+ Fundraising lexicon

A lexicon of terms relevant to applying for media development funding and journalism support in alphabetical order.

As well as viewing terms related to media development funding in alphabetical order on this page, you can also view them by theme:

pageCall for proposals & terms of referencepageApplications & offerspageApplication formspageContracts & agreementspageStakeholderspageBudgets

Fundraising lexicon A-Z

The section that each term belongs to in brackets.

Affiliated entity (Stakeholders)

EU guidelines go into some detail about affiliated entities.

These are organisations that have a “structural link” with the lead applicant or a co-applicant although it is stipulated that this link should not be limited to the action or established for the purposes of the action.

They may be entities controlled by the applicant (daughter companies); entities controlling the applicant (parent companies); entities under the same control as the applicant (sister companies); or members of the applicant’s network, federation or association (if the applicant has this status).

Affiliated entities are permitted to declare eligible costs associated with the implementation of the action.

Activities (Applications forms)

Activities are the basic workstreams of a project which are physically implemented according to an agreed timeline.

In media development projects, common activities include training workshops, programme production, website development, discussion forums, legal drafting, collective lobbying, networking and study tours.

Activities are quantifiable and time-bound. They are also fully costed.

The EU likes to see activities divided into so-called “work packages” which are essentially homogenous blocks of activity that can contribute to more than one objective.

Alternatively, activities may be grouped according to phases of an implementation cycle, running consecutively or concurrently.

Associates (Stakeholders)

In general, associates do not have to meet the same eligibility criteria as applicants or co-applicants.

In principle, the advantage of including associates in a bid is that they demonstrate the applicants have strong links to local actors who have the potential to strengthen the credibility or broaden the outreach of an action.

The fact that such organisations are unable to receive project funding generally means that this status is of interest only to state-funded institutions or organisations benefiting from other grant programmes in the same thematic area.

The EU definition of associates is woolly. Associates are organisations or individuals who “play a real role in the action but may not receive funding from the grant, with the exception of per diem or travel costs”.

Assumptions (Applications forms)

Project authors are encouraged to recognise and document the factors that should be in place for a project to be viable.

According to the EU, the assumptions are

“factors outside the project management's control that may impact on the output-outcome linkage”.

These are likely to include environmental, political, social and economic issues. Assumptions are generally listed as part of the logframe or Theory of Change and need to be considered in concert with the risks for evaluation purposes.

Backstopping (Application forms)

A term used most commonly by the European Commission, backstopping refers to in-house project management resources which are deployed in support of any given project.

Usually based at the implementing organisation’s headquarters, the backstopping team supports the implementation team which, in most cases, is based in the field. It can comprise senior managers and executives as well as logistics officers, technical staff and finance personnel.

Typically, responsibilities include recruitment; strategic oversight; briefing, contracting and deploying short-term consultants; knowledge management; and partner liaison. The backstopping team deals with contractual issues, including agreements with consortium partners.

Often used in logical frameworks or results frameworks, a baseline is the current value of an indicator that provides a measure of the situation before the project starts (it is likely to be 0 if the project is new).

It is, therefore, used to measure change and monitor progress over the project lifecycle and is often assembled in the opening phase.

Baseline research (Application forms)

Monitoring and evaluation programmes need a starting point, a baseline against which progress can be measured. Sometimes this data is available from third-party sources but, for the most part, baseline research needs to be bespoke and properly geared to the anticipated results and targets of a programme.

In behavioural change communications, for example, the research may need to establish existing attitudes towards a target issue so that future waves of polling can establish whether or not these attitudes have changed as a result of the intervention.

Call for proposals (Call for proposals & ToRs)

This is probably the most common method for allocating funding for media projects. Donors launch a formal call that is based on key strategic goals and priorities.

The instructions to applicants include eligibility criteria defining the nationality, legal status and profile of organisations that may apply.

Guidelines may also stipulate ceilings and floors for budgets as well as timeframes both for the application process and the eventual project.

Calls for proposals may comprise multiple stages (concept notes, full applications etc.) or may be based on a single round.

Capability statement (Application forms)

An organisation’s capability statement provides the donor or potential partners with an insight into its main areas of expertise and recent track record as well as its human and technical resources.

It should be relatively short (no more than a page) and capture the salient features of the organisation’s core business.

Examples of past performance included in a capability statement should be succinct and should be carefully selected to illustrate the required areas of expertise.

It is worth remembering that, in all proposals, donors are looking for reassurances that a potential implementing partner has

  • The systems in place to manage contracts of a similar size and complexity;

  • A reputation for excellence, innovation and thought leadership in the target theme(s);

  • A sufficiently diverse portfolio that does not suggest over-reliance on one donor or funding source;

  • A deep understanding of the operating environment.

Thus, capability statements should be tailored for each bid.

Co-applicant (Stakeholders)

EU grant programmes refer to organisations that are not the lead partner as co-applicants. They need to satisfy the eligibility criteria governing the lead applicants, although additional criteria may be added.

For the application process, this usually means that they need to mandate the lead partner to act on their behalf.

For the purposes of implementation, co-applicants generally sign a legally binding agreement with the lead partner that stipulates their role and budgetary allocation whilst also reflecting the contractual obligations between the lead partner and the Contracting Authority.

Co-beneficiaries (Budgets)

Another word for co-applicants.

Co-funding/co-financing (Budgets)

Some programmes – particularly EU grant contracts – include a requirement for a certain percentage of the budget to be contributed from another source.

The rules for what this source can be are defined in the Terms of Reference but, in general terms, co-funding is derived from other donors and/or from the implementing organisation’s own financial resources.

Contributions in kind are usually not acceptable forms of co-funding since all expenditure (whether it is covered by the grant or not) needs to conform to the accountancy standards set by the main donor.

In other words, if a donor is providing 80% of the funding, then the implementing organisation will need to demonstrate that it has spent 100% of the direct costs in order to receive the full amount of the 80% contribution.

Co-funding is a divisive issue since it presents a major challenge for those organisations which do not have their own financial resources or an institutional sponsor that it is willing to cover the shortfall.

Donors argue that co-funding reflects faith in a project and a commitment to shared responsibility.

Compliance (Application forms)

Too often, funding applications are rejected because they are not “compliant” with the rules and criteria set out in the Terms of Reference or submission guidelines. Several donors run compliance checks before applications are presented to the evaluators or evaluation committee.

