Solomé Lemma, the Ethiopia-born executive director of Thousand Currents, which funds social movements, said donors concerned about indigenous groups being unable to manage complicated grants may be looking in the wrong place.

Funders might do better to build up their own ability to work with communities, rather than always asking them to adapt. "There’s an opportunity for us to really rethink," she said.

Sombolinggi said donor demands for what she calls "hyper-accountability" - such as requiring receipts for expenses incurred in the rainforest - often waste funds and time.

Her organisation works with an extremely remote indigenous group in Indonesia's highlands, reachable by a two-week hike into the area, for example.

When outside donors demanded the original receipt for a $500 coffee grinder the community bought, members had to spend another $300 renting a motorbike to deliver the receipt on time.

Such rigid demands mean "we are not saving our brothers. We end up writing reports," said Sombolinggi, herself a member of the Torajan people from the highlands of Sulawesi.

"If we start everything with lack of trust, we are not going to go anywhere," she noted, saying her own organisation was content with receipts photographed and sent via smartphone.

Jennifer Corpuz, an indigenous lawyer from the Philippines and policy lead for Nia Tero, a U.S. non-profit working with indigenous people and movements, said a growing number of donors are trying to ease their demands.

Some require less written documentation and are making funding more flexible, so that threatened indigenous leaders can, for instance, shift spending to a fund for legal defence or sanctuary, if needed.

Being more flexible can be harder for donor governments facing tight rules of their own.

But Gillian Caldwell, chief climate officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, said many are starting to stick to a few key principles.

Those include asking for and incorporating feedback from funding recipients, cutting down on paperwork, being responsive to requests for help, and making sure most funding is provided as multi-year, unrestricted grants.

"That is the kind of support NGOs need," especially those working to change broader systems, Caldwell said.

Funders should also be aware that channelling outside money to threatened indigenous and frontline communities can put some at greater risk, particularly if names and addresses of recipients are published, she added.

Read the full article about supporting Indigenous groups by Laurie Goering at Thomson Reuters Foundation.