We are sure you understand the reasons why your NGO both needs and merits funding – to further its mission and values, to run and implement the programs and projects, to plan for future programs, to ensure you hire and retain your amazing staff, and to spread the word about your work.
But as the core competency of an NGO like yours lies in doing what it does best- social good; fundraising takes a backseat until there is a drop in funding or number of funders. Because of this reactive approach, many NGOs squander numerous potential fundraising opportunities.
Mastering the techniques and strategies of raising funds is something your NGO must strive for. This article offers you a simple, practical and highly effective collection of methods to help NGOs identify new donor partnerships.
1. Overall Fund Seeking Strategy
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As an NGO which is doing great work at the grassroots, but is struggling to find and retain donors, where should you start your donor research and identification? The first step is to finalize your NGO’s overall fund-seeking strategy by knowing the requirements of your NGO- immediate/ short-term or long term funding needs. You have to ask yourself what your strategy is going to look like. There are two major ways to begin:
- Looking for RFPs (Request for Proposals related to grants) focusing on your thematic area or geography where you work; or
- Looking for funds and expanding or diversifying your work and strategy accordingly.
One important thing to remember is that your NGO must not depend on only one source of funding. In these times, where NGOs are multiplying in numbers and so is your competition for that share of the pie, you should have a long-term diversification strategy in place for seeking and raising funds.
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2. Starting Donor Mapping
Why Donor Mapping? Simply because for NGOs, time is money! Mapping your donors will help you strategize and focus your time and energy by understanding the aspects which make some opportunities/ funding organizations better fit for your requirements as compared to others. Once you start aggregating this information, you will clearly have an idea of the following:
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– Which prospects can be explored further for detailed profiling by research
– Which prospects are a high/ medium/ low priority as per parameters set by you
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– Which opportunities are low hanging fruits and need immediate attention
– What your short term/ long term timelines should be, and so on.
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Typically, an excel sheet or a google sheet dashboard can be maintained with brief information about the prospects. The first sheet can have this summarized version, and you can add sheets in the same file with more detailed information as you proceed with your research.
Some of the key headings in a typical Donor Mapping Matrix are Donor Prospect Name, Key focus themes, geographical presence, funding mechanisms, current partners/ projects funded, typical budget, etc.
3. Donor Research: Tools and Techniques
Donor research is the next step taking a step ahead from your donor mapping matrix, and involves great amount of strategy and thought-through approach. No ready-made tool or technique can do this for you, as it requires strategic thinking in the context of your NGO. Detailed research about your prospects is crucial for your fundraising efforts. You have 3 main ways to conduct your research:
1. To look up your prospects/ donor agencies/ foundations
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2. To begin your research by seeking information about other NGOs and their sources of funds
3. To explore the NGO-donor organization common portals or search engines.
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For option 1, there are many online donor databases which you can explore for detailed information. If you do not know where to research- Google! Start by bookmarking the grant/ funder aggregator sites and funding agency sites. Set up calendar reminders to look them up regularly.
Many of the online search databases offer to filter and sorting features that come handy to make the process quicker and easier for you.
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A smart trick is to check out other NGOs working in the same sector/ geography to find out who their donors are. There are many online directories and search databases to help you search for this information.
For example, in the context of India, NGO Darpan is one such portal, which has a central repository of NGOs in India. Registered NGOs can get access to government grants under the schemes of various Ministries and Departments.
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In Kenya, one such portal is NGO Coordination Board that regulates the NGO sector in Kenya. Most of the countries have such portals in some format- government regulated or NGO sector operated, directory format or regulatory requirements, etc. For wider coverage, WANGO (World Association of Non-Government Organizations) is a directory of NGOs worldwide.
The third way of conducting this research is to look at common platforms for NGOs and donor agencies. Some examples are GiveIndia in the context of India or Guidestar, an online search engine with information about US-based donors interested in some other specific countries. It also has information about other NGOs which post requests online.
We also recommend visiting websites of individual organizations once you shortlist those organizations as the most important ones.
4. Key Considerations: The 4 Cs:
Research of grants needs to be conducted in a strategic manner. There is no shortcut approach to guide you through this, but there are some key aspects you need to consider to make it strategic. Here are the key considerations to look for to help you with this process- let us call them the 4 Cs: Coherence, Capacities, Calendar and Checkboxes for Eligibility.
To understand this in detail, coherence can be in the form of same thematic areas or the cause they support, geography or type and magnitude of support you seek and they offer. To understand the capacities of the donors, it would be helpful to look at the projects and organizations these donors have funded in the past and the ones they are funding currently to get an idea of the magnitude of the support. Thirdly, in your donor map and research sheet, the calendar view of donor agency timelines will help you in prioritizing your approach.
For example, if the timeline for this year’s grant of a particular donor agency A has gone last month, put it on lower priority for now (colour coding will come handy for this- or put comments) and you can re-look at this prospect next year as per the calendar.
Lastly and most importantly, check the eligibility criteria for applying for all your prospective opportunities to seek funds. If you do not fulfil the eligibility criteria for a particular grant funding, it makes sense to make a note in your prospect sheet. You might want to revisit the opportunity later on in that case.
To organize all this information, you can use tools like Microsoft Excel or Google Drive/ Google Sheets or Google Docs. You can make one composite ‘Prospect Table’ with all this information, or you can maintain individual tables for each prospect, called the Donor Profiles.
A typical profile for your potential donor will be a snapshot of key information, including their contact, giving information, as well as their financial capacity. The deeper you dig, the better and more useful information you can get. All this eventually boils down to better chances at securing that funding you strive for.
5. Prospect Table
A typical prospect table will have summarized or detailed donor profiles of all your prospects. It is a sound practice to maintain this table as a living document, which means revisiting this regularly and updating it as and when required. You can allocate prospects to your team members for contacting or starting the process as per action items required.
Remember to be strategic while doing this. For example, someone in your board will be ideal to touch base and build a relationship with a very big donor agency to ensure credibility. Networking will also be very helpful in getting more detailed and reliable information and also to triangulate your findings from other sources like the internet.
6. Application Process and Considerations
Once you have shortlisted the prospective donors/ funders, you might want to understand their application process and requirements in detail. It can be helpful to keep an internal deadline well before the actual deadline to make sure you do not land up in nervous nineties and complete the process with the best of your capabilities.
See what documents are required for the application, so that you can start putting them together. You might also require coordination with multiple departments within your organization to compile all the required information, so it is always best practice to understand the complete application process and to send specific requirements to respective teams within the organization.
This will prove to be very efficient for you as meanwhile, you can work on the application while you receive the required information and documents.
For example, if you are an NGO working in India, most of the donor agencies look for documents like 80G certificate (which grants the donors making gifts to a particular NGO with 80G the ability to avail of a tax deduction on the donations) or a 12A certificate (which is a one-time exemption from paying income tax). As per the new laws in India under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010, an NGO must have an FCRA certificate to be eligible to secure foreign funding. Make sure you have checked all the document requirements, then you can check with your legal team about them.
If you do not have certain documents in place, which are mandatory for the application, it makes sense to put that prospective application on hold until you secure the required set of documents. Some grant applications might require recommendations and testimonials from your previous or current donors. This is more common in case of corporate foundations or donors. You might have to write to your current/ previous donors seeking these testimonials in time to complete your application as per the deadline.
To avoid any oversight that could cost you, dear, it is important to keep a checklist of every step required to complete our grant application. This process will be an additional tell you whether you should apply or not apply now, or should you do it later, based on the documents required/ specifications as per application requirements. So remember to make a checklist to ensure you are ticking all the boxes when applying.
Visualize the complete process in the form of a flowchart. If you get a green signal at the first touch point with a prospect, you go to the next step- perhaps fixing a face-to-face meeting. If you do not, make sure you have a plan B- Reflect and strategize again.
Even if you complete a grant cycle journey by securing the funds or you do not, make sure you follow up and seek feedback. A continuous feedback cycle and learning loop is the key to success. Try and try until you succeed.
Importance of relationship building and ethical fundraising
In this process, we need to remember not to succumb to the pressures leading to sub-par fundraising practices and standards. This is why it is important to build and maintain good relationships with your current, previous and also prospective donors. Make that phone call, write that email to them, invite them to your annual fundraising gala, offer them a visit to your program areas to meet your beneficiaries or to give them more information about what you do.
Let this be the beginning of a long-term mutually beneficial relationship by putting yourself on the radar of every relevant donor out there. This is where your journey towards a long-term sustainable fundraising plan begins. Happy fundraising!