These checks will include:

  • the eligibility of the applicants (particularly nationality and legal status)

  • the amount of funding requested

  • co-funding requirements

  • the inclusion of signed declarations or commitments

Proposals which fail the compliance checks may be immediately rejected – although some donors may ask for supplementary information if they are unsure whether or not certain criteria have been met.

Applications which do not respect the submission deadline are automatically rejected and there is little or no value in contesting this outcome.

It is, therefore, vital to study the instructions in detail and draw up a checklist to make sure that you have covered all the bases. Do not assume that a specific donor’s guidelines are always the same – eligibility criteria, for example, can vary from one programme to another.

Concept note (Applications & Offers)

This is a 4-5 page document setting out the fundamental ideas and approach for a project as well as describing any formal partnerships that are integral to the project design.

Concept notes are usually requested as the first stage of a grant application process, thereby giving donors the chance to short-list those proposals which, in their view, best reflect the goals and priorities of the programme.

Short-listed applicants are then invited to submit a full application which should retain the core elements of the concept note including the partnerships involved and the proposed budget amount.

Conflict sensitivity (Application forms)

Donors encourage implementing agencies to recognise and avoid the dangers of exacerbating the tensions or deepening the fault-lines that exist in post-conflict societies.

This is a key risk for media development projects operating in such environments, especially those where media has traditionally played a key role in fanning the flames of resentment or distrust.

Conflict-sensitive projects should include an in-depth analysis of dividers and connectors in the conflict environment which will, in turn, help to shape the intervention strategy.

In broad terms, the strategy should consider ways of ensuring the proper inclusion of diverse stakeholder groups in all consultation processes; equitable participation in project activities; monitoring to capture changes in the operating environment; and the consideration of conflict-related issues in organisational practices (e.g. recruitment and security).

Consortium (Stakeholders)

A consortium consists of a lead partner and a number of junior partners, although the contract is usually signed between the lead partner and the Contracting Authority only.

Donors encourage applications from consortia formed for the purposes of the contract. In some cases, the other partners may be “jointly and severally liable” which means that responsibility for delivery is borne equally by the consortium members.

The value of a consortium-based approach is that it brings together organisations with complementary skills and experience, thereby ensuring that the key work streams benefit from each member’s expertise and credibility in the given subject area.

Contingency budget (Budgets)

Some donors allow for a set amount of contingency funding to be included in a project budget.

EU budgets, for example, allow for up to 5%.

Where this option exists, applicants are usually not under any obligation to include a contingency budget which cannot, in any case, be used without the permission of the Contracting Authority.

Recent templates suggest that many EU programmes have phased out the contingency allowance.

Contingency plan (Application forms)

A contingency plan is an essential element of an adaptive management strategy, showing that there are viable ways of ensuring business continuity, even if threat levels are elevated.

A contingency plan should look at multiple scenarios whilst mainstreaming measures for safeguarding the project’s reputation and credibility.

These plans are live documents that should be reviewed and updated as a project unfolds.

Contracting Authority (Stakeholders)

The donor is often referred to as the Contracting Authority which is responsible for disbursing the funding and ensuring proper accountability over the project lifecycle.

Projects that are funded by multiple donors are still likely to have one main funder who requires adherence to a specific set of rules aimed at ensuring proper stewardship and accountability.

Contributions by third parties (Budgets)

Implementing agencies may be able to call on contributions from third parties which do not have a financial value attached but which, nevertheless, enhance the perceived benefits of the intervention.

Contributions in kind (Budgets)

Definitions of “contributions in kind” tend to be hazy.

The common wisdom is that these contributions relate to any services provided to a project which have indeterminable costs and which, therefore, cannot be supported by specific financial evidence.

These contributions are generally unquantifiable and, while they may bring added value to a project, in accountancy terms they cannot be considered to be an eligible cost.

Contributions in kind are particularly relevant in programmes which require a percentage of co-funding.

Core funding (Budgets)

This is essentially funding that covers fixed overheads, including full-time personnel and office costs and which is allocated to ensure the beneficiaries can continue to operate in the long term without reliance on a consistent level of project income.

Institutional or core funding is the Holy Grail for most development organisations, be they charities, NGOs or foundations.

Core funding gives organisations greater space to invest in business development, research, policy-making, communications and other areas which are challenging to include in project budgets.

It insulates them from the economic impact of sea changes in the donor landscape or from the peaks and troughs which are an inevitable feature of not-for-profit operations.

Very few donors offer core funding opportunities; more often this kind of financial support is provided by governments, endowments or affiliated organisations.

Cost-share (Budgets)

Cost-share is a principle favoured by US donors and has similarities with the EU concept of co-funding. However, cost-share is more aspirational than co-funding.

At the proposal stage, applicants are asked to demonstrate a commitment to covering a percentage of the project’s costs from other sources.

In the case of US funding, these must be sources outside the Federal Government. The principles set out by the US Office of Management and Budget can be found here.

Such commitments are usually the subject of a cost-share plan which forms part of the application. The plan should provide “realistic, manageable, and allowable” estimates of direct contributions from participating organisations or leveraged funding from other donor sources.

The definition of allowed costs is much broader for US funding than for it is for, say, EU programmes. Cost-share might include volunteered time and facilities, donations of air-time or advertising space, or donations of commercial products and services.

A cost-share element is often included in sub-granting programmes, thereby passing on some of this responsibility to grantees.

Cross-cutting elements (Application forms)

While projects often comprise a set of linear or concurrent activity streams, there are likely to be elements that are relevant to multiple activities. Gender mainstreaming is a good example since a focus on the equality or empowerment of women stakeholders could be integral to a training programme and a production component that is part of the same project.

Generally speaking, cross-cutting elements should have their own indicators and targets and should, therefore, be measured and monitored as part of the wider MEL effort.

Deliverables (Applications forms)

A deliverable is another term for an output.

It is a product or service that the implementing agency has undertaken to deliver within a specified timeframe and for a specified budget.

Deliverables come as the result of a set of activities or a development process.

Direct costs (Budgets)

All costs relating to project-specific human resources, travel and subsistence, equipment, office expenditure, events, research, financial services etc are considered to be “direct costs”.

In other words, they are directly incurred by project activities and implementation. In most budget templates, direct costs are grouped under generic headings (personnel, travel, equipment etc) and include sub-contracts, sub-grants and partner allocations.

