1. Preparation & planning
Module one of the GFMD MediaDev fundraising guide.
Anyone who has worked in fundraising will have grim memories of long caffeine-fuelled nights, drowning in a sea of text, tables and graphics as another impossible deadline looms. The risks inherent in a last-minute scramble are self-evident; budgets that don’t add up; targets that can never be met; fragments of text from previous bids that appear where you least expect them. Much of this can be avoided by establishing strong internal systems and by ensuring that the basic building blocks of proposals are in place long before the clock starts ticking.
This is an ongoing process that involves creating generic material and updating this material on a regular basis. Responsibilities for related tasks should be properly assigned and efforts should be made to ensure that content is readily accessible to those who need it. Effective knowledge management can also play an important role in capturing key learnings from previous application processes and applying them to future bids. Nevertheless, copy-paste proposals are the bane of project evaluators, so it is essential to maintain a proper balance between generic content and bespoke material that fully responds to the objectives, priorities and themes of the given funding programme.
“Selling” your organisation is an important part of any bid – although it should never be the main consideration.
Applicants should avoid presenting a long marketing blurb that extols the virtues of their work in very general terms.
Donors want reassurances that your company is the right one for the job, not simply an exemplary organisation that can turn its hand to any task.
It is also worth noting that, while donors are attracted by a strong brand, they may be less enthusiastic about working with an organisation whose brand may eventually eclipse their own.
The company profile should include a generic component presenting the basic information about your organisation as well as a bespoke element highlighting experience relevant to a bid or a partnership.
Generic data should comprise:
- Date of foundation
- Base of operations
- Geographical reach
- Number of full-time staff
- Governance structures
There should be a short section describing the company’s core mission and areas of work. The bespoke narrative – a capability statement – should provide insight into relevant past performance that focuses on the results and impact of projects rather than simply their objectives and activities.
The language of a company profile should be measured and concise. Avoid the kind of hyperbole normally associated with promotional materials (e.g. “best-in-market”, “unparalleled” and “world-beating”).
Where possible, assertions about a company’s skills and expertise should be backed up by concrete examples (e.g. “a leading provider of journalism training, as evidenced by more than 100 capacity-building programmes which have enhanced the skills of 1,000 media professionals in 16 countries”).
- Offer insight into the depth and breadth of your work - for example, highlight the different sectors in which you have experience and the different stakeholder groups with whom you have worked
- Adapt the company profile to reflect the focus/scope of the bid - i.e. link your experience and expertise directly to the priority areas
- Include concrete examples that are relevant to the bid - for example, briefly highlight any projects which have embraced similar themes or areas of expertise
- Don't make your company profile sound like an advertising pitch
- Don't take a one-size-fits-all approach
- Don't promote the perception that your company is an all-rounder with no specific areas of expertise
Increasingly, media development agencies are being asked to present their policies in areas such as DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion), Duty of Care, Safeguarding, IT Security and Risk Management.
If you have an example of Duty of Care, Safeguarding, IT Security or Risk Management policy that you would like to share please contact us.
Elements of these policies can also be used in the narrative of bids, demonstrating that your organisation has well-established systems and procedures which can be swiftly deployed at the start of a new project. There is a value in including short case studies to illustrate key areas of policy, explaining how the company has responded to similar challenges in the past.
Policy documents should follow a general format which includes the objectives of the policy, its core elements, oversight mechanisms and an allocation of responsibilities. If you are appending them to bids, it is worth including the date when the documents were last updated (and, ideally, ensuring that the date is relatively recent).
Preparing such policies can be time-consuming and not all agencies have the space or the resources to prioritise this activity. It should be emphasised that you do not need to put fund-raising activities on hold until they are fully developed. Drafting internal policies can be a work in progress but it is good to let donors know that you are fully cognisant of the need for a formalised approach.
Most donors require examples of previous track record, usually covering projects delivered or completed within the past three years. The aim of these profiles is to show that you have relevant experience and expertise but also that your company is capable of delivering impactful projects with measurable outcomes.
Although donors have different templates for past performance, it is worth developing a consistent structure that can be adapted for multiple purposes.
Basic data should include:
- Project title
The narrative part should cover objectives, main activity strands, results and lessons learned. It is also worth highlighting innovative elements and any follow-up or replication.
Past performance profiles are often drawn from the project proposal. This is a mistake. If anything, they should be distilled from the final (or interim) report. While it is important to give insight into the strategic goals and services provided, it is, perhaps, more important to demonstrate what was achieved.
Here is a good example:
“The project set out to increase acceptance of modern methods of family planning through an awareness-raising campaign enacted on TV, radio and print. According to a survey carried out in Month 24 of the programme, six out of ten people exposed to the campaign said that they had greater trust in the safety of key methods, a 20% increase on the baseline.”
- Project title
- Dates (from/to)
- Funding source
- Lessons learned
- Innovative elements
Inevitably, a significant proportion of any proposal consists of material which remains relatively consistent from one bid to another. It is, therefore, a good idea to have a body of pre-prepared material on issues that crop up in most application forms and that require detailed treatment. This should include a database of short biographies and CVs (while observing compliance with data protection regulations such as GDPR).
