2. Competitive advantages
Module two of the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide.
Over the past decade, the media development landscape has become increasingly crowded. Not only has there been an uptick in the number of specialised agencies but there has been a tendency for organisations with a wider development focus to extend their portfolio to include media and communications.
Consequently, it is important to ensure that your organisation stands out from the crowd by having a recognisable identity, mission and scope of work.
If donors see yours as the go-to organisation for, say, media literacy, legal reform or production training in a certain country or region, then this will give you a strong competitive advantage.
First and foremost, you will need to pursue grants which can build up your track record in this field but you will also need to develop the networks, partnerships and expertise necessary to burnish your credentials and establish your footprint.
Proactively securing speaking opportunities in conferences and events linked to the target theme/sector can also help build a reputation for thought leadership.
Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that donors are fickle and niche areas can enjoy widespread support for a time, then mysteriously vanish from their list of priorities. A few years ago, digital security training and constructive journalism were causes célèbres; now media literacy and media viability are on the ascendant.
It is, therefore, risky to be seen as a one-trick pony. There is much to be gained from analysing the trends and embracing new doctrines – as long as they don’t mark too radical a departure from your sphere of interest and your skillset.
The same principle applies to geographical outreach.
Even if your organisation has a primarily national focus, it may be worth exploring the possibilities for sharing your skills and experience on a regional level or, indeed, gaining a reputation for working outside the capital city and supporting the growth of provincial media markets.
For international organisations, there are clear advantages in gaining a solid track record in a country or sub-region which is traditionally overlooked or where others fear to tread. However, maintaining a presence or activity in those countries over an extended period of time may be more challenging.
Defining and revising your company's unique selling points (USPs) is a useful exercise.
This can be done in the context of specific bids (i.e. defining so-called “win themes”) or more generally against the backdrop of perceived competition.
A focus on “what makes us different/innovative” is an essential part of successful fundraising, since it helps to:
- Your brand: how recognisable is it?
- Your specialist skills: where are they most in demand?
- Your resources: are they fit for purpose?
- Your target geographies: are they oversubscribed?
- Your commitment to fostering innovation: is your organisation adapting to changes in technology or best practice?
- Your partnerships: are you aligned with organisations that complement your offering?
- Your internal systems: can you hit the ground running and adapt to changing circumstances?
Not only do donors want to be seen to embrace innovation but potential partners will also be attracted by the opportunity to include cutting-edge approaches in their bids.
While, of course, agencies should avoid developing technology for technology’s sake, the media development industry as a whole often suffers from a reputation for being “old school” and for minimising risk by deploying well-worn approaches that have worked in the past or proven successful in a different geographic area.
But solutions should also be organic, adapting to reflect common usage patterns and evolving in line with feedback received.
Most tools or learning materials are developed in the framework of grant-funded projects but it is worth stepping back from the project-based cycle and committing internal resources to develop a coherent suite of products and methodologies that can shape and drive your organisational growth.
Examples of areas in which you might consider developing proprietary tools and methodologies might include:
- Training manuals in key subject areas that enjoy perennial demand
- Training toolkits that establish and illustrate best practice models
- Interactive learning systems (including mobile apps) that can extend your outreach and improve operational flexibility
- Knowledge management platforms that capture lessons learned
- Low-cost programme formats that have a proven track record in promoting socially responsible messaging
- Research methodologies that embrace key considerations such as equity and safeguarding
Yet, as in most spheres, becoming a recognised player in your chosen field is a chicken-and-egg situation: you need to have a track record to win grants but you need grants to build a track record.
Most organisations, therefore, start out by entering into partnerships with larger agencies and/or delivering a small component of a larger project. This can also be a way to break into new areas and extend your geographical footprint.
Furthermore, there are smaller sub-granting programmes where there is less insistence on previous experience and other pieces of work – such as monitoring and evaluation, external assessment and training – which are sub-contracted or outsourced on the basis of a simple tender procedure.
These procedures are often based on the calibre of individual experts and the proposed pricing rather than track record alone.
Not all donors are willing to give unknown organisations a first chance.
Like first-time novelists, development agencies often suffer a slew of rejections before winning their first grant. Nevertheless, it is worth persisting since even failed applications may serve to put you on an individual donor’s map and the experience accrued through the application process is invaluable.