Many small, grassroots, and start-up NGOs eagerly look for their first grant to grow their program. But after sending out dozens of request for funding by post and email to scores of donors they either never hear back or are rejected.
Why is this? Does the donor not like small NGOs? Are they only interested in funding large well-established NGOs? Our research indicates that this is not necessarily the case. When we reviewed US foundation grants going to Tanzania from 2003 to 2015,
Nearly 60% were small grants under $25,000 – with many of those under $5,000.
In reality, many small and grassroots NGOs are getting funded by donors around the world. So the reason why you are ignored or rejected cannot be blamed on the donor, but more likely is related to your capacity, strategy, and trajectory of your effort. If you keep the above reasons for rejection in mind and work on those areas where you can improve, you too can be one of those successful NGOs.
Here are some of the main reasons you get ignored or rejected:
Donors get a high volume of applications and can only fund a fraction even of those who meet all their requirements.
When we researched funding by the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), we found that in 2015 they received over 2,300 applications but only awarded 50 grants. This means only 2 of every 100 applicants were successful. A success rate of 2% is quite usual with the larger, more well-known donors – so you are not the only NGO getting rejected. The success rate for smaller or less well-known donors is often much higher, so keep this in mind when applying.
You didn’t follow the instructions.
Most donors have specific instructions on how to apply. This includes countries and topics funded, the minimum and maximum amount of the grant; the type of application form; page limits; submission deadlines; and much more. If you don’t follow these exactly you will be rejected.
You apply to the wrong donor.
Many NGOs think they can send any donor they have ever run across an application and some of these will stick. This is the so-called “shotgun” approach. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. With over 300,000 institutional donors around the world, you will only reach a very small percentage of all donors and most of the ones you do reach will not be a good match. Your chance of success using this approach is basically zero. Much better would be to spend the time and effort to research donors that are a good fit with your NGO and focus your energy on those select few.
You ask for money in an introductory email.
Short one-line emails asking for funding will never be successful. Cold emails to a donor you have never met that attach 30-page proposals also are unlikely to ever be read. Make sure you only contact those
donors that are a good fit. Don’t ask for money immediately, but rather first ask some questions and develop a relationship.
You give up after the first try.
If you have an NGO doing great work and a donor is a good fit, it will still not ensure funding. Getting a donor to fund you takes time, effort and a lot of persistence. Don’t give up too quickly. Contact them again a bit later. See if there is a different approach that might work. It can sometimes take years before you succeed with a specific donor.
You have low capacity to fundraise.
If you don’t know the basic techniques of fundraising like proper donor research, engaging and networking, and developing high-quality proposals, you will not succeed. There are many resources available online or even in your community that can build your capacity and put you on a road to success. Fundsforngos.org is one such online resource, but you can also ask your successful peers in other organizations how they succeed.
You think you deserve funding.
While your project may be very important and worthwhile, it is competing with many other fantastic projects around the world. There are no guarantees for any NGO that they will be funded, no matter the project. The donor does not owe you anything. Putting effort and dedication into your fundraising efforts is required.
You are not putting in the hard work.
Fundraising is not rocket science, but it does require constant effort. You may be tempted to take the easy way out or focus more on other things. There are no shortcuts in fundraising and you will have to allocate significant time and effort to it to get a grant. You can also not outsource the hard work to someone else.
In reality, donors do not hate you. But donors may overlook the value your NGO offers because you have not effectively proven to donors that your NGOs does indeed have value. This is a tough lesson to learn, but one which will greatly advance your fundraising success.