NGOs around the world may have preconceived ideas about what makes donors tick. Debunking some of the myths can help NGOs understand and build a great working relationship with donors. It will also advance your fundraising, as understanding what donors want is an important first step in fundraising success.
They need you
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Large donors typically have a specific problem they want to solve. Donors themselves are not implementing agencies so they need to find, work with, and fund NGOs who do the on the ground work for them. Without NGOs donors cannot achieve their mission! This means that NGOs are not just recipients of money, but true partners without which donors could not achieve the goals they have set out to reach. When you discuss funding with a donor the initial topic of conversation should be on how you can help them achieve their goal. You are not there to beg for funding, but rather to offer a solution as a partner.
They are open to negotiation
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Donors are looking for NGOs that can deliver programming with high impact in a cost effective way. If you are the NGO that can do this for them then you are in a good negotiating position. If conditions a donor sets are impeding your ability to do the job, or causing challenges for your NGO, make sure you do not blindly accept their contract terms. Explain the challenges you face and the requirements (financial and otherwise) you have as an NGO, and negotiate an outcome that is equitable for both parties.
They often accept unsolicited proposals
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When donors indicate they do not want to receive unsolicited proposals or that they only fund pre-selected NGOs, this does not mean you can’t get funding. It only means that you have to find another way to be part of their inner circle. The best way to do this is to contact the donor, asking for an opportunity to discuss their goals and to present ways in which your NGO can help achieve those goals. If they are interested in a discussion, a solicitation for a proposal can sometimes follow. Your proposal now goes from unsolicited to solicited. The other NGOs they currently fund had to start somewhere as well!
They may be experts themselves
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Many donors have experts reviewing proposals and monitoring programs funded. A foundation’s staff often are recruited from NGOs and development agencies involved in the causes they wish to fund. For example, many staff at Gates Foundation have decades of experience in health, education and/or water and sanitation. These donor experts will be eager to discuss technical and program issues instead of starting with the budget.
Some donors may even be envious of you as an NGO worker. Many donors might miss being involved in the day-to-day operational side of programs and working directly with beneficiaries. Make sure you involve donors in your program development and ask for input on implementation, as this will both create buy-in as well as strengthen the relationship.
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“No” often means “not now”
Rejection does not mean the donor did not like you or your program. The reason for rejection more often has to do with the donor running out of budget, not being interested in your country or issue area, or for reasons of timing. Ask for feedback on why you were rejected and use it as an opportunity to learn and to develop a relationship. In many case ‘no’ means ‘not at this time but try again later’.
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They want to travel
Donors are people too, and who doesn’t like to travel, visit new countries, and gain new experiences? You can invite a donor to visit you in your country and visit your program. Donors will appreciate the invitation and many look forward to visiting a program site. While many will also decline or have no budget to travel, some will say yes and that can be the start of a stronger funding relationship.
They may not like risk
While a small number of donors are willing to bankroll high-risk, high-reward innovative and untested programs, this is the exception rather than the rule. Donor staff have a reputation and career to think about, and high risk programs that can end in disaster (e.g. no discernible impact or with resources being misappropriated) can damage a person’s future prospects. Sometimes donor staff are more comfortable picking the tried and tested methods just to ensure there are no surprises.