Engage With Donors and Forge Partnerships

Center for Sustainable Development

June, 2009 Newsletter:

NGO/Donor Partnerships Equal IMPACT


I’m regularly asked by NGOs – “how can we make our proposals more attractive to donors?” Donors are looking for solid project concepts and sound implementation plans that will provide the kind of project impact necessary for fulfilling their mission. How can an NGO design projects with these qualities and present them compellingly to a donor? Here is an example:


The Director of an NGO that has grown steadily over a 10 year period confided in me that she could no longer be hands-on in each facet of her organization. She decided that she would like to let go of project development and delegate it to her staff. With more staff members working on project development, she felt the organization would be able to expand into more communities.


Smart move. However, project design takes on every aspect of a project – except for actually implementing it. She knew, as the director, she had the organizational vision necessary for project development, but realized her staff members were more compartmentalized within their jobs. She wanted to know how her NGO could make this transition.


Group Vision

We decided a good first step was for her to get specialized staff out of their silos and let them explore the organization’s bigger picture. She organized a two-day retreat with a series of activities designed to improve their understanding of community development, how their organization is positioned in the development world, and how their different organizational departments work together to create impact

Here are a few of the highlights that I recommend in initiating a project design:
Listen. I recommend beginning project design by listening to the community that you would like to work with. This is where your front-line field staff will show how important they are in the process of project design. Taking the time to develop relationships and facilitate a participatory needs assessment can uncover the causes behind the challenges faced by community members. Focusing on resolving the causes behind problems will create long-lasting impact. By incorporating community-identified need into the design of the project, community members will feel ownership and will more likely sustain the program after your organization is gone.


Plan well in advance: Start this process nine months to one year prior to projected project implementation – grant funding can often take that long to get.


Know your limits

The needs voiced by the community will give direction and scope to your project design, but do the range of needs fit in with your organizational mission? If your expertise is a match then you are off to a good start. However, if your organization is focused on agriculture, and the community wants a health initiative, what do you do? Try partnering: Partnering with a health focused NGO will broaden your skill sets and lead to future collaborations.


Research the Project Theme

Get on the Internet and search for scientific studies about your project’s theme and proposed activities. Look for the results of randomized control trials that give activity results based upon evidence. You are likely to find a selection of sound interventions that can be combined into a family of activities to fulfill project outcomes. On the other hand, you may uncover studies indicating that one of your potential project activities has not shown evidence of working to solve the community-identified problem; best to find out at the design stage!


Consensus Building

After you have a project concept, and before you do any more work, share your concept and activities with the community. Their input and their local knowledge can be very useful at this stage, and you will continue the process of building their ownership into the program.


Working Paper

The next step is for field staff, project management and fundraising staff begin to collaborating on the design. Draft a working paper that is no longer than two pages. Give a short description of the challenges discovered and highlight the process of working with the community on this assessment. Include one or two photos that illustrate the challenge and a photo of one of your recent community meetings. Describe the proposed project, how the activities you have chosen have worked effectively in other projects, and the expected outcomes. Introduce the community and write a short paragraph about your organization and its mission. This is not a proposal, this is a simple, quick-to-read fact sheet.


Donor Mission and Input

Many donors will be glad to have an introductory meeting with you, but it is essential to identify donors that have similar missions to yours. Go to websites to see what kinds of projects a donor is investing in. Ask colleagues for recommendations; often an introduction from a mutual acquaintance can help to set a meeting.


In the meeting share your working paper with the donor. Donors are trying to accomplish their missions and goals, and if your project concept will help them do that, then there is room for discussion. If your project isn’t a good fit for them, ask them if they can help you better understand the types of projects they like to invest in, or if they can recommend a donor where your project might be a better fit.


If they express positive interest, ask them if they have any suggestions for solidifying your project so it best fits their funding guidelines. Donors give excellent feedback because they have seen so many projects and because they have a clear understanding of their mission. Encouraging donor input forges partnerships and ownership. At this stage they will give you the forms and guidelines they require for the proposal submission.


In next month’s newsletter we will begin developing your concept into a formal design and proposal that will accurately represent the project and the outcomes you hope to achieve.


Next Month: July 2009 Newsletter

The Architecture of Project Design and Presentation

Beginning logframes

Developing budgets and project schedules

Writing a draft proposal

Building consensus: Asking for donor feedback on the draft

Revising the final proposal and submittal


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