As development practitioners, most of us at some point in time, will be required to either write a project proposal and/or manage a project that has been funded most often than not, by an International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO). Many of us work with small NGOs or community based organizations within our respective countries that are heavily dependent on grants in order to carry out their mandate. These INGOs promote competition as a means to get the most innovative and comprehensive solutions to a development challenge. Within this competitive environment, small to medium sized community based or grassroots organizations are most often placed at a disadvantage. This is not because they are not creative; in fact, many of these organizations design and implement some of the most creative solutions to the various development challenges within the communities they serve. What they often lack are (i) a solid understanding of the funding environment in order to compete and secure funding from these INGO; and, (ii) the operational and administrative capacity to implement in keeping with rules and regulations of these international donors.
Throughout my journey on this fellowship, I have met and interacted with social change makers from across the globe and a recurring question from our conversations has been how we do compete for funding against the more established and larger actors in the field? . Here are a few tips that I think are useful as we try to make our respective organisations more competitive.
1. Understand the funding Environment
In the NGO world, understanding the funding environment becomes critical to your survival. Simply put, know the donors. What are their priorities? When is their proposal cycle? Is there a proposal cycle? What are rules and regulations of the major donors? A clear understanding respective donor cycle, solicitation methods, types of agreements and rules governing those agreements will help in writing proposals in a way that would meet these specific requirements. It will also help in ensuring that you know what you are getting into and how you manage the grant to satisfy donors’ rules and regulations.
2. Build a long term strategic plan
Now that you understand the funding environment in which you operate, what next? Many development organizations start out with a mandate however, they quickly fall into the cycle of chasing funding opportunities in an order to sustain them/remain in operation. This oftentimes results in organizations straying away from their mandate that they themselves are uncertain of who they are? They become a catch all for survival sake sometimes even putting the reputation at risk by going for something that they know they do not have the capacity to implement or over promising on things they know they are not able to deliver. A key point here is to be true to who you are an organization. Identify and developed your core principles, an identity of sort, so that when people hear your name, something comes to mind. For an example, when one hears apple, what comes to mind? Taking closer to home- think UNICEF, you think children. So as small organizations it is important to define who we are, identify our niche and outlined what it is we would like our organization to be known for. Then, develop a long term strategic plan (coupled with a communications plan) to achieve the objectives based on the identity you have created.
3. Invest in building operational and administrative capacity
A final point to this blog is the importance of investing in your overall capacity as an organization. Build a culture of learning within the organization. Don’t think of investment in terms of financial, if you have the budget to allow on-going staff development and training then great. But if not, it is still possible; join a community of practice. There are several communities of practices or online platforms for NGOs. Some of these may require you to pay for membership in order to access more benefits and resources but, there is usually some good “freeness”. Inside NGO and grantspace are two online communities that I’ve found vary useful even with a free user account. It will be worth it to explore membership; you could build this learning and development as part of a line item in your next proposal or FY budgets. Finally, consider appointing a learning manager/officer and task this person to lead the organizations learning efforts. Change up the format of your team meetings to incorporate learning and not just update.