The AmplifyChange Podcast

Money, Money, Money part 1: how to ensure your funding applications have the best chance of success

Episode Summary

Funding applications take time and effort, and despite all your hard work don’t always succeed. But what can you do to ensure that your application has the best chance of success? Listen to AmplifyChange’s new podcast to find out. Host Halima Zaid talks to successful fundraisers, Jacqueline Carine Samuels, Executive Director of Covenant Foundation for Girls (COFGIRLS), Liberia and Tawina Jane Kopa-Kamanga, Founder and Director of Teams Advancing Women in Agriculture, Malawi who share advice, top tips, and mistakes to avoid.

Episode Transcription


The three key things you will learn from this podcast are:



Halima:                 Welcome to our podcast today. Today, we are going to talk about Money, money,

Zaid                        money: how to ensure your funding applications have the best chances of success. Our

Host                       guests on the podcast today are Jacqueline Carine Samuels from the Covenant Foundation for Girls, or COFGIRLS in Liberia, and Tawina Jane Kopa-Kamanga from Teams Advancing Women in Agriculture (TAWINA) in Malawi.


Halima:                 Jacqueline is the executive director of COFGIRLS, which focuses on female genital cutting or mutilation, rape and, early and forced marriage. She's a strong advocate for women and girls and is an expert in writing proposals. She's also a registered nurse.


Halima:                 Tawina Jane, who's our second guest today here is the founder and director of Teams Advancing Women in Agriculture, an indigenous Malawian organisation led by young women and girls. She's highly experienced in developing and fundraising for community and girls-centred problems as well as policy advocacy and leadership. 


Welcome to you both. I would like us to discuss how it has been important for you, especially in researching the donors before you make a funding application.


Tawina Jane       For Teams Advancing Women in Agriculture, it's really been extremely important

Kopa-Kamanga research on a donor before making a funding application. I must say we have had to learn. Previously, we would just go straight into grant application, look at what the requirements were and what we were looking for, and the areas of interest, the areas they are going to fund, and would go straight start the grant application process.


Tawina Jane:      But then, we learned that researching the donor to understand the donor, not just the grant application process, was also extremely important. It helped us to get to the heart or to the mind of the donor, to learn to speak their language. By their language, I mean their tone and style. There are some words that will be common in donor language, some concepts that they would use. So, researching on the donor helped us to understand that field, but also appreciating their vision and current priorities, so that then that would enable us to assess how well aligned our objectives and our goals were with the donors. Overall, that would help to save time, and money, and energy, and resources.


Tawina Jane:      Grant application process, it's very tedious, it's very involving, it takes time, it takes resources. So, if you understand the donor better, it gives you a chance to streamline to see whether it's worthwhile to go ahead and do the application process, or maybe let it go and try something else.


Jacqueline:         Researching a donor before applications is quite important in any fundraising activity,

Carine                   because first it helps you to identify whether you fit any priority area of that donor, and

Samuels               if you fit that in that priority area, whether sending an application at that time would be expected or there is a specific time that a Call for a proposal can be out. And if there is a specific time a Call for proposal can be out, then it also enables you to sign up for the newsletter or for update on that donor.

Jacqueline:         And by doing so, it will also give you green light, what the focus of the donor is, what their priority areas are, where are they working presently, and how much money is available. Is it the case with the donor that has the money to spend? So, if they research the donor profile, you also get to know that available money and the focus area for the available money, and if you know the focus area for the available money, how much actually you as an organisation will request to do your work is important.


Jacqueline:         You don't just go about writing a proposal that is requesting for the maximum amount of money available in the Call for proposal window. What you were able to manage, it also gives you the greenlight. For example, the donor will say, "Our flow for this Call is 5,000, and you need 20-25,000 and our ceiling is 10,000". Because you want 25,000 you do it proposal that is 25,000. Then when they get the donor they say ‘No, this organisation is overqualified. Then the valuable time that you are taking to do that proposal will become a waste. So, researching a donor before a funding application is quite important.


Halima:                 You've talked about issues of guidelines and priority areas and that takes me to the next question. What other steps would you recommend organisations to take to find out whether their priorities must those of they don't have before applying?


Tawina Jane:      Yeah, I think the first and most important thing that I would say, is don't embark on application process until you are convinced you have what the donor is looking for. For example, as Jacqueline said, "Sometimes you'll find that the donor is looking for some specific documentation". For example, the donor could be looking for audited accounts. If you don't have at that at that point, there's no point in you embarking on a grant application process. Before you start check out projects that the donor has previously funded. That also does help. I think it still goes back to understanding the mind of the donor, to increase your chances of getting the funding.


Tawina Jane:      It's not always that a proposal is the concept or rather the project concept is bad, sometimes is the way, is the way you have structured your proposal that will let you down. So, make sure you check out other projects that the donor has previously funded. Just to give you a better idea of what appeals to the donor, but also you could learn about the donors’ current grantees. That could also give you an idea. So those are some of the steps that you could take. In addition to researching on the donor themselves, before you embark on a grant application process or a funding process.


Halima:                 Can you give us some of the recommendations your organisations has been able to take to find out when that their approach is matched those of, they don't have before applying, Ms Jacqueline.


Jacqueline:         Yes. For example, the issue you were working on, what is the main problem that you want to address? How do you want to address the problem? What is the anticipated outcome that you want to see? The change that you want to make? All of those are important to take into consideration before you apply for a donor funding, and most specifically, Who are going to benefit from your activity? Because, for example, if the donor say, they want to work with young girls and you are working for women,

Jacqueline:         it will be stated out clearly in their guidelines. And, if you research it in the [donor] recommendations it would be [say] that; go strictly by what the donor say they want and if it means you will be working for young girls, you should not just jump into it just because there is money available on the AmplifyChange website for you to apply for. Have you been working with young girls? That should be one of your considerations. 


My recommendation to you because nowadays many community-based organisations go about fitting yourselves into a corporate proposal at the moment, and even now they are working on issues once the donor advertise this issue on their website. They will quickly try to pick itself inside and definitely many looked forward created. So it is always good that you keep on your beneficiary focus. Don't jump into beneficiary because there is money available for certain category or prices.


Halima:                 Okay. Are there any scenarios, both of you have been able to experience, especially when a donor Calls for application and yet the eligibility criteria or priority criteria does not match your organisations criteria?


Tawina Jane:      Oh yeah. Quite often. The fact that a donor is interested in women's issues, it does not necessarily mean that your organisation as a Women-focused Organisation will always fit. For example, TAWINA focuses on child early and forced marriages and girl education. It's so tempting to do more and look at climate change and say, okay, this is an area it affects women and girls as well. We'll jump on that and do it, but at this moment you are priority is child early and forced marriages.


Tawina Jane:      If you're focused on that, it will be easy for you to streamline and just attract donors that would then help you achieve your current objectives as opposed to moving, as a Jacqueline said, "Just because the donor is interested in this, then you try to align yourself with that". One advice that I've always given to organisations, that look for application process support from TAWINA is to say, “Don't change your priorities to suit the donors. If you have priorities and the donors don't marry, that's okay, let it go an opportunity will come”. That way, it helps you to remain focused and then you have an opportunity to refocus in terms of time and energy in the grant application process, as opposed to changing every time to adapt to what the donors want. So yes, there have been scenarios when we have said, this is not for us. It doesn't fit us then you won't go ahead and do it.


Halima:                 When one is writing an application. What would you recommend listeners to do to ensure that the application matches what the donor looking for?


Jacqueline:         They search the donor website to know whether they [Call for proposals] are being launched, with what the donor is calling for. Or if there is a form of proposal out today for economic justice and Covenant Foundation for Girls have fully [inaudible 00:11:16] be working on female genital cutting mutilation and early child marriage, there is no way that I can fit into that Call. So, the best thing is, if I did the research on the donor website or whatever me by letter or inquiry, if the donor calls for that, I will be able or that organisation will be able to get a detail in the cleared picture or what it donor is looking for. And if it matches with what you are already doing or what you have asked [inaudible 00:11:50] to do then your proposal will definitely be successful. Like Tawina say, "Don't force yourself to meet up with donor criteria or interest areas, fit to where you are and what you can do".


