5 Steps to Fundraising Success for Small and Grassroots NGOs

Erik Detiger About Erik Detiger

Erik Detiger is the Managing Director of FundsforNGOs. Erik brings his two decades of experience working in the field of international philanthropy and fundraising to FundsforNGOs. He has worked with the United Nations, INGOs and grass-roots organizations in Europe, Thailand, Nepal, Tanzania, India, and the United States. Well versed in project management and fundraising, Erik has led development projects in health, education, humanitarian relief and human rights, raising well over $150 million from a wide variety of government agencies, foundations, and institutions.

By Erik Detiger

All NGOs need to fundraise. But for new, small, and grassroots NGOs who do not yet have fundraising systems in place fundraising can be particularly challenging. Here are our steps to get on the path to fundraising success.

Step 1: Know your organization’s needs

Before you even begin to research donors and apply for funding, start by examining your own wants and needs. You can’t ask for help before you know what you need help within reviewing your own organization, make sure to look at:

  • Where are you going to work? What country, region, town?
  • What area of work are you engaged in? What problem are you trying to solve?
  • What is your current budget? How much more do you need?
  • When do you need the funding? And for how long do you need the funding?

Based on your answers to the above questions, you will know to look for donors who:

  • Work in the same country/region as you
  • Work in the same program area as you
  • Fund NGOs of your budget and grant size
  • Match your funding and project timeline

While not all these areas will match perfectly once you start researching donors, in Step 2 you will be able to find donors that match most and focus your efforts on those.

 Step 2. Research donors that are a match for your NGO

With the questions in Step 1 answered you can start the research process. There are several good techniques to find like-minded donors:

  • Check the websites and annual reports of NGOs that are doing similar work to you. See if you can find their supporters and donors. Many NGOs will list their donors on their website or annual report which are good places to start.
  • Check databases and online directories. Some lists are free (seeA list of Foundations that Provide Small Grants to NGOs) while others require payment or subscriptions (see the FundsforNGOs Premium Donor Database).
  • Ask partners, colleagues, and current donors for suggestions.

For small and grassroots NGOs, it is important to remember that before funding you, donors need to:

  • Have funding available for NGOs. Very often NGOs will mistakenly send grant requests to other NGOs, businesses, or individuals that do not provide grants. Check carefully before wasting your time and theirs on applications.
  • Have an interest in your country and your program area. You should check the donor’s website or supporting sources to find evidence of such.
  • Be willing to fund small NGOs. Some donors prefer to only fund small NGOs, while others prefer to fund large INGOs. Check donor application guidelines and past giving history before applying.
  • Have money to give when you need it. Many donors only release calls for proposals once a year, or otherwise have specific windows of funding opportunities. Do not send an application when it is clear the donor is not accepting them at this time.
  • Be able to fund for the period required. You should know whether the donor gives grants that last for month, a year, or multiple years. For a first-time grant, shorter project timelines are more common.

Want to learn more? FundsforNGOs Premium members can watch our 90-minute training video on Donor Research and Identification.

Step 3. Network and reach out to these donors before sending a proposal

Now that you have created a list of donors that are a good fit for your NGO, start reaching out via email and phone/Skype. Do not send them a proposal at this point, rather, just ask for an in-person or virtual meeting. Many will not respond immediately so be persistent. When you do get to meet, there are some important things you should talk about:

  • Ask the donor questions about their priorities and plans. However, do not ask basic questions you could easily learn from their website.
  • Explain how your program can help them meet their priorities.
  • Ask whether they would be interested in receiving additional information about your programs.

There are many small and grassroots NGOs that make beginners mistakes at this point. When trying to reach out to donors, do not:

  • Ask for funding from a donor that is not working in your country or program area
  • Ask for funding from a donor that typically gives large grants to larger NGOs
  • Ask for funding from a donor, without truly understanding the donor priorities
  • Ask for funding from a donor without having first done the outreach

Further recommended reading (FundsforNGOs Premium member exclusive): How to Access Foundations that do not Accept Inquiries

Step 4. Develop a great application

Hopefully, at this point the donor has expressed an interest in your work and has asked you to send an application. If you were unable to network with a donor who you still think is a great fit for your organization, you may consider sending them an application as well.

In most cases, the first application should be a short concept note of one to four pages. Make sure you follow any instructions the donor has provided carefully. The concept note should be clear and concise, reviewed for spelling and grammar, and should fully address the problem the donor wants to solve.

For more advice on writing a concept note and proposal, see our free articles on How to Write a Proposal.

More tips, tricks, and sample proposals are available to FundsforNGOs Premium members. See: The FundsforNGOs Guide to Proposal Writing Basics.

Step 5. Follow up and persist

Fundraising is a long-term endeavor and success does not come overnight. It will take time and effort to reach out and convince a small group of donors from the many you have researched and identified to fund your program. Don’t give up too quickly. Be persistent and spend at least a few hours each week on donor research, outreach, proposal development, and other fundraising tasks. If you are rejected, ask the donor for feedback so you can improve. Don’t give up.

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