4. Identifying opportunities
Module four of the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide.
Responding to opportunities at the last moment carries numerous risks:
Almost all donors publish upcoming opportunities on their corporate websites.
The only exceptions are:
Organisations that invite would-be grantees to submit applications at any time of the year usually publish the relevant forms and guidelines on their website but it is still worth engaging with these donors before submitting a proposal. Some may be willing to give initial feedback on the appropriateness of your concept before you invest the time and effort into developing a full proposal.
Information on upcoming opportunities may also come from potential partners who are seeking to form competitive consortia and/or need to identify a credible local co-applicant (increasingly a requirement of donor programmes funded by the EU or by the Member States).
There is considerable value in developing these relationships over time, forging links with key players and presenting your credentials for potential partnerships.
This process should be systematised as far as possible in order to ensure that relevant opportunities do not pass you by.
The easiest solution is to subscribe to automated updates such as the EU’s TED system or the US Government’s Grant.gov website.
There are also commercial providers such as Development Aid which will provide filtered opportunities for an annual fee.
However, no single system is a failsafe, so a combination of platforms and approaches is probably the best solution.
The most effective approach is to combine grass-roots methods with regular monitoring of websites where these opportunities are published.
For national organisations, the bulk of local opportunities will come your way by word of mouth and engagement with other development actors.
For international organisations, the focus will be on checking web portals and encouraging donors to proactively share opportunities. In both cases, sustained and consistent intelligence-gathering efforts are the secret to success.
There is a strong temptation to cast the net as widely as possible and apply for any opportunity which seems more or less appropriate. There is a tendency also to be beguiled by the amount of money on offer and to downplay the risks associated with co-funding or over-expansion. It is, therefore, helpful to consider the following issues when making your decision:
Donors will rarely give a judgement about an individual case but they should provide greater clarity if you phrase your question correctly.
This is not just about being able to prove you have good experience in the target sector or country. It is about demonstrating that you have the capacity to manage a grant of a similar size.
You need to think twice if you are applying for a grant of €1 million but the largest budget you have ever managed totalled €100,000. This is when you may want to consider a partnership with an organisation that has the required track record.
This is a difficult judgement to make but it should be possible to get some insight into the odds of winning.
A large EU programme, for example, might attract more than 100 applications at the concept note stage; shortlist 15 and offer grants to five. This information is often published and should be factored into decision-making processes.
A donor’s reputation for risk-taking should also be taken into consideration – some prefer to stick with incumbents while others will give a chance to newcomers who have compelling, fresh ideas.
In the final analysis, you need to balance the amount of work required against the chances of success. However attractive the potential reward, it is simply not worth committing the necessary resources unless you are confident that you have competitive advantages which give you the edge over other applicants.
This call is likely to be based on experience rather than any scientific formula but issues worth considering include:
- Is there sufficient room for including a management overhead that can contribute to your running costs?
- Is the project an extension of your normal activities or will it require buying in extensive resources from the outside and introducing a new strand of work?
- Can you absorb the potential workload in the context of your other activities?
- Is there a significant co-funding requirement? How sure are you of being able to cover it? Note that, if you cannot cover the co-funding, your project will not be financially sustainable.
- Will the project benefit you institutionally?
Revenue should not be the only consideration.
Security concerns should be paramount and you should weigh up whether or not the donor's requirements (including visibility-related) may expose your organisation to unacceptable risks. If you feel this is the case, then you should raise them with the donor at the earliest opportunity and base your decision on the response.
You should also assess whether the project has the potential to raise your profile and build your reputation. You may decide, for example, that a programme is not necessarily cost-effective but will enable you to extend your footprint into a new area of activity or a new geographical region. Sometimes the institutional benefits may outweigh other business-related criteria.
This is one of the reasons why some donors put so much emphasis on CVs and resourcing plans.
It can be difficult to find the right people who are available at the right time – good managers and consultants are in high demand and they may be unwilling or unable to drop everything in order to work on your project.
It is, therefore, important to have preliminary agreements in place with qualified individuals before making applications. You should also ensure that any implementing partners have the same.
This is an important element of the application process and one that may affect your decision whether or not to proceed.
All answers are usually sent to applicants or published online, however, they often leave much to be desired.
There are various guidelines to observe when requesting clarifications that will help you to get the answers you are looking for.
They can be summarised as follows: