6. Application process
Module six of the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide.
The steps outlined below present a proposed guide for designing a project and submitting a funding application.
Your ability to follow these steps will depend on the resources at your disposal and on your own organisational culture.
We recognise that smaller organisations will neither have the time nor the personnel to implement a complex internal process for all bids. However, the recommendations below can be used selectively and tailored to different needs.
Assess your ability to commit the necessary resources and to meet the deadline.
Make a decision on whether or not this opportunity is appropriate to your organisation and estimate whether or not you have a decent chance of success.
Try to find out who else is likely to be applying for the bid and whether there is an incumbent or front-runner for this call.
Decide who from your organisation will be working on the proposal and nominate a bid manager.
Assess who will take responsibility for the administrative work and whether you need to draw in expertise or advisors from outside the organisation.
Organise a meeting to discuss the best approach that both capitalises on your skills and experience and meets the donor’s requirements.
It is highly advisable to have a concept in place before you start approaching partners.
Consider whether or not you need a partner or partners to make a credible bid.
In many programmes, partners are required so you will have no choice but, in either case, consider carefully whom to approach and what kind of role you would like to offer them.
Loose coalitions of equals rarely work in this context – not least because the lead partner will need to sign the contract with the donor and will, therefore, carry the contractual responsibility.
Set yourself a series of deadlines that allow the various elements of the proposal to be developed well in advance of the actual deadline.
A simple Gantt chart in Excel can be useful in focusing contributors on specific deliverables and in ensuring a proper sequencing of events.
Put names against tasks as early as possible in the process.
As far as possible, all your partners should be involved in the creative process, not least because they will be able to contribute their expertise and, in some cases, resources to ensure the best possible outcome.
The introductory meeting should serve to interrogate the basic concept and surface any ideas, additions or modifications which will make yours a better proposal.
This is particularly important when bringing together international organisations which have some experience of working in the country/region with local organisations who live and operate on the ground.
The best proposals come out of a synthesis of experience rather than one partner trying to impose ideas on another because they "worked well" somewhere else.
This should capture your core idea and enable you to ensure that all partners are on the same page and share the same vision.
It is a good way of rallying people around an idea and ensuring that the main building blocks of the proposal – narrative, M&E plan and budget – can be developed in parallel.
Not all donors have a specific template for bids, so you may need to develop your own structure from scratch.
It is good to agree on the division of labour at this stage – if not before – so that contributions from partners are properly focused and targeted.
Give all individuals concerned a clear deliverable – either a section to write or a specific task such as background research or identifying Key Experts – and a clear deadline.
Ideally, you should nominate a lead writer who is responsible for pulling the different parts of the bid together and ensuring that the document is harmonised in terms of its tone and style.
If there is a page or character limit in the application form, encourage all contributors to write to length – editing down an overwritten document at the last moment is time-consuming and can lead to mistakes being made.
The task of collating all the background documents should be assigned at this stage.
It is good practice to keep all documents or assets in a shared space that is accessible to all contributors.
You may want to use a platform such as Google Drive or Microsoft Teams that have collaborative editing functionality or you may want to split the document into sections and draw them together when they are complete.
Effective version control is key to minimising the risk of wasted work or duplication.
Assess the need for digital security measures depending on the sensitivities of your bid.
Full security should not be the default position since this does increase the complexity of internal communications and, by extension, the overall workload.
The second document for internal consideration should be the budget.
It should be possible to create a first draft of the budget based on the logframe or ToC document and on an early understanding of the costs of each individual partner.
The first draft of the budget will also allow you to see whether or not you can actually afford to deliver all of the proposed activities.
If not, you will need to make tough decisions around where to reduce activities or, alternatively, to reduce their ambition and scope.
It is a good idea to do this now or you will find contributors wasting time writing up activities that are later abandoned.
These meetings enable the core team to maintain oversight of progress across the different elements of bid but they also ensure that partners and external contributors continue to input into the process, thereby promoting ownership for the document.
In addition, the meetings can act as an early warning system for any aspects of the bid that appear to be going off track or that do not fully reflect the realities on the ground.
Scheduled meetings are a good idea since they serve as a reminder of delivery deadlines and allow for gaps to be identified before they become an emergency.
The unglamorous task of pulling together the background documentation can often fall by the wayside, precipitating a last-minute panic.
It is, therefore, a good idea to review what has been collated to date and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.
Note that some institutional documents can take time to source from external suppliers or institutions.
This should take place during one of the catch-up meetings and should draw together all the contributions made to date.
It is a good moment to surface any inconsistencies or gaps in the narrative and, thus, should involve a careful comparison between the narrative in its current form and the key requirements of the Terms of Reference.
You may want to try scoring the narrative against the evaluation matrix, thereby identifying any weaknesses in the bid.
It will almost certainly be necessary to commission additional material at this juncture.
By now, the budget should have been finalised and should correlate directly to the narrative and the activity plan.
You may need to bring the total down and negotiate with your partners for potential savings.
It’s a good idea to lock the budget as soon as possible after this stage, particularly if you need internal sign-off.
This draft should incorporate all the contributions commissioned during the previous review and should, therefore, be largely complete.
This is a good moment to send out the draft for internal approvals since the logical flow of the proposal and the key elements for evaluation should now have been finalised.
Give clear deadlines to internal reviewers and make sure you have enough time to incorporate their comments and modifications.
If you are submitting online, make sure that none of the file sizes exceeds those stipulated in the submission fields.
The completed narrative should be proof-read and, while it is important that the spelling and grammar are faultless, you should encourage proof-readers to look for inconsistencies in the narrative as a priority.
It is worth mentioning that most proposals are written in English and yet a very small proportion of evaluators are native English-speakers which means they are likely to be tolerant of minor linguistic mistakes.
However, their main focus will be on ensuring that the proposal is coherent and the activities are viable. This is where your emphasis should lie.
While all the portals warn applicants not to submit proposals at the last moment, the very significant volume of work attached to proposal preparation means that last-minute submissions are inevitable.
However, it is worth uploading as much as you can in the run-up to the deadline, thereby ensuring you are already familiar with the functionality of the submissions portal when the time comes for the final upload.
The same principle applies to paper submissions. Prepare as much as you can during the development process to avoid a last-minute frenzy of printing and photocopying.
Make a list of all the oversights which can lead to your bid being technically non-compliant (e.g. original signatures, number of copies). You can then avoid falling at the final hurdle.
Make sure that you clearly mark the final versions of all documents which were submitted and that you keep the receipt confirming that your proposal was successful sent.