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Expert tips for writing successful grant applications for publishers

Don’t be intimidated, apply for grants for your projects!” was the title of a panel at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Africa Conference 2022, where Internews’ Joel Malebranche and GFMD’s Anne Marie Hammer shared their expertise on effective grantmaking processes.

Posted by: Communications Gfmd | 14. July 2022

WAN-IFRA's Digital Media Africa Conference 2022

By Marie Andrea Pefianco

GFMD member WAN-IFRA hosted their 6th Annual Digital Media Africa Conference, an online event for publishing executives from across the continent to convene and hear from digital media experts, from Africa and beyond, on crucial topics affecting their news organisations.

Internews’ Regional Program Manager for West and Central Africa Joel Malebranche and GFMD’s Director of Membership Services Anne Marie Hammer were invited to speak on the topic of fundraising.

Applying for grants may be daunting for many publishers in the region because they do not have the experience or staffing resources necessary to navigate the process. The panel discussion sought to provide new tools and know-how to better equip these publishers when fundraising and managing the grants they receive.

Recommendations from GFMD’s members and experts:

After a quick introduction to the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide, GFMD’s flagship online resource on fundraising, Hammer presented a series of recommendations to improve your chances of getting funding. Malebranche also weighed in his expertise:

Stick to your competencies

To quote the fundraising guide: “Too often organisations apply for grants, win them, and then struggle to resource them.”

Donors tend to stick to a list of “buzzwords” or preferred topics that they are likely to fund. These change over time depending on current affairs and international priorities. But pursuing these donor priorities at the expense of your own organisation’s priorities and focus can be detrimental in the long run.

“Stick to your competencies. Don’t go chasing projects that you aren’t qualified to implement.” said Hammer. “If you, against all odds, do get the funding, you may end up spending a lot of time and resources trying to live up to donor expectations in terms of monitoring and evaluation, taking that time and those resources away from your core work. Applying to multiple small grants requires a lot of work that may not be cost-effective in the end.”

“Donors want to see organisations that know what they are doing, that have a clear skillset and a clear range of expertise that they can bring to the table,” Hammer added.

Malebranche also highlighted that organisations do not have to be an expert in everything:

“It’s really important to stick to your guns and show that you have an expertise in what you’re applying for.”

Learn more about identifying opportunities in the Module 4 of the guide.

Partner up and share information

GDMD members suggested looking for partners at the local, national, or regional level. Good results within the area may bring in more donors.

“Find partners and collaborators for your projects – develop relationships with organisations that are more experienced and have a longer track record of working within your area,” said Hammer. As a result, you’ll be able to benefit from their success at first, breaking into the market and developing a clientele before finally acquiring the necessary experience to apply on your own.

Invest in fundraising-related capacities

Most organisations do not have the resources to hire a fundraiser. Still, hiring staff that can cover the diverse skills sets needed is crucial.

“Our 2022 survey shows that a majority of our members find it difficult to justify hiring staff that is qualified to help raise funds. But without language skills, budgeting skills, and planning skills, you are at a disadvantage,” she explained.

Look for proof of impact in the stories that you produce

According to Malebranche, donors are looking for anecdotal or quantitative impact. Whether they like it or not, funders are going to request detailed documentation that shows the tangible effects of the investment they made to an organisation.

“We’re looking at you for your ears on the ground– so, contacts– and then the information based on the objectives and the activity,” said Malebranche.

Writing the reports means thinking in terms of the objectives that were provided in the application because this will help in keeping the reports organised. Numbers are vital in being able to tell people the impact that an organisation has on the ground so their team should be set up in a way where reporting becomes easy.

He added: “You want your staff to be able to properly write reports, whether they are narrative, or financial, because again, there’s life after the organisation that’s giving you money.”

Finally, he recommended investing in high quality smartphones and cameras to capture what the organisations are trying to show. These photos can not only be included in the reports but also be put up in the websites or social media platforms that these organisations have.

Have a good PR strategy

Make sure that your online presence also is “set up in a way where people can see who you are, what you do, and your impact,” said Malebranche.

Having a good PR strategy and being able to market yourself goes hand in hand with creating a good relationship with donors. This is one way to demonstrate impact and to be able to quantify the work that you do, says Hammer

“Be visible where the donors are – LinkedIn, Twitter, platforms where you can share content about what you do. What you do, how you do it, what the results are, how you are making an impact,” she added.

Malebranche also emphasised that Facebook accounts should also be up to date since this could be an avenue to keep up with contacts made through local partnerships.

Although there is still a lot of experimentation in the area of media development, Hammer stressed that diversifying revenue and capacity building are what donors are really looking for. In the end, funders and organisations should continue working towards developing the sector’s capacity to become more self-sufficient and more sustainable.

“If you’re aggressive in a strategic way, by using resources, such as what Hammer has provided, you can get further than what you believe,” advised Malebranche.


Tell us what you think of the funding process! What are your challenges and recommendations for best practices?
Shoot us a line on the GFMD members’ list or write to our Director of Membership Services Anne Marie Hammer to share your thoughts.
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