23 September 2021

How to build a supportive ecosystem for philanthropy

By Nadya Hernandez and Barry Knight

The recently published 100th issue of Alliance magazine shows the remarkable growth in organisations supporting the development of philanthropy across the world in the past 25 years.  The field is now given another boost with the publication of a major WINGS study Acting together to lift up philanthropywhich offers guidance on how to build a supportive ecosystem for the field.

Here, we introduce you to the publication, placing  it in the context of earlier efforts to lift up philanthropy, and setting out how you might use the guide.

Acting Together to Lift Up Philanthropy

To help people grapple with the complexity of developing a joined-up and effective network of organisations to support philanthropy, WINGS has conducted a two-year study to answer the question ‘How do you build a supportive ecosystem?’.

The WINGS publication Acting together to lift up philanthropy is the result.  A range of studies with partners across the world have led to practical guidance in a seven-part report that explains the concepts behind the study, offers the meaning of key words, analyses the philanthropy support ecosystems in India, Kenya and Russia, and gives practical steps on how to build a more effective ecosystem, together with suggestions about how to measure its effectiveness.  

While the report is long and detailed, readers can gain a quick insight into its contents here and explore the videos available on WINGS website


The publication is a milestone in a long list of efforts to  develop support services for philanthropy.  Ten years ago, the value of this was hardly recognised by much of the philanthropic sector. But now we have seen the remarkable growth set out in Alliance. Why did this happen?

Many organisations have worked on this, but an important strand stemmed from a decision taken by WINGS in 2011 to ‘make infrastructure visible’. This has resulted in a decade-long process to ‘lift up philanthropy’.

The first major landmark took place at WINGS Forum in 2014, with the publication of Infrastructure in Focus: A Global Picture of Organizations Serving Philanthropy. This reviewed the history of infrastructure in philanthropy, surveyed relevant organisations across the world, and made the case for increased investment.

The study found, however, that support organisations were poor at measuring their impact and this put funders off from investing in them. In response, 23 WINGS and Dafne members co-created an evaluation system over a two-year period,  which became known as the ‘4Cs’.  This is a flexible framework that allows philanthropy support organisations to assess their work on four main criteria:  

  • Capacity   –  Building resources
  • Capability  –  Building skills, knowledge and expertise
  • Connection –  Building relationships
  • Credibility    –  Building reputation, recognition and influence 

After the results of the work were showcased at WINGS Forum in 2017, the next step was to shift the approach from looking at the role of individual support organisations to looking at the impact of the philanthropy support ecosystem as a whole.  Drawing on systems theory, it became clear that only an interconnected field would be able to respond to the unequal distribution of philanthropy support resources across the globe in which 80 per cent of resources were located in North America.

The subsequent adoption of eco-systemic approaches has increased collaboration between organisations.  Competition is now regarded as  foolish and we see tangible signs of co-operation in the merger between Dafne and the EFC, in the emergence of  PEX, and between organisations supporting community philanthropy in the #ShiftThePower campaign.

Next steps

All the tools in the guide are designed with flexibility of purpose in mind, and there is no intention to  impose specific frameworks. The different documents will evolve based on the feedback received on the implementation of this guidance. WINGS is calling the organisations in the ecosystem to share their insights to inform the evolution of each of these documents.

There are several ways to get involved. Some specific ideas include: 

  • Use the suggested classification system when describing your work or preparing your next research.
  • Consider preparing a case study on how PSOs have created a positive impact in your country in the last 20 years.
  • Discuss with your colleagues when it would be the best moment to run a national or regional mapping. Check with your peers what they think about mapping your current ecosystem and go for it!
  • Start using the metric tool in your own country or region. If your organization already run any index, make sure you incorporate the PSE lens into it. 

The good news is that you don’t need to do all this alone. WINGS will remain open to exploring ways to use the tools to build a supportive philanthropy ecosystem. If you are ready to #LiftUpPhilanthropy get in touch at info@wingsweb.org

[1] https://wings.issuelab.org/resources/30804/30804.pdf.