Supporting documentation is required for all direct costs in the form of payroll slips, receipts, invoices, itemised bills and direct debit payments. Where the input of salaried personnel is concerned, donors may require timesheets detailing days worked on the project.

Disability sensitivity (Applications forms)

This focus area is primarily about offering proper access to project activities to those with disabilities as well as making efforts to overturn negative attitudes towards disabled people.

Donors will expect applicants to reference appropriate measures in project proposals and, where relevant, to disaggregate indicators in order to reflect the impact on key identity groups.

Dissemination plan (Applications forms)

A dissemination plan relates to measures for sharing the outputs of projects, be they items of media content, research findings or training materials.

Donors are looking for implementing agencies to demonstrate that they are achieving good value for money by making outputs as widely available as possible and working towards long-term sustainability by ensuring that key products are embraced or institutionalised by a range of stakeholders.

Do No Harm (Applications forms)

Often confused with 'duty of care', Do No Harm policies focus on the interaction between a project and its operating environment.

The OECD provides the following definition:

“Doing no harm essentially means that external intervention does not undermine state-building processes. [International actors] can inadvertently do harm when the resources they deliver or the policy reforms they advocate exacerbate rather than mitigate the conditions for violent conflict, or they weaken rather than strengthen the state as a site of decision-making and policy formation over the deployment of public resources”.

Increasingly, donors require assurances regarding protection from violence, exploitation and abuse through involvement, directly or indirectly, with their suppliers and programmes.

The stated aim of DFID* (now part of the FCDO) is

“to avoid doing harm by ensuring that our interventions do not sustain unequal power relations, reinforce social exclusion and predatory institutions, exacerbate conflict, contribute to human rights risks, and/or create or exacerbate resource scarcity, climate change and/or environmental damage, and/or increasing communities’ vulnerabilities to shocks and trends. We seek to ensure our interventions do not displace/undermine local capacity or impose long-term financial burdens on partner governments”.

*Although DFID no longer exists, the document referenced here is yet to be superseded by an FCDO alternative.

Do No Harm policies should look at areas such as staff conduct, local ownership, inclusion, diversity, conflict sensitivity and mechanisms for dealing with complaints.

Duty of care (Applications forms)

Both donors and implementing organisations have a duty to safeguard the individuals and institutions involved in development programmes.

This extends to contracted personnel, partner organisations and participants in project activities.

Duty of care plans should be equitable, offering similar levels of support to local as well as international stakeholders.

They cover issues such as risk assessment, physical security, digital security, safety training, knowledge management, emergency protocols, contingency plans and roles and responsibilities.

Contractors are often required to include a statement that they have a duty of care to informants, other programme stakeholders and their own staff, and that they will comply with ethical principles in all programme activities.

Adherence to this duty of care should be included in interim reporting.

Eligibility criteria (Application forms)

Most funding programmes have strict eligibility criteria determining which organisations (or individuals) are able to apply for grants.

Typically, the criteria will include nationality (e.g. the country in which the organisation is registered) and legal status but they may also include requirements for applicants to demonstrate that they have delivered projects of a similar size, value and complexity in the recent past (often three years).

Donors do not make exceptions for eligibility criteria since they are fundamental to their commitment to fairness, openness and transparency. Consequently, they should be strictly adhered to.

Eligible costs (Budgets)

Terms of Reference will often provide explicit information on the nature of costs that are eligible for project funding.

Generally, these are determined by the generic headings presented in budget templates but further guidance may be provided for the avoidance of doubt.

In most contracts, eligible costs will cover all deployments, production overheads, research costs etc but there is often a grey area around contributions to the salaries of full-time staff (see Direct costs and Margin).

These may be renegotiated during the contracting stage.

Common examples of ineligible costs include debt service charges, currency exchange losses, credit to third parties and the salary costs of public servants.

Endline research (Applications forms)

This phase of research may include qualitative and/or quantitative elements, demonstrating the extent to which a programme has been successful in meeting its declared targets and bringing about the desired change.

Credible endline research will need to target the same identity groups as the baseline research, although it will aim to differentiate between those who have been exposed to the programme outputs and those who have not.

Evaluation (Applications forms)

Evaluation usually comprises objective quantitative and/or qualitative research aimed at ascertaining whether or not a project has met its declared targets (as established through indicators for success).

Examples include opinion polls or sectoral surveys as well as analysis of audience figures or online traffic.

Independent external evaluations may be included as part of a project’s proposed activities or commissioned by donors and funded from sources outside the project budget.

Expenditure verification (Budgets)

In addition to the incidental expenditure budget, service contracts include an allowance for expenditure verification.

This is effectively the cost of the audit(s) which the implementing consortium is contractually obliged to conduct according to a specified schedule.

The release of further funds is often contingent on the results of the audit.

The amount allocated for expenditure verification is quoted in the Terms of Reference and may not be modified.

Expression of Interest (Applications & Offers)

Competitive tenders for service contracts often begin with a procurement notice inviting eligible applicants to submit an Expression of Interest.

Would-be applicants are asked to present basic information about their organisation as well as providing details of past performance and technical and/or financial capacity.

In addition, bidders may be asked to meet a set of criteria that demonstrate they have experience of delivering a programme of a similar scale and an equivalent value, possibly also in a comparable environment.

For EU service contracts, implementing organisations are encouraged to apply as part of a consortium and, in these cases, the collective track record of the consortium may be taken into account.

Fees-based budget (Budgets)

A fees-based budget presents a simplified approach to both budget design and financial reporting. The costs of a project are structured according to an agreed number of working days and each working day is given an agreed value.

The value (or rate) is usually determined by the bidder and varies according to categories of expert (e.g. Key, Senior, Junior etc).

The rate is “loaded” which means that it should cover the actual cost of the expert (i.e. the consultancy fee) and the management overhead.

During the implementation phase, contractors report against the delivery of these days by providing signed timesheets detailing the number of days worked by each expert over the course of a month.

Additional documentation such as evidence of travel and payments may also be required.

Final beneficiaries (Application forms)

Final beneficiaries are a much larger group who benefit from the project’s outputs and are implicit in its outcomes.

The EU offers the following definition:

“those who will benefit from the action in the long term at the level of the society or sector at large”.