Halima:                 Thank you for that. Do you mean to say that it's hard to integrate, let's say if you're living with a child marriage issues into economic justice and when a donor calls for proposal and economic justice issues?


Jacqueline:         You cannot integrate that because, maybe smartly you could do that, but then there will be, your limitation will be on the availability of resources, to make the proposal reach because, linking economic justice, to early marriage, it takes a lot of research. For example, if the Call is out for just a week or two, how much time do you have available to research and match your focus with economic justice to fit in early child marriage? But if it is strictly on [a] traditional issue then you will already have a good resource capacity and you will enable you to be [inaudible 00:13:10] of the development of your proposal. So, there is no need for integration when your focus is not there.


Halima:                 Okay. Most of the time I've been able to see grantees who apply for applications and let's say they've been working in an economic empowerment field and when there are Calls on sexual and reproductive health rights, they've been able to integrate and then been able to write more winning proposals on how they are integrating on this. Based on what you say that people have to look at their expertise, whether they have staff who can address those issues. Do you think that it's possible for organisations who are doing something else and they've got an opportunity for a Call to integrate these issues as emerging issues?


Jacqueline:         In my mind integrating to fit a particular Call for proposal will be a cheating on the part of the donor. Because in reality in a community where the proposal will be implemented, if the issue is a new issue all together it is a problem they introduced into the community, they all come or that particular Call might not be reached. So, it is always good, no matter how much expertise you have in writing a proposal to convince a [inaudible 00:14:30] it is always necessary for remain focus like Tawina say earlier, "Remain focus and work within [inaudible 00:14:40] in order to be realistic in your work". Because the work you do today is your...


Jacqueline:         For example, if I am Leaving Covenant Foundation for Girls, they mark our make. The next question that will come from you is they we'll build on, and the person that will be succeeding me, will have similar knowledge like, while what we have been working on. Where issue is strange altogether you may lost the organisation focus, if there is a change in leadership. And it will not be a footprint for the donor, because donor will want to be always on top of communication an issue. Say, Oh, every book of Liberia you will see Covenant Foundation an AmplifyChange grantee. If they have gotten a new person does not know the issue, it becomes a failure on the part of that recommended donor.


Tawina Jane:      Just to add, I think the key word is emerging issues. Emerging issues are coming from something that you've been working on. Then there's an emerging issue, if you are digressing so that you are responding to emerging issues, I think there is possibility that you could do that, provided you are well aware of the risks that could be associated with that. So that as an organisation you have prepared on how you're going to mitigate, as Jacqueline said, "When you're working on an issue it becomes your brand".


Tawina Jane:      So, people know TAWINA, and they associate TAWINA with child marriage. The next day TAWINA is talking about something else. Then someone will have to relearn. Okay, so TAWINA does child marriage and what is happening. They will struggle to link the two, that if as an organisation you are prepared to take that step because you are responding to a certain niche, to a certain imaging issue. I think there's a possibility that yes, you would be able, you would succeed in getting funding. 


Because look here when you're applying for funding, one area that donors are interested in, is your past experience as an organisation. What have you done, what sort of projects have you handled in the past, and in terms of grant amounts, all that information donor is interested in and I think it's for a particular reason. So, as you are moving as an organisation, as you are evolving, you should bear in mind that you are able to link that so that even the donor is not lost when they are trying to establish your footprint. They should be able to follow it. That will be my addition to that. But yes, it is possible as you said, it is possible to respond to emerging issues.


Jacqueline:         On the other hand, just to add a little bit of what Tawina say, if there are emerging issues on your work in a community, that when the significance of networking comes into place. There maybe a network or civil society organisation that may be working on particular emerging issues, then you link up with them in your network and you join as a team to apply for the grant and not as individual organisation who wants to address the issue that is just emerging. 


For example, if Tawina had been working on policy, advocacy for the past five years and it became an emerging issue for me and TAWINA and Covenant Foundation for Girls in Liberia, I know TAWINA in my network and this Call for proposal is working on policy advocacy I will line up with TAWINA and make her the lead and maybe organisation, the lead applicants and work along with this organisation to build my own strength for future emerging issues.


Halima:                 Wow! That's so great. Actually I didn't look at it that way. Both of you have been able to write successful applications, are there times where you have been be able to write donor funding applications that weren't very successful, and what kind of feedback did you get from the donors about these applications?


Tawina Jane:      Yeah, as TAWINA the experience has been interesting, bitter sweet. So when we first started writing grant applications, we weren't as successful, more than half the time our applications were rejected and it was so frustrating. We didn't know what we are doing wrong. By then, it took us the time, we said, ‘Okay, let's go back to the drawing board. Why are we not succeeding in getting grants? 


We reviewed the grant applications, sometimes donors would give feedback, but in very few times. Most of the times if you are lucky to get feedback from a donor, it would just be generic, for example, “We received too many applications, so yours was unsuccessful at this point” and it doesn't really tell you much. Where a donor has tried to be specific and it's very few, I would say maybe 5% of the times a donor would give feedback about your application. And where we received feedback, for example, when we're just stating it was to do with monitoring where a donor said, "Monitoring framework was quite weak and that was why they could not fund our application".


Tawina Jane:      But over the time, for us the most important feedback was what we gave ourselves. So we reviewed the entire process and learnt from it. And one of the things was time investment. We noticed that we are not really giving our grant application process quite a time that it deserved.


Halima:                 What about you Ms Jacqueline? Have you ever had like situations where you're funding applications have been unsuccessful and maybe I'd like to know more on what to do with their feedback? If you got feedback from the donors regarding your applications, how did you change the way you wrote to your future applications?


Jacqueline:         We have had several failed applications, and like Tawina said, the majority, and if I can recall, up to seven times were failed and the donor could not give us money. Because, we were serious and every time we saw Call for proposal, we would go for it and we were failed repeatedly, until I asked one of the donors, what's specifically have we failed on? The feedback was quite interesting. They told us that in the first place our organisation was not structured well so they are not too sure whether we really exist, and our priorities were outside of their focus; the organisation of the Call for proposal was not coherence [how the proposal was structured was not coherent]: that means that the strategy was different, the objective was different, they all can, they anticipate all can everything were quite different and they give us a specific feedback.


Jacqueline:         And then I wrote back, what was their all recommendation onto the thing we can do to improve able to give donors strong information? And it says specific things to us, that they should be capacity development for the organisation, and everybody should know their term of reference in the organisation, what you should do, and what time you should do it. And most interestingly, we should also invest more time in developing our monitoring framework both internally and externally, even with donor funding


That was the interesting feedback that we've got from one donor and when we built on that donor recommendation, it was when the first ever application to several organisations that gave us a start was when we applied for AmplifyChange funding in 2016. So, if you are able to get generic feedback from donor, don't feel complacent about it or don't get satisfied with it. Make another follow up to that donor for organisation specific feedback. In the organisation specific feedback, they will outline where your weaknesses lie and if you've got that feedback it should not just be something that would go on your archive, build on it and impose it on the organisation then you would gain the trust of other donors.


Halima:                 The feedback process is very critical, right? Because we've talked about specific feedback. Both of you have given us, shared your ideas on how specific feedback has been able to help. Let's say you've been able to put all the feedback into place and you've been able to apply for a next fund and your application is still being rejected. What would you suggest that someone who's been able to incorporate all the feedback and has been able to do the right things and doesn't get the grant, what would you suggest they do next?


Tawina Jane:      It's not an easy process. So you have done all that you could have and you still have a rejected application. It can be frustrating, but what I would say is the first thing is don't blame yourself, because you haven't done anything wrong. I think one thing that I've learned is just like any organisation, resources will always been in limiting. So even with donors it's not an easy task when it comes to selecting, who should benefit from their window funding. So sometimes it could be that not that your application did not match the donor’s requirements, but they needed to have had a cut off because they couldn't fund everyone who satisfied their requirements. So you might have been unlucky at that particular time that your application was not successful. So that's one area that you could also look at and try to encourage yourself that next time you can try them again.


