Tribal, Ecotec, the Community Development Foundation and A4E are all up for consideration because they are on a list of approved grant makers drawn up in 2005. If none is deemed suitable, an open tender could follow. A spokesman for the Office of the Third Sector said it hoped to make an appointment by November.
The winning organisation will distribute the full £50m to local funding organisations such as community foundations. Local funders will match grants to create endowment funds that can be used to make grants to local organisations.
The Office of the Third Sector has not yet decided whether local partners will need to show how much match funding they have raised before applying for part of the £50m, or whether they will be allocated grants that they later have to match.
Stephen Hammersley, chief executive of the Community Foundations Network, said he was concerned the programme was off to a bureaucratic start.
"There is a risk that by appointing a national partner we'll be layering cost and bureaucracy," he told Third Sector. "We shouldn't reinvent the wheel. We already have processes and infrastructure in place, and we should use them."
Hammersley also suggested that community foundations should be able to apply for the local funder status as a group.
"The short cut would be to apply in a bloc, rather than filling in 40 separate detailed applications," he said.
Community foundations need to raise their game if they want to play a part in 21st century philanthropy, delegates at the Community Foundations Network biennial conference will hear today.
George Hepburn, chief executive of the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation, will tell delegates in his plenary session that community foundations will have to adjust to demographic changes, with people living longer and wanting to invest time and energy as well as money. The trend was also identified by nfpSynergy's report The 21st Century Donor (Third Sector, 5 September).
Philanthropy is also likely to become more competitive, Hepburn will say, and community foundations will have to offer projects that meet their communities' concerns, such as those that address climate change.