Two examples from media development projects:

Final beneficiaries will typically be specific audiences or representatives of identity groups targeted by programming.

Final beneficiaries can also be members of target groups who are not directly involved in the project (e.g. the wider media community).

Financial Offer (Applications & Offers)

Technical Offers are accompanied by a Financial Offer which is opened and evaluated only after the Technical Offers have been reviewed and scored.

Generally speaking, bidders endeavour to put forward a competitive budget that offers a discount on the maximum budget available.

However, in the scoring matrix, the weighting usually is placed on the Technical Offer, meaning that bidders with a very strong proposition may not feel the need to make an economically advantageous bid.

Framework contract (Contracts & agreements)

Increasingly, major donors have channelled funding through framework contracts which are essentially lists of preferred suppliers.

Implementing organisations can apply for framework contracts individually or as part of a consortium (in the EU, the latter approach is more common).

Once the list of contractors has been determined, ad hoc opportunities are channelled through the framework contract and the preselected organisations or consortia can decide whether or not to bid for them.

These opportunities are not open to organisations outside the framework. Application procedures are usually simplified and lead-times are often very tight.

Full application (Applications & Offers)

A full application enables would-be grantees to put meat on the bones of their idea, presenting key aspects of the proposal under generic section headings.

Typically, these headings will comprise a rationale for the intervention; a detailed description of proposed activities; a discussion of the target groups and their needs; the approach and methodology; risks and assumptions; and key issues such as sustainability and multiplier effects.

Most donors offer a template for full applications which includes a budget spreadsheet and a logical framework. Applications are generally evaluated according to a scoring matrix which is presented in the Terms of Reference.

Gender sensitivity/equality (Applications forms)

Gender considerations are mainstreamed in the vast majority of donor-funded programmes but the desired approach is often misinterpreted.

Equality is not as simple as ensuring that groups of participants are properly balanced between men and women or that research efforts will ensure that 50% of respondents are women.

Inclusion is important but empowerment and decision-making are also key factors.

Donors also want to see proposals that break gender stereotypes by putting women in non-traditional roles and that promote equal opportunities in recruitment drives.

Grant contract (Contracts & agreements)

Grants generally have a different budget structure to service contracts and are based on ideas submitted by the applicants in response to published guidelines.

As a rule, they are allocated through formal calls for proposals but some donors allocate grants on an ad hoc basis and manage programmes that accept applications throughout the year.

Grant contracts are managed by the grantee who is required to report back to the donor according to a structured schedule but who can make decisions regarding implementation and expenditure without referring to the donor provided that agreed parameters are observed.

Incidental expenditure (Budgets)

The rules for incidental expenditure are usually detailed in the Terms of Reference and include areas such as travel, the cost of holding events, research studies, graphic design, technical development, translation and visibility materials.

It is not possible for contractors to charge a management fee against incidental expenditure and financial reports need to include detailed documentary evidence of the actual costs incurred.

A contract amendment is required to transfer funds from the incidental expenditure budget to the fees-based budget. It is not possible to transfer funds in the opposite direction.

EU service contracts also include a set allowance for incidental expenditure which relates to all costs outside the fees-based part of the budget.

Indicators (of success) (Applications forms)

Also called “objectively verifiable indicators” (OVIs), indicators provide donors with a yardstick for assessing the actual impact of a project. Indicators are usually linked to both outcomes and outputs and are, perhaps, most useful when they incorporate a numerical value (e.g. a percentage or a quantity).

According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

“Indicators are performance measures, which tell us what will be measured not what is to be achieved”.

They should be specific and relevant as well as being disaggregated where appropriate.

In media development projects, indicators of success will typically be linked to issues such as:

  • The reach of programming

  • Quantifiable shifts in attitudes or behaviour among both target groups and final beneficiaries

  • Evidence of take-up for project outputs, including the application of new skills to practice

  • Evidence of institutional change (e.g. adoption of policy or procedure)

  • Audience engagement levels

Indirect costs (Budgets)

In acknowledgement of the fact that it is not possible to itemise all costs incurred by an implementing organisation, most donors provide an allowance for “indirect costs”.

In general, “indirect costs” are fixed operating costs including contributions to rent, communications, legal services, senior management, IT support etc.

This allowance is usually calculated as a percentage of the direct costs (EU grant contracts, for example, offer up to 7% while US government contracts allow applicants to use a Negotiated Indirect Cost Rate Agreement - NICRA).

Note that this is directly linked to project expenditure so, in order to receive the full value of the indirect costs, an implementing agency will need to disburse the totality of the direct costs

Inputs represent the starting point for a Theory of Change, generally covering the amount of money provided by the donor as well as the project management resources and expertise deployed by both the donor and the implementing agency.

Intervention logic (Application forms)

The intervention logic is a narrative version of the Theory of Change, explaining how “the activities will lead to the outputs, the outputs to the outcome(s) and the outcome(s) to the expected impact”.

It is usually described through the formulaic use of “if”, “then” and “therefore” and is a handy way of articulating the logical progression of an idea.

The intervention logic may also include a description of linkages and relationships between activity clusters.

Junior partner (Stakeholders)

Co-applicants or consortium partners are sometimes referred to as “junior partners”.

This term does not detract from the importance of their role in a project. It simply indicates that they are not the lead partner (or “prime” in US parlance) and, therefore, will not be direct signatories of the contract with the funder.

Key Experts (Stakeholders)

Key personnel named in a bid are usually referred to as “Key Experts”.

As a rule, they have management roles as well as providing technical assistance for specific components of a project.

Key Expert CVs are presented as part of a bid and are scored against prescribed criteria. In some cases, they can account for a significant percentage of the available points and it is, therefore, important for bidders to ensure that they meet the requirements of the Terms of Reference as exactly as possible.

For EU bids, Key Experts need to be exclusive to the applicant; this is not always the case with other donors.

Key Performance Indicators (Application forms)

KPIs generally relate to contract management rather than the results-level indicators which measure success across different workstreams or activity strands.

KPIs give donors the opportunity to assess how the implementing agency is performing in terms of meeting milestones, achieving high-quality standards and facilitating effective communications between stakeholders.

KPIs should be agreed upon at the beginning of a programme and mapped in progress reports. They may be revised if a project’s design and work plan undergo significant modifications due to unforeseen changes in the operating environment.

