5. Types of application
Module five of the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide.
Clearly, each donor has its own procedures, many of which have evolved over time and continue to evolve, so there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all proposal. However, there are many commonalities that allow applicants to successfully adapt project ideas for multiple bids.
The headings below cover the different processes which are relevant to the media development community. There are, of course, others that are not addressed here but the intention is to raise awareness of the most commonly used approaches.
Several donors – principally foundations – have open application processes whereby organisations can apply for funding at any time using standard templates and application procedures. A few have two or three deadlines during the course of the year.
This is probably the most convenient approach, allowing applicants to spend more time preparing their bids and to submit an application only when all the elements are in place.
However, these programmes are also highly competitive and receive a very significant number of applications. It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that they must, at some point during the year, overreach themselves (i.e. run out of available funds).
They may also ask an organisation running an ongoing programme to apply for follow-up funding if it is considered that the project is going particularly well and deserves to be continued.
That said, most donors are eager to maintain a reputation for equity and transparency, so direct approaches are exceptional. A retendering process whereby the incumbent fights off challenges from other contenders are more common.
Unless donors specifically state that they do not accept unsolicited proposals or an open procedure has been launched in a related field, it is possible to share ideas and concept notes on an ad hoc basis, particularly if you have a good working relationship with desk officers and you believe that your proposal is timely (e.g. linked to an event or a crisis).
On the vast majority of occasions, the donor will refer you to an upcoming programme or will reply that they have no funds available at the current time. If they respond at all. Direct approaches are often used for securing co-funding but it is worth recognising that most donor programmes lack flexibility and need to bend their own rules in order to allocate direct grants. They are also wary of setting dangerous precedents.
Under this model, the proposal which is likely to include a detailed budget and log-frame presents a comprehensive response to the objective, themes and/or priorities of the published terms of reference.
Varying levels of feedback are given to unsuccessful bids ranging from a simple rejection letter to formal opportunities to discuss the shortcomings of the proposal during a phone call with the grant officer.
Other donors apart from the EU run similar processes – normally without the third stage. Concept notes are aimed at reducing the investment of time and effort into developing lengthy proposals for oversubscribed programmes.
Bizarrely, some EU calls for proposals request applicants to submit a concept note and full application at the same time, although the process for internal evaluation is supposedly the same. This is presumably aimed at reducing the long lead-time for the application process but does little to reduce the frustration of unsuccessful applicants.
The launch is marked by the publication of a procurement notice which generally includes minimal information about the programme, the budget amount and basic eligibility criteria (including financial and technical capacity).
Tenderers are encouraged to form consortia in order to meet these criteria and are invited to submit an expression of interest setting out their technical and financial credentials as well as examples of recent past performance.
Consortia are given a maximum of 60 days to put together technical and financial offers which respond to the Terms of Reference. An important part of this process is identifying and securing the individuals whose CVs will be presented as part of the bid.
Very often they account for a significant proportion of the overall score and, therefore, it is vital to ensure that their skills and experience match those presented in the Terms of Reference as closely as possible.
Technical offers are evaluated by a committee in closed session and are scored according to the evaluation matrix. On occasion, the committee may request interviews with the candidates for Key Expert positions in order to assess the accuracy of the information contained in their CVs as well as to discuss their vision for the project.
Generally speaking (and Covid-19 aside), the results of these processes are announced fairly rapidly and the winning consortium starts work as soon as the contract is signed.
Competitive tenders are tough, requiring a very intense period of work and drawing down considerable resources. Leading agencies will commit teams of 6-8 people to large tenders as well as drawing in expertise from the outside. There is a high degree of sensitivity about conflicts of interest and insider dealing, meaning that challenges are relatively common and EU agencies take them very seriously. If a contention is raised during the tendering process, then the evaluation may be put on hold until the issue is resolved.
In simple terms, a framework contract is a closed list of preferred suppliers who compete for ad hoc grants, although they may also bring in partners from outside the framework as members of a consortium.
Procedures are supposed to be simplified and the timeframe given to organisations to prepare their bids is often very tight.
While the size of the grants attached to framework contracts can be substantial, this is not an approach that resonates well with many implementing agencies who argue that the procedures involved are opaque and skewed in favour of organisations that have the resources and track record to apply.
Under this arrangement, the contractor allocates and administers a finite number of small grants according to the accountability rules established by the donor.
Effectively, the implementing organisations take on the role of donors in their own right.
Efforts have been made to lobby the donor community to facilitate sub-granting processes by introducing a lighter workload for all concerned and by placing greater focus on mentoring the work of grantees and ensuring that the financing brings added value.
To date, these efforts have not resulted in any major concessions.
Arguably, the best projects are those which are based on a pre-existing idea that is adapted for the purposes of the bid.
These give applicants the ability to demonstrate that the core approach is tried and tested while also having sufficient flexibility to incorporate innovation or to embrace specific themes.
Projects which are developed from scratch in order to “tick the boxes” tend to feel artificial and staged.
That said, very general guidelines often leave applicants guessing what the donor is actually looking for and are often subject to misinterpretation.
Large agencies often appoint a dedicated bid manager who will supervise the entire process but this, unfortunately, is a luxury that few can afford.
Nevertheless, there are standard management procedures that are worth bearing in mind, even if you are assigning multiple roles to the individuals concerned.
They can be summarized as follows: