How to increase your chances of funding success

Written by Tawina Jane Kopa-Kamanga, TAWINA, Malawi

What fundraising problem did your organisation face?

When we started off fundraising through grants, 4 in 5 of our applications would be rejected. This was very frustrating considering the amount of effort and time spent. We realised however that we were not investing much in understanding the donors and their expectations. For instance, when we made our first application to one donor, we adopted a detailed budgeting framework. Although the donor did not explain why we were not successful, we considered using a simple budget in our second application with successful outcome.

How did you overcome this problem?

Our main problem was a lack of knowledge of the donors and their expectations. A review of our successful and unsuccessful grant applications showed that where we had invested time and effort in the application process, we mostly succeeded. Conversely, where we didn’t adequately work on a proposal, we missed some basic details with a frustrating outcome. For example, one donor indicated that applicants should be registered with audited accounts, and although we did not have these at the time we proceeded with our application, with failed results. As a solution, we developed and implemented a checklist, which we call our Organisation Eligibility Check. Now, all of our calls for proposals must be reviewed against this checklist before we decide on whether to pursue a funding application or not.

What did you achieve and what changes were made?

Understanding the donors and making sure that we address and meet their requirements and expectations in our grant applications increased our success rate fourfold. It also improved our overall grant-application process with a considerable reduction in time and resources needed for and spent on each application. We now ensure that our grant applications pass the Organisation Eligibility Check or we won’t proceed. We invest quality time working on the proposals, thoroughly going through all required sections and documentation as well as getting reviews on the proposal from team members or peers.

What did you learn from this experience?

This experience has taught us that successful grant applications start with excellent donor identification. You need to be confident that your organisation is well aligned with the donor’s expectations and guidelines, but also that the donor’s priorities speaks to your strategic objectives – don’t change your organisation’s mission to fit the guidelines of a funder. You also need to give the application process sufficient time and writing – quality applications will make it to the top.

What are your top tips for an organisation facing the same issue?

Knowledge is power

Take time to get to know and understand the donor, not just the grant application requirements.

Make a checklist

Adopt an application checklist, or Organisation Eligibility Check, to ensure your application will always align with the donor requirements. Time spent developing this checklist will be saved later.

Invest wisely

Invest time and resources in the grant application process to ensure your application is of the highest possible quality.

What is in the Organisation Eligibility Check?

The Organisation Eligibility Check helps us to assess the following:

  • How well we know the donor
  • How well aligned the donor’s missions and goals are with ours and vice versa
  • Whether the amount of effort required to complete the application, reporting, and delivery of activities is something we want to invest in, given our priorities, staffing levels, and other resources.
  • In short, if we don’t meet the requirements outlined in the Organisation Eligibility Check, we don’t apply.

Tawina Jane Kopa-Kamanga, TAWINA, Malawi

Tawina Jane Kopa Kamanga is Founder and Director of a woman-led and centred grassroots organisation in Malawi called TAWINA. Registered in 2014, TAWINA has been delivering innovative and individualised solutions to challenges faced by those who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence including child, early and forced marriage (CEFM). Over the last four years, Tawina Jane has been leading a fundraising strategy that has led to the development of a social enterprise aimed at empowering women economically while generating sustainable and unrestricted revenue for TAWINA.