers, the necessary approvals from Treasury came through, moving the project into active preparation for a launch in 2013. As you’ll see in the forthcoming pages, we started small and grew fast. As of August 2023, NGOsource has issued more than 25,000 EDs, on behalf of 743 grantmakers, across 168 countries. Other challenges were weathered – like the pandemic producing a spike in demand that was difficult to meet within promised timelines. But even the challenging times yielded innovations, such as our rapid response for certifications applied to Ukrainian organizations since the start of the current war.

And here we are 10 years in – with impact and reach that have already long ago proven the value of NGOsource and set an example of how much a collaborative approach, knowledge, technology, and a model designed to scale can make a difference.

NGOsource is a big part of the future for many stakeholders, including us, who would like to see the service grow to meet new needs and gain efficiencies over time.

For TechSoup, this ability to help corporations, government agencies, and foundations identify NGOs that meet requirements that support trustworthy engagement and exchange is something we are committed to innovating around — to “run towards” the next hard problems associated with creating more sophisticated services and technology to assess and help organizations build their capacity. Examples include our Digital Assessment Tool, focused on digital capacity and connecting a plan with the necessary resources, and STEP, which you can read more about here, an exciting due diligence framework that goes beyond charitable status and digital capacity to include a full range of organizational capabilities.

These services and others will help create a new generation of excitement – learnings and models to scale philanthropy and strengthen civil society while growing impact for the most critical causes.

NGOsource By the Numbers

   
Equivalency Determinations (EDs) 23,000+
NGOs Served 7700+
Countries Represented in the Repository 161
Grantmaker Members Served 700+
Global Partners Supporting NGOs 11
Languages Supported by NGOsource Platform 9
Estimated Total USD Facilitated $8 billion+

* March 2013 - March 2023

1_NumberofTotalEDs

2_CountriesInTheRepository

3_ActiveAnnualGRantmakerMembership

5_LinguisticallyAccessible

4_NumberofNGOsServedAnnually

6_TenYearsOfGrowth

7_SavingsforGrantmakers

Impact Stories

NGO Testimonials

Community Life Project (CLP) has been utilising the services of NGOsource since 2013. As a non-US based organisation, our ED certificate made it easier for two major US Foundations to make grants to us as a non-profit. It reduced the paperwork; we did not have to fill out the 501(c)(3) forms. In addition, it generally provides an independent and internationally credible certification of our non-profit status. Being in the NGOsource repository gives us more confidence when approaching international donors who may request evidence of our non-profit status.

Ngozi Iwere, Executive Director, CLP (Nigeria)

Having the internationally recognized registration as a non-profit organization helps us find new partners, not only for funding, but for operating new projects. We get out of the non-visibility (or low-credibility) zone too. Besides that, your team is very easy to communicate with and always quick in responding and helping us with questions. So, thanks for being there. ;)

Izabela Moi, Executive Director, Agência Mural (Brazil)

Earthworm Foundation, an NGO working on sustainable commodities and forest protection, as well as supporting local community and farmers' livelihood, has undergone the ED process to obtain a grant to support our existing work in Riau Province, Indonesia. We were thankful as the process is really lean and straightforward, knowing that we have a grant period to consider. Time is the best quality of the process. Thank you very much for the support to unlock several opportunities to support our work on the ground for the greater good.

Barakalla Robyn, Earthworm Foundation (Indonesia)

I must admit that obtaining the ED has elevated the status of my organisation — Committee for the Support of the Dignity of Women (COSUDOW), an organisation established by Catholic Sisters Conference of Nigeria in 1999 to combat Human Trafficking. For quite some time, we have been unable to obtain funds from … funders from the US because we did not have the ED. I know this is an open door to exploring other possibilities and obtaining other grants to help stamp out human trafficking in Nigeria.

Sr. Philomena Okwu DC, COSUDOW, Benin City, Nigeria

At first, we were terrified that the ED process would be long and tedious. NGOsource made it fast and seamless. We wouldn't have gotten our grant as fast as we did without your support. You have made it easy for us to raise money from US foundations by broadening and strengthening our support base. The thousands of women, children, and girls impacted by the Justice System that we work with in Kenya can now look forward to a better tomorrow.

Teresa Njoroge, CEO and Founder, Clean Start Solution (Kenya)

NGOsource's accessible ED screening process allowed The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan, to translate its charitable status into an internationally recognised one. We are grateful for this service, and look forward to seeing it used by more organisations around the world.

Christine Tohme, The Lebanese Association for Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan

Thanks to NGOsource’s easy and efficient process, Racines could benefit from the Equivalency Determination that makes the NGO’s application for grants process go fluently. The ED also helps us reach more donors, strengthen our network and expand our support base. This status supports us in creating a positive impact in Morocco through arts and culture, and through pressuring our decision-makers to take action.

