The reality is that competing for donor funding is cut-throat when there are a number of NGOs with noteworthy causes and innovative approaches. What differentiates one proposal from another in this competitive environment? What is the x-factor in proposal writing?

Underlining the formulation of funding proposals is the misconception that donors give for the sake of giving. Fundraising is serious business where the NGO becomes a tool to promote the donor’s philanthropic vision. Persuasive funding proposals demonstrate how the NGO will promote the donor’s priorities instead of focusing on the technicalities of a specific project or cause.

The generic proposal, traditionally submitted to a number of donors, is history! Each proposal must be tailored, because each donor’s priorities are different. The Inyathelo workshops share tailoring techniques while the NGO Clinic advises how to tailor proposals for specific donors.

Here are three tailoring tips:

1. Show how the funding opportunity will promote the donor’s strategies.

  • Research the donor’s funding history to determine what type of initiatives the donor has supported in the past. Show how the proposed project will align or extend the donor’s previous funding.
  • Know your donor’s core business and clients. Explain how the project will realise the donor’s business goals.

2. Indicate a return on donor investment (ROI)

  • ROI is a financial term, which fits well in fundraising. It suggests that donors are investors and can expect benefits for their support. Generally proposals are prepared for government and foreign agencies as well as for Foundations, trusts and businesses. The proposal should therefore suggest a different ROI for each of these donors, because each of these donors’ core business differs.
  • The benefits for businesses are easily identified and could include tax certificates, BBBEE score card points, supporting the CSI strategy, et cetera.
  • Government and foreign agencies are interested in cost-effective implementation of policies. A typical example is the identification book projects where the NGO assists a community to apply for identification documents. The proposal would be compelling if the cost per beneficiary is inexpensive.
  • For Foundations and Trusts the ROI requires extensive research, but most foundations would be persuaded if the project promotes their philanthropic vision. NGOs could offer a strategic partnership with a reputable African organisation for foreign foundations without an African footprint.

3. Rewrite the executive summary

  • The executive summary is the first page the donor will scan to make an initial match with their focus. It is the one page that may make or break your application. Take time to craft the summary and ensure that it reflects the donor benefits.
  • Tailoring proposals to show how the proposed initiative will promote the donor’s strategies is the distinguishing factor between mediocre and compelling proposals. Most proposals ask for funding – persuasive proposals offer solutions and benefits!

Author: Ninette Mouton, a proposal consultant at the University of Pretoria.