First of all, you have to understand that without a track record of projects successfully implemented and budget correctly administered, it is difficult to gain trust of international agencies and to secure large funding for projects. Rather than feeling frustrated, you should consider this time as a very exciting period because you are yet to demonstrate what you can do and, as such, you should employ all your creative resources to become visible and build your profile as a reliable and strong partner.
First of all, make yourself known. Locate other NGOs working in the territory with similar aims and goals. Ask to meet relevant NGO members to present yourself and the organisation. Come to meetings prepared. Work on a presentation that is able to explain the reasons why your NGO was born and propose ideas for projects you want to implement. Ask for advice. Remember that other members of civil society are your partners and not competitors. As such, allow them to give feedback on your ideas and ask them to help you in developing strategies to ensure financial sustainability.
For instance, you could ask for copies of projects they have already implemented to understand how to write a project proposal and to have an idea of budget requirements. Go to community meetings and to public discussions to introduce the organisation. What is at stake is your credibility. It is important to show commitment, to make informed remarks, and also to demonstrate willingness to participate in ongoing projects and activities.
Second, use the information you are collecting while introducing the organisation. Keep a list with contact details of relevant associations or individuals who might be of help. Research their background and ask information about their current activities. Create possibilities for your organisation to join in existing projects and become a partner. You have to be extremely proactive. As such, you could either ask to collaborate on existing projects to learn from the others and acquire some experience or you could propose new collaborative projects involving people and organisations you came to know.
If you are about to propose new projects, make sure to get the help of senior partners to draft proposals and the budget. If you work with NGOs with a strong profile, it will be easier for the project to get funded. These collaborations will be vital for your future projects. On the one hand, you will gain first had experience. On the other hand, your organisation will start building up its public profile and it will gain more credibility in the eyes of future donors.
Third, get networked. There are many existing networks sponsored by international agencies and local governments to facilitate exchanges and communication among civil society actors. Make a list of networks relevant for your organisation and ask to become a member. It is likely that these networks will disseminate calls for proposals and collaborations, which is very helpful when you are still learning where and how to ask for funding.
Fourth, remember that all major agencies such as the UN have special calls for young NGOs. These calls are meant to facilitate the starting-up of new projects and to support new actors. Despite the fact that the competition is fierce, you should nevertheless pitch your ideas and remember “fortune favours the brave!”