Typical KPIs include:

  • Quality and delivery, including timely achievement of milestones and effective risk management

  • Financial management and forecasting including cost controls and timely submission of forecasts and invoices

  • Personnel performance, including appropriate levels of expertise allocated to the programme and ability to address problems with appropriate escalation channels

  • Client relationship management, including responsiveness and the regularity of communications

  • Continuous improvement and innovation including the ability to maximise VfM and actively capture and incorporate lessons learned

  • Environmental and social safeguards including efforts to minimise the impact on the environment and a proactive policy of employing local staff wherever possible

Knowledge management (Application forms)

Donors have shown a keen interest in proper knowledge management in recent years. The aim is to capture learning generated by a project and to share it with stakeholders, both internally and externally.

Effective knowledge management can play an important role in ensuring that good practice models are made available to other actors operating in the same field while also giving media development organisations the chance to avoid common mistakes or misconceptions.

Another key aspect of knowledge management within projects is the ability to ensure business continuity during changes in personnel or partnerships.

The problem with knowledge management is that it rarely takes place outside the confines of specific programmes or organisations and is often enacted on closed platforms only. There are also issues of data protection and other sensitivities that make it problematic.

Lead applicant/partner (Stakeholders)

Where more than one organisation is involved in a grant application, the bidding process requires that one member of the consortium is nominated as the “lead”.

Generally, it is the lead partner which coordinates the preparation of the proposal, drives the project design and, in the event of a successful bid, signs the contract with the donor.

The lead will, therefore, manage the contract, reporting on delivery against KPIs and making formal applications for contract amendments when/if necessary.

What was once M&E is now often termed MEL, underlining the increasing emphasis on introducing mechanisms to learn from the findings of monitoring and evaluation work.

As noted above (under “Monitoring”), the value of examining lessons learned throughout a project is that this enables implementing organisations to align planned activities as closely as possible to the perceived needs and interests of stakeholders. This ensures that projects are properly adaptive, evolving over time.

Another key aspect of learning is the management of this knowledge, disseminating lessons learned to partners and other stakeholders, thereby bringing benefits on an institutional as well as a project level.

Level of effort (Budgets)

Level of effort is a term used to describe the proportion of time that an individual member of staff is likely to devote to a project.

For example, if it is envisaged that a manager is likely to spend one day a week supporting proposed activities, then the level of effort (LoE) will be presented as 20%. This is then used to calculate the proportion of a person’s salary which can reasonably be charged to the project budget.

Logical framework (Application forms)

A logical framework (logframe) is a matrix that presents the assumptions, indicators, targets, baselines, and sources of verification related to a project’s anticipated outcomes and outputs.

It offers project evaluators the opportunity to stress-test a project design by assessing the extent to which outcomes are realistic and the extent to which progress towards these outcomes can be measured. A logframe also provides project managers with a tool for monitoring progress and, potentially, for ensuring timely course-correction.

Donors tend to use different templates for logframes and some have abandoned them in favour of Theory of Change charts but they still represent the most common framework for project design, acting as a starting point for developing project ideas and also as a way of ensuring that partners and contributors have a shared vision of the programme.

Most donors accept that logframes are dynamic documents that should be revisited and updated as a project unfolds.

Implementing organisations should not be afraid to renegotiate proposed targets in order to properly manage expectations among key stakeholders.

Calls for proposals may be divided into separate lots, each with a budgetary allocation and a thematic focus. The idea is to ensure that global budgets can be properly spread across core priorities.

There are often limits for the number of lots which any one organisation can apply for under a single programme.

Lump sum (Budgets)

Where is it not possible to calculate the unit costs, some donors (particularly the EU) may allow for a lump sum, flat rate or apportionment to be presented in the budget.

These so-called “simplified” costs are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and often form the subject of negotiations after a contract has been awarded.

In general, the EU will not accept lump sums when an alternative is possible and may ask for lump sums to be broken down into unit costs during project implementation.

The term “margin” is most often used in relation to fee-based contracts and is effectively the difference between the actual costs of deployment and the agreed rate.

For example, if the daily rate for an expert is €800 but the expert charges €500 per day, then the margin would be €300. Contractors use the margin or “profit” to cover their management and operating expenses.

In EU service contracts, there is no obligation to account for how the margin is spent.

Methodology (Applications forms)

Also termed the “approach”, the methodology comprises the techniques and methods which will be employed by the project in order to deliver against its programmatic commitments.

In particular, a description of a project’s methodology should include a discussion of the sequencing of activities and the inter-relationship between them.

It should also explain why certain techniques have been selected.

For example, when presenting the merits of on-the-job mentoring as the chosen approach for a capacity-building programme, a grant applicant might explain that mentoring can be more effective than classroom-based training because the learning-by-doing approach ensures that relevant skills are passed on in a practical work environment.

Midline research (Application forms)

Research conducted at the midway point helps to determine the extent to which programming is having the desired impact and gives implementing organisations the chance to modify their approach and strategy if the results suggest otherwise.

In some programmes, effective monitoring work may take the place of midline research, providing insight into audience response or take-up on a rolling basis.

Milestones (Application forms)

Defined as the “desired trajectory from baseline to target”, milestones are used to help track progress across a period of time.

They give managers the opportunity to revise or modify activities in those cases where milestones indicate that targets are not being met.

Monitoring (Application forms)

While monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) are often grouped together, they represent different stages in an ongoing linear effort to assess the impact of a project.

Monitoring is a regular activity that generates insights into a project’s progress and allows implementing agencies to learn from stakeholder feedback and, where necessary, recalibrate activities in line with this feedback.

Monitoring tools are often qualitative and might include focus groups, self-assessment questionnaires or key informant interviews.

A good example is social media listening aimed at capturing the audience’s response to content and audience engagement levels on key platforms.

Multiplier effects (Application forms)

Projects often enjoy resonance outside the parameters of the logical framework, bringing additional benefits to other target groups or stakeholders.

This may be planned or unplanned but it is an important element of project reporting since multiplier effects offer donors value for money as well as a good insight into the wider impact and potential extension.

A good example of a multiplier or ripple effect is trained professionals imparting new skills to colleagues in the workplace.

Narrative (Application & offers)

The word “narrative” is used to denote the part of a grant application which describes the project in detail, including its rationale, objectives, outcomes, activities, resources, timeline and management provisions.