However, care should be taken to properly adapt this content to the requirements of the new project and/or to the specific contours of the country/region in which the project will be implemented.
In addition to a company profile and examples of previous track record, common elements might include:
- Methodology in key areas of expertise: your approach to training, advocacy or programme production, highlighting what makes it different and innovative
- Research and needs assessment: standard research procedures and methodologies, including ways of ensuring that research is gender- and conflict-sensitive
- Monitoring and evaluation: tools and methods that you commonly use as well as a description of available resources and key personnel
- Company policies on issues such as Duty of Care, Do No Harm, gender sensitivity, conflict sensitivity, complaints procedures, supplier chain management etc.
- Risk management and contingency planning: the systems that you have in place to deal with risk and how they enable you to adapt to changing circumstances
- Project management: backstopping resources, approaches for maintaining strong lines of communication with the donor and consortium partners, knowledge management processes etc.
- Dissemination: existing dissemination channels and techniques for ensuring that project outputs enjoy optimum exposure
- Engagement with other stakeholders: including your approach for coordinating with other development actors and exploring synergies
When cutting-and-pasting content from one proposal to another, be careful to ensure that you don’t accidentally carry over bid-specific information (e.g. countries, partners, dates).
If you have a reserve of generic content that can be rolled out for the purposes of most applications, it is good to review and refresh it from time to time. Standard procedures can quickly become obsolete, particularly against the backdrop of global phenomena such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
Several types of grant application require CVs or short biographies to be presented as part of the offer. Terms of Reference may stipulate the exact qualifications and experience required. In these cases, key positions may be included in the scoring matrix and the quality of the bid may be judged, to a large extent, according to the calibre of the experts.
When resourcing projects, most organisations rely primarily on tried-and-tested consultants from their own network. However, these experts alone may not combine all the skills and subject areas required for specific funding opportunities. Organisations are, therefore, well advised to build a pool of potential experts in multiple fields, thereby avoiding a last-minute search for appropriate talent during the bidding process itself.
This can be achieved by using one or all of the following methods:
- Seeking recommendations from trusted partners or collaborators
- Approaching individuals directly and seeking permission to include their CVs on an internal database
- Using websites dedicated to the development industry to advertise opportunities to work on existing projects and then maintaining a database of applicants
- Running training or induction courses for potential consultants
General calls for trainers or consultants are not recommended since they tend to be difficult to manage and may raise expectations which cannot subsequently be met.
Projects delivered on the basis of a partnership are generally considered to be more robust than those delivered by one organisation alone. They ensure that activities can draw on a wider range of skills and experience; they also offer the benefit of diverse branding and access to multiple networks. Organisations tend to work with tried-and-tested partners but, inevitably, opportunities will arise which require a new skillset or profile, obliging applicants to look beyond their immediate circle.
The bidding process itself rarely provides sufficient time to conduct due diligence and establish a proper working relationship. Organisations should, therefore, constantly be on the lookout for appropriate partners, particularly those specialising in complementary fields and/or with experience in new geographies. In normal times, these relationships are often established in the sidelines of international events or festivals, then cemented through direct experience of collaboration. In the world of online meetings and conference calls, they are built in the messaging panel of Skype, Zoom and Teams.
Due diligence on long-term strategic partners is a sensitive area since organisations do not like to feel they are under investigation. However, as a minimum, potential partners should be willing to share:
- Company information
- Annual reports
- Examples of past performance
Most organisations lack the resources to establish an in-house team dedicated to fund-raising and, consequently, the tasks of identifying new opportunities and writing proposals fall to individuals who combine them with their substantive role. Buying in external fundraising services can be expensive and has the disadvantage of involving consultants who may not be familiar with the organisation’s philosophy, resources and competitive advantages.
Whether you can afford to establish an in-house team or not, the key to managing fundraising efforts is the efficient use of available resources. This means resisting the temptation to pursue “long shots” and focusing on opportunities which play to your competitive strengths. For smaller organisations, it may mean negotiating partnerships with larger agencies which are prepared to act as the lead partner and cover the project development costs.
However, as a minimum, any development agency should have at least one member of staff who is responsible for identifying leads and for checking websites which advertise funding opportunities.
Potential sources of information are treated elsewhere in this Guide (see “identifying opportunities”). This should be a routine activity, thereby ensuring that calls for proposals are logged at an early stage and that partnerships can be negotiated before consortia have already been formed.
In addition, at least one employee should be tasked with developing proposal content and leading on bid-writing processes.
Note: strong writing skills are all-important and, at the drafting stage, it is better to identify someone in your team who can write well rather than someone who is an expert in the subject matter. The subject matter can be learned; writing skills are harder to acquire.
Note: the volume of paperwork associated with bid development should not be underestimated. This is effectively an administrative task but it is a good idea to ensure that one person has oversight of the documentation generally required for bids and has responsibility for updating the financial and technical capacity statements on a regular basis.