Call for proposals & terms of reference

This is a subsection of the fundraising lexicon developed as part of the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide.

For the full fundraising lexicon (A-Z) go to

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Call for proposals

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.

Open calls

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.


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.


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

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.

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