4. Identifying opportunities

Module four of the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide.

You are well-advised to include the task of identifying upcoming funding opportunities in the job description of at least one member of staff. It is an essential activity that will ensure you have ample time to prepare for upcoming calls for proposals both by developing your ideas and negotiating strategic partnerships.

Risks of poor forward planning

Responding to opportunities at the last moment carries numerous risks:

You will not be able to carry out proper due diligence with potential partners and may risk ending up in a partnership with an organisation that does not share your vision and working practices.

You will commit to working with individuals who may not fit into your organisational culture and have unreasonable financial expectations.

You will lack the time to properly research your methodology and approach, possibly leading to inconsistencies or activities which later prove challenging to deliver.

You will lack the time to develop a realistic budget and will be contractually committed to deliver activities that you cannot afford to implement.

You will miss the deadline, wasting the time and effort of all those involved.

Potential sources of information

Almost all donors publish upcoming opportunities on their corporate websites.

The only exceptions are:

Donors who work with a group of beneficiary organisations over time and who discuss opportunities bilaterally with these partners. In such cases, there are no open competitions but rather a negotiated procedure.

Donors who do not accept unsolicited proposals but rather work on the basis of recommendations from trusted sources.

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.

Systems for tracking opportunities

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.

GFMD regularly publishes funding opportunities for the media development and journalism support sector its website

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.

Decision-making: to apply or not to apply

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:

Are you eligible?

There is nothing to be gained by taking a gamble on this. Eligibility criteria are usually relatively clear. If they are not, then you should ask for clarification.

Donors will rarely give a judgement about an individual case but they should provide greater clarity if you phrase your question correctly.

Can you demonstrate a sufficient track record?

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.

Are the odds in your favour?

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.

Can you make the project cost-effective?

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?

Other considerations

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.

Do you have the people to deliver the project?

Too often organisations apply for grants, win them and then struggle to resource them.

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.

Requesting clarifications

This is an important element of the application process and one that may affect your decision whether or not to proceed.

Most donors offer applicants the chance to ask questions related to the guidelines or the Terms of Reference before a specified deadline (some offer this opportunity throughout the process).

pageCall for proposals & terms of reference

All answers are usually sent to applicants or published online, however, they often leave much to be desired.

Some donors simply reference the relevant section of the guidelines/Terms of Reference; others give answers that are more opaque than the original wording.

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:

Don’t give information about your organisation or your proposal and ask the donor to determine whether or not it is relevant and/or eligible. Ninety-nine times out of 100 they will simply tell you that they cannot comment on individual cases.

Be generic - e.g. "Can a daughter company with local registration apply for this call even if the parent company is not registered in an eligible country?"

Don’t ask open questions such as “can you clarify what is meant in section XX of the Terms of Reference?”

Donors who are unable to express the sentiment properly the first time around are unlikely to be able to provide a coherent answer on the second attempt (not least because the individual tasked with responding may not be the same person who wrote the Terms of Reference in the first place).

Do send short questions which require a specific answer – even if it just yes or no. The more precise your question, the more precise the answer.

For example: "Are Swiss applicants eligible?" rather than "What countries outside the EU and EEA are eligible?"

Do repeat the question if you don’t get a satisfactory answer (and if there is more than one opportunity for submitting requests for clarification).

Remember: you have nothing to lose by asking any question – whether or not you get the answer you are looking for. Donors will not mark you down for being curious!

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