Racines aisbl (Belgium)

I just want to appreciate you and the team, thank you guys for the efforts and support. You encouraged us. You guys are the best!

OkikiJesu Zion Babarinde, founder, Camp Adventure Africa (Nigeria)

NGOsource has allowed us to streamline our partnership processes with the organizations that support our work, in a framework of trust, security, and use of technology. We find it increasingly necessary to address due diligence processes, without adding bureaucracy. This is made possible by NGOsource.

Susana Chavez, Executive Director, Centro de Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos — Promsex (Peru)

Grantmaker Testimonials

In over 25 years working in philanthropy there’s a lot that I’m proud of — helping to get NGOsource up and running is at the top of my list. When a group of us initially came together in shared frustration at the challenges of conducting equivalency determinations on our own without the ability to share, we quickly evolved from a vision of a repository of EDs to something much more impactful — a service that would streamline the process for grantmakers, offer huge benefits to the organizations receiving the EDs, and ultimately expand cross-border grantmaking. As a user now, I see how the original vision has come to fruition, with an expansive repository of EDs and benefits that are recognized by the organizations we all seek to support around the world. Congratulations on 10 years, NGOsource!

Pam Foster, Chief Operating Officer, Co-Impact

It is amazing to think that 10 years have passed since the launch of NGOsource. I recall sitting in a breakout session at the Independent Sector Annual Conference here in Philadelphia in 2008. …. It immediately struck me that this could be a game changer for international grantmaking in the U.S. …. It took several more years until NGOsource received [the necessary approvals] since it was the first (and only) of its kind, but I followed the project closely and as soon as it launched, we worked to become members and have been proud members ever since.

Andrea Rush, Senior Vice President of Philanthropic Solutions, National Philanthropic Trust (NPT)

NGOsource has been a valuable partner to us at Foundation Source as they provide accurate and reliable service that has brought down the cost of making international grants compliantly. For over two decades, Foundation Source has been ahead of the curve on tech-driven philanthropy. We’ve built innovative, tech-forward solutions that support the daily administration of foundations and the needs of philanthropists, making running a foundation easier and more cost effective. Together with NGOsource, we’re helping make the foundation space more accessible and affordable through unique and groundbreaking specialty services.

Jeffrey Haskell, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Foundation Source (U.S.)

NGOsource has helped increase the efficiency of cross border grantmaking by US foundations significantly over the last 10 years. By streamlining equivalency determinations …, it’s easier for non-American grantees to partner effectively with US philanthropy and not spend countless hours completing similar paperwork for multiple funders. Leveraging technology to reduce the time and cost of EDs helps make direct international giving by US foundations easier, which can help ensure local nonprofits in countries around the world can directly access US philanthropy. We’ve especially seen the power of NGOsource when helping US foundations find grantee partners for local disaster response.

Natalie Ross, Vice President, Membership Development & Finance, Council on Foundations

If you really want to trust your grantees and allow them the most flexibility to get their work done, it means including funding for their administrative or financial operations, legal compliance, their computer systems, all the things that make organizations effective. General operating support really provides that. And before we had NGOsource, we could only really offer that to a limited few international NGOs due to the high costs of law firm equivalency determinations. Now, with NGOsource, around 120 — the vast majority of our portfolio of international organizations — are able to access that when our program teams feel that it's the right fit. From my perspective, the ability to provide general operating support has been the biggest programmatic win, along with the ability to simplify international grantees’ ability to be regranters and do some of those other difficult things on expenditure responsibility (e.g., capital expenditures). So yes, we’ve seen a huge growth of using NGOsource EDs.

Elizabeth Peters, General Counsel, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

NGOsource’s equivalency determination service is an essential tool for Humanity United and our non-US grantees. For HU, it not only streamlines our grants management function with a consistent, trusted, and reliable process, but more importantly enables our grant makers to provide more unrestricted support (which can’t be done using expenditure responsibility). Because our programs are largely focused outside the US, this is critical from both a strategy and equity perspective. For our partners — particularly new or smaller grantees where HU represents the first institutional money — it has the added benefit of creating a pathway for future development from US foundations, thus improving grantee infrastructure beyond HU’s dollars.

Joel Beck-Coon, General Counsel, Humanity United

It has just gone really smoothly, the interaction between the team at NGOsource and TechSoup and partnering with our regional offices.The team at NGOsource is always very accommodating and very proactive, which is important this day and age, where we're so used to not being able to get in touch with a human being with any kind of service provider. It's just been a pleasure having a partner that helps us sort of in the same mindset as that of my team and the Grants management team at the foundation. We're so focused and committed to trying to get our funding to our grantees quickly, and trying to problem solve and work out solutions and get it done. So we appreciate the service delivery and the very special customized approach.

Chris Gillespie, Director, Grants Compliance, Ford Foundation