In other words, it is a long-form, text-based discussion of a project’s “why”, “what”, “how” and “when”. This is distinct from the other common elements of an application such as the budget, the logframe or any supporting documents. In addition, some donors may require a “budget narrative” which presents a detailed explanation and justification of costs.

Non-Key Experts (Stakeholders)

In addition to the Key Experts, bidders are generally asked to demonstrate that they can deploy a range of other skills and expertise in the form of Non-Key Experts – individuals who work on the project on an ad hoc basis, for short periods of time.

While the overall number of working days for these experts may well be defined in the Terms of Reference, there is no requirement for their CVs to be presented as a part of the bid.

However, it is common for applicants to provide short biographies of Non-Key Experts in the Technical Offer, thereby giving evaluators an insight into the range of consultants who can be called upon and the breadth of their experience.

Calls for proposals are often termed as “open calls”, meaning that they are effectively open for all eligible organisations to apply.

They are distinct from calls which have already been through a short-listing process and are, therefore, only open to a pre-selected group of applicants. In addition, some donors use the term “open calls” to describe grant programmes which are continuously open – i.e. that do not have submission deadlines and accept applications as long as funds are available.

According to the EU, an outcome is

“the likely or achieved short-term and medium-term effects of an Action’s outputs”.

The UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office defines it as

“the effect of the project which will be obtained at medium term and which tends to focus on the changes in behaviour resulting from project”.

Outcomes should be achievable within the project lifecycle and progress towards them should be measurable.

They should capture the resonance of activities and outputs that is felt outside the project’s primary arena.

So, in the case of a journalism training programme, for example, the outcome is not the acquisition of skills but rather the result of applying these skills to practice.

In a project that produces media content, the outcome is not the volume or reach of the content but rather its effect on the audience, its ability to shape or influence public opinion.

Outputs are defined as the direct/tangible products, goods and services which are delivered by a project.

The outputs will provide the conditions necessary for achieving the outcome, therefore the logic of the results chain from output to outcome needs to be clear.

In media development projects, outputs include tangible deliverables such as programming, publications and training materials as well as intangible benefits such as skills and know-how acquired by participants.

Outtakes are the actions taken by audiences in response to communications products. Examples include social media engagement, sharing and comments.

They can be used to measure shifts in behaviour and attitudes among target audiences.

Outtakes are presented in Theories of Change as an interstitial phase between outputs (e.g. programming) and outcomes (e.g. behavioural change).

Overall objective (Application forms)

Sometimes referred to as a super-goal, the project’s overall objective is a long-term programmatic aspiration that will stem from a combination of the project’s outcomes and those delivered by other interventions or processes.

In other words, the overall objective does not need to be achievable by the given project alone: long-term success will rely on progress being made across multiple strands of work, including the project.

Success will also be dependent on a number of external factors and influences.

The overall objective is sometimes presented as an impact statement which, according to DFID* guidance:

“may be nested within broader undertakings and may draw on the wider goals of a funder’s programme”.

*Although DFID no longer exists, the document referenced here is yet to be superseded by an FCDO alternative.

Overheads (Budgets)

Overheads are generally management costs that include the fixed costs incurred by organisations at their base of operations as well as project-specific expenses related to personnel in management, logistical or administrative positions.

Covering overheads from project income remains a major challenge, particularly for organisations that do not have unrestricted core funding, endowments or institutional support.

For the most part, overheads are covered partly from indirect cost allowances (see “indirect costs”) and partly from contributions to salaries which are presented as direct costs incurred by an action.

Procurement notice (Applications & offers)

Tender processes usually begin with a procurement notice (sometimes called a “contract notice”) which invites interested parties to submit an expression of interest or a request for participation.

The procurement notice will include very basic details of the tender (sometimes no more than a paragraph) and the maximum budget amount as well as the eligibility criteria and other conditions of participation. It will also stipulate the submission deadline and the wider timetable for the tender process.

Procurement notices should not be confused with forecast notices which provide much of the same information but which do not signal the actual launch of the tender.

Programmatic funding (Budgets)

This term is used to describe funding which is not project-based.

“Programmes” are often thematic or geographic and are defined as a set of interlinked sub-projects, unified by an overarching vision, common objectives and contribution to strategic goals, which will deliver sustained results and impact within a donor’s priority areas.

Programmes are often developed and negotiated in close cooperation with national governments and other donors, thereby

  • strengthening local ownership

  • promoting the integration of programme outputs into local decision-making

  • and increasing opportunities for co-financing

The approach is based on the premise that project-based activities provide beneficiary countries with very little leverage to influence sector-wide transformation, while a programmatic approach is more likely to deliver synergies and results that benefit all stakeholders.

Quality assurance (Application forms)

Implementing organisations are encouraged to describe the measures which will be taken by both the backstopping and implementing teams to ensure high-quality standards across the project lifecycle.

These measures should be managed by named personnel who have a responsibility for ensuring that KPIs are met and that outputs are consistent. Various QA standards exist (e.g. IS0 9001), providing a tried-and-tested framework for project managers to use.

Replication (Application forms)

Although often treated in the same section of a grant application, replication and multiplier effects have different connotations.

Outputs that are replicated are adopted by other stakeholders outside the project’s immediate remit.

Examples might include a programme format or a business model which is developed in collaboration within one media outlet and which is then embraced by others.

The terms “results” and “outcomes” are interchangeable.

Rights-based approach (Application forms)

The European Commission encourages contractors to apply a rights-based approach to all interventions.

This comprises a commitment to ensuring that human rights issues (economic, political, civil, cultural and social) are properly assessed, monitored and evaluated in all programmes.

According to this methodology, programme strategies should build the capacities of citizens to claim their human rights and of duty-bearers to fulfil their obligations to respect human rights.

Donors and implementing agencies should also ensure that rights-holders are given the opportunity to shape project strategies. This participation should prioritise marginalised groups.

Finally, activities should “promote accessible, transparent and effective mechanisms of accountability”, including providing proper access to information in local languages.

In general, the rights-based approach offers a range of best-practice models which can help to shape intervention methodologies and promote local ownership.

Risk matrix/risk analysis (Applications forms)

A robust and comprehensive risk matrix helps to reassure a potential donor that the project authors are fully aware of any factors or threats which might derail proposed activities or compromise the project’s ability to achieve its declared goals.