Tawina Jane:      But also, the other thing is as Jacqueline alluded earlier on, engage the donor. So your application, you are convinced it should have gone through but it didn't, engage the donor. So, by engaging the donor, of course you could seek feedback, which I'm sure most donors would, sometimes they don't even come back to you, but at times they do.


Tawina Jane:      Like I had an interesting experience with our Global Fund for Women. When you get the feedback, don't stop there. You could also update them about what is happening, the development at your organisation. Keep them engaged, they get to know you better. It's an opportunity for you to start to know because you submitted application, you linked with that donor, maintain that link. Then they'll get to know you better and that would then prepare you for the next funding round and increase your chances because now they'll be talking to an organisation that they are familiar with and you never know, Sometimes it happens that that donor, although they have not funded you, but they could refer you to another organisation and that has happened to us as well. So, these are some of the things that an organisation can do. Not just when their proposal or their application hasn't been successful, but even when it has been successful.


Halima:                 Ms Jacqueline, let's say your organisation has done all the right things, you've got the feedback, you've done all the right things and put your application and it's still rejected. What would you suggest to do next?


Jacqueline:         My recommendation could be, remain engaged with the donor and then you try to do a little adjustment in the strategies. For example, universally, we know that civil society organisations activities are quite based on donor funding. And nowadays many donors are getting tired or I could say donor fatigue has kept the civil society movement. And because of this it is getting quite interesting to form a group of civil society core consortium to come together and write. Because if you, have been applying for quite a long time as an individual organisation and you are not succeeding, add the weight of one or two more organisations and makes them weigh more heavier and more convincing and they increase their capacity or the ability to deliver to the donor expectation. 


Jacqueline           So all in all you remain engaged, increase your network on the activity and partnership and collaborating as a team. What you were anticipating to do, you alone can do it. For example, five to seven districts. Then another proposal is there with five strong institutions and they are saying the same work that one organisation is able to do, we are saying we are able to do it too. Then if the two proposals meet the criteria, because of the weight that is behind the consortium application, the donor will prefer to take the consortium than a single organisation.


Halima:                 Both of you have talked about engaging the donor. I would like to know when speaking to the donors, what has been the best single piece of advice they have ever given you about making funding applications?


Tawina Jane:      They love to hear from us. Not just when we are making funding applications but they just love to hear from us. That was one piece of advice that I received from the donors that we have engaged.


Jacqueline:         You will never know about some people until you inquire, and if you inquire, they always tell you, "This is our website, make sure you read our eligibility criteria and the funding balance before you apply".


Halima:                 Thank you so much, do you have any parting shots you'd like to tell? Like young people or any new organisations that are trying to access or write new funding proposals?


Tawina Jane:      I'll just stress on investing in the application process. It's never a rushed process. It needs time. It needs effort; it needs team work. Consider grant application, the way you can see the activities within the organisation as a core activity. It's not an additional, it's not an Ad Hoc. It's something that you need to give your energy, your time and everything that you can think of into it.


Tawina Jane:      Secondly, always involve some peer review. It could be within the organisation or outside. If you have mentors, if you have people that you have confidence in, not just like another organisation but people that you can trust. Let of them review your grant application before you submit it.


Jacqueline:         In addition to what Tawina say, it will always be a good that you have full focus don't apply because there is money available for something. Know your own capacity in delivering the project or deliverables, always look for mentorship. Just consider a young baby that is born today, they cannot care for themselves, everything about this, then their own mother. Before you can become even a community-based organisation that might have been somebody that inspire you. So, make that first step separately to the mentor as Tawina says, let them review your document; the work plan to develop projects and they should be consistent, and they should be coherence.


Halima:                 We've come to the end of our broadcast. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing with us your funding experiences.


Tawina Jane:      If you want to learn more about increasing your chances of funding success, why not take a look at my How to guide on

Jacqueline:         If you want to know more about how to write a successful funny application, then please take a look at my How to guide on How to write a better successful proposal. It is on now, it will strengthen your organisation capacity.