There are multiple formats for risk matrices but most divide risks into generic categories such as political, programmatic, reputational, economic, fiduciary and security-related risks.

The likelihood and potential impact of risks should be assessed, sometimes using a points-based system, thereby demonstrating the extent to which these risks can be managed and mitigated.

Safeguarding (Application forms)

This area has much in common with 'duty of care' but generally relates to measures that are put in place to protect vulnerable groups from any negative consequences of being involved in development programmes.

Good examples include protections for women from conservative societies who are invited to take part in research studies or training opportunities.

Safeguarding policies may also cover the protection of data relating to individuals involved in activities that may be negatively viewed by informal power structures, peers or family members.

Security plan (Applications forms)

The security plan should address digital and information security as well as personal risk and external threats to business continuity.

It should describe the measures in place to protect project personnel from external threats and to extricate them from dangerous situations.

For projects with an in-country presence, other areas to be considered might include

  • building security;

  • due diligence when selecting premises for group activities (e.g. training);

  • safe transport for staff and participants; protective equipment for hostile environments;

  • and secure communications.

Ensuring the integrity of data is also key, therefore IT security measures need to be fully outlined.

Service contract (Contracts & agreements)

The EU, in particular, makes a clear distinction between “service contracts” which are based on prescriptive Terms of Reference and “grant contracts” which give applicants greater freedom to present diverse ideas under broad thematic headings.

In service contracts, the relationship between the Contracting Authority and the implementing organisation is different. Delivery is more closely controlled and formal sign-off is required for most activities and related expenditure.

Key performance indicators are established by the donor and monitored by the donor’s project manager.

A significant part of the budget for EU service contracts (usually the lion’s share) is based on an agreed number of working days each of which carries a loaded fee rate (meaning that the rate covers the actual costs of the individual concerned as well as a management fee). The remainder of the budget is based on actual costs (incidental expenditure) which are calculated separately.

SMART principles (Application forms)

SMART principles offer a useful framework for establishing and stress-testing project objectives.

SMART is an acronym that is usually taken to stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound (although the “R” is sometimes given as “realistic”).

In a funding application, it can be helpful to use SMART principles to structure the discussion of your objectives. The bullet points below provide some pointers:

  • Specific: state what the objective means in real terms, whom it will affect and how.

  • Measurable: explain the metrics and mechanisms that will be used to chart progress towards the objective, using key indicators of success.

  • Achievable: consider the assets, resources and methodologies that you will deploy in order to achieve the declared objective.

  • Relevant: provide a brief insight into why this goal is necessary and how it responds to perceived needs within the given sector/theme.

  • Time-bound: offer an indication of the timeframe required to deliver the activities that will enable you to work towards the objective.

Specific objectives (Application forms)

An application's specific objectives should be achievable in the proposed timeframe but this will ultimately rely on outcome targets being met and on key assumptions being justified.

Objectives are strategic and are likely to be long-term aspirations (as opposed to outcomes that are short- and medium-term).

Progress towards the specific objectives will be assessed at key junctures along the project lifecycle but objectives do not offer an end-state in the same way as outcomes; instead they present a pathway to success.

Sole applicant (Stakeholders)

Structural links can be established for the sole purpose of the implementation of the project.

A sole applicant or a sole beneficiary is a legal entity formed by several entities (a group of entities) which collectively comply with the eligibility criteria.

The example usually given in guidelines for applicants is “an association formed by its members”.

The entities which make up a sole applicant are generally treated as affiliated entities for the purposes of the project and budget design.

Sources of verification (Application forms)

All indicators require a source of verification.

Source verification is a means of objectively assessing whether or not targets have been attained.

These sources can be external to the project (e.g. third-party reports focusing on related issues) or part of the monitoring and evaluation programme (e.g. survey results, the findings of focus group discussions, transcripts of key informant interviews, self-assessment questionnaires etc).

The sources should allow an external evaluator to see a direct link between project activities and anticipated outcomes.

It is good practice to state the frequency of data sources and ensure that they are consistent with milestones and targets.

Some logframes also include a requirement to specify who will take responsibility for collecting the data and how often.

The quality of external (third-party) sources should be assessed by interrogating the methodologies used and considering their scope.

Steering Committee (Stakeholders)

Some donors – particularly the EU – ask for a Steering Committee to be established at the start of the project. The Committee’s role is to provide oversight as well as strategic advice to implementing organisations. Often it will include representatives from key beneficiary groups in addition to the Contracting Authority and consortium partners.

Sub-contracting (Budgets)

The proportion of costed activities which can be sub-contracted usually has a limit that is stipulated in the Terms of Reference (5% to 10% is common).

The idea is to ensure that the bulk of activities are delivered by implementing agencies drawing on their own trusted resources and networks.

In cases where contractors wish to involve third-party suppliers, the provision is usually presented in the project proposal and budget.

Nevertheless, in EU-funded programmes, sub-contracts are governed by procurement rules and contracts above a specified value need to be put out to tender.

Typical examples of activities that are sub-contracted include quantitative research, post-production and technical development.

Sub-grantee (Stakeholders)

In EU parlance, sub-grantees are third parties that receive financial support through designated sub-granting programmes (see “Support to third parties”).

US donors often refer to organisations other than the lead partner as “sub-grantees” and US budget templates provide room for presenting distinct budget allocations for these organisations (with a separate margin or management overhead).

Supplies contract (Contracts & agreements)

Members of the media development community rarely apply for supply contracts which relate to the provision of equipment or the development of infrastructure for beneficiaries in third countries.

Supplies contracts can form part of a wider service contract.

Support to third parties (Budgets)

This kind of support usually relates to funds which contractors can pass on to local beneficiaries as part of a sub-granting programme.

The proportion of the overall project budget which can be channelled through sub-granting is usually stipulated in the Terms of Reference which also define funding ceilings and eligibility criteria for grantees.

The aim of sub-granting is to pass some of the administrative burdens from the donor to an intermediary, thereby making it possible for multiple small grants to be awarded.

The rules for reporting on the expenditure of sub-grants are usually as stringent as those for direct grants.

Sustainability (Application forms)

The term is much abused and often misinterpreted.

EU applications ask for a treatment of sustainability under specific topic headings: institutional, policy, financial and environmental which give some insight into the areas in which a level of sustainability can be achieved.

Fundamentally, a discussion of sustainability should look at

(a) how core activities can be continued after the end of grant funding or

(b) how they will be assimilated by the project’s beneficiaries.

For example, a journalism training programme could be deemed “sustainable” if its syllabus or learning aids were later adopted by a local centre offering professional training courses to journalists.

Equally, the sustainability of a TV programme might be assured if it were to be commissioned by a local TV channel at the end of the project.

Synergies (Application forms)

Implementing agencies are encouraged to seek synergies with other organisations working in the same field, thereby ensuring that resources can be pooled where possible and that duplication of efforts can be avoided.

The identification of synergies is a vital aspect of effective coordination within a development community that relies on multiple grants from multiple sources and that does not necessarily operate according to a regional or national strategy.

Targets show what is achievable over the agreed lifecycle and, therefore, they are generally set for the closing stages of the project.

They are generally informed by evidence from previous interventions and should be as realistic as possible, taking into account context, external influences and assumptions.

It is a mistake to be overly ambitious, since this may later lead to a perception that the project has overpromised and underachieved.

Targets should be disaggregated where possible.

Target groups (Application forms)

Target groups are the stakeholders who benefit directly from activities envisaged in the project work-plan.

They are, according to the EU:

“groups/entities who will directly benefit from the action at the action purpose level”.

Two examples:

The target group of a journalism training programme would be the individuals who are eligible to attend the courses.

The target group of a legal reform programme would be the law-makers and other interlocutors who are directly involved in developing the new legislation and who will be asked to implement it.

Target groups are often quantifiable and, in some cases, may be very small.

Several donors differentiate between target groups and final beneficiaries.

Technical Offer (Applications & Offers)

A Technical Offer is the term used to describe the narrative proposal in a competitive tender. It often includes a set of CVs for Key Experts whose professional qualifications are evaluated as part of the bid.

Technical Offers come in response to Terms of Reference drawn up by the Contracting Authority and, as a rule, should seek to demonstrate that the bidder fully understands the prescribed tasks and has an effective methodology for delivering them.

Technical Offers should also reflect an in-depth knowledge of the risks, challenges and opportunities inherent to the operating environment.

A tender is a competitive procurement process whereby a donor gives shortlisted applicants (often working in consortia) the chance to make a technical and financial offer for a predefined set of services. These services are described in detail in the Terms of Reference for the tender.

Effectively, applicants need to demonstrate that they have the resources, experience and methodologies needed to achieve the project’s goals as well as a deep understanding of the operating environment and context in which the project will unfold.

The financial offer should also be competitive but this is not simply a question of undercutting the rival consortia. Usually, the scoring matrix is weighted in favour of the technical offer, so a very strong proposal can win a tender, even if the financial offer is not the lowest of those submitted.

For EU tenders, the common wisdom is that bidders should put in a price that is between 8% and 12% lower than the maximum budget allowed. However, there are plenty of examples of successful bids that have sailed much closer to the wind.

Terms of Reference (Call for proposals & ToRs)

Also known as a Statement of Requirements, Terms of Reference (ToRs) set out the donor’s vision of the programme, highlighting the strategic objectives and the desired or anticipated results.

ToRs vary enormously in the level of detail presented, ranging from just a few lines to dozens of pages.

Applicants are strongly advised to ensure that their project ideas fall clearly within the parameters of the Terms of Reference: applications which respond to only a part of the ToRs are rarely successful.

In the case of two-stage competitive tenders, this document may be published only after the applicants have been short-listed.

Theory of Change (Application forms)

It does this by identifying the long-term goals, then working back to identify the outcomes and outputs which need to be in place for these goals to be achieved. The desired outputs provide the basis for identifying the most effective type of activity.

A Theory of Change can be developed for any level of intervention – an event, a project, a programme, a policy, a strategy or an organisation. It leads to improved evaluation since progress towards the long-term goals can be measured through the results chain.

A Theory of Change is often presented as a graphic that comprises a series of boxes from inputs to outputs to outcomes and, finally, to impact. It thus provides a more visual perception of a project’s raison d’être than a logical framework.

Unit cost (Budgets)

Most budgets are based on unit costs whereby the applicant determines the relevant unit for each cost line (i.e. day, month, item) as well as the value of that unit and then calculates the number of units that will be required.

Financial reports are expected to be linked to the same unit costs.

Value for money (Application forms)

Several donors require a discussion of value for money (VfM) in project proposals, thereby assessing how implementing organisations will ensure funds are properly managed and achieve the optimum return on investment.

According to DFID*:

“The purpose of VfM is to develop a better understanding and better articulation of costs and results so that we can make more informed, evidence-based choices.”

UK government donors recommend that VfM is considered in four key areas: economy, efficiency, effectiveness and equity. These markers demonstrate how costs will be kept to an acceptable level but also how funds will be fairly distributed with a focus on proper inclusion.

VfM approaches should include a process of continuous improvement and an agreed set of VfM indicators should be monitored on a regular basis, then presented in interim reports and annual reviews.

*Although DFID no longer exists, the document referenced here is yet to be superseded by an FCDO alternative.


Media viability refers to the ability of a media organisation, such as a newspaper, TV station, or online news outlet, to remain financially sustainable and profitable while providing quality journalism and serving the interests of its audience.

Media viability is influenced by a variety of factors, including the organisation's revenue streams, cost structure, audience engagement, and competitive landscape. In today's digital age, media organizations are also impacted by rapidly changing technology and evolving consumer behaviors.

In order to maintain media viability, organisations often need to adapt their business models, explore new revenue streams, and invest in technologies that can improve efficiency and engagement. This can involve a delicate balance between preserving the quality and integrity of journalism, while also meeting the financial demands of running a media organization.

Visibility (Application forms)

The requirement for projects to be “visible” and, in particular, to acknowledge the source of their funding in external communications varies from programme to programme and is often modulated according to local sensitivities and security concerns in the target country (or region).

As a rule, donors want the funding source to be recognised and will make exceptions only when this might compromise the safety of implementing organisations and beneficiaries.

Major funders such as the EU have an extensive set of guidelines relating to the presentation of their emblem and the phraseology of the acknowledgement.

Some also seek to determine the positioning of the implementing organisation’s branding in relation to their own.

For larger programmes, issues of visibility need to be addressed in a communications plan which details the platforms and measures which will be taken in order to promote the project and share its outputs.

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