• Molly Morrison

Beyond open calls for applications

Not every grant-making donor has an open application process. Does that mean they're out of reach?


COVID-19 update:

Interest in funding public health initiatives is at an all-time high. Many donors, including DFID (now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), have pivoted existing opportunities towards COVID-19-response or established funding pipelines specific to combating infectious diseases. For example, the long-standing Small Charities Challenge Fund (SCCF) for small UK-registered charities and not-for-profit organisations has shifted towards tackling the pandemic’s impact. Interested in this opportunity? The next review date is: Thursday 25 March 2021, 17:00 pm (UK time).


Looking for a grant? Check Bond’s website.


What if you can't find a relevant grant right now?

From what I’ve heard from clients, many social impact organisations in non-health related fields are hunkering down, minimising costs, switching to online activities if possible, reducing or eliminating in-person activities, and using the opportunity to reassess their strategies. This limbo-state is a survival mechanism—it allows the organisation to cling to existence until the tide changes and interest in these initiatives returns.

Depending on your organisation, this all might seem a bit grim, but let me assure you that it isn’t all doom and gloom. While the social impact sector is experiencing rapid change and unpredictability as much as any other sector, there will come a time when donor interest will once again diversify. The question is: will you be ready when it does?


I think the forced slowing of activities is a great time to reassess your organisation’s priorities, strategy, and position yourself to go after funding opportunities you were too busy to consider when the programmes are in full swing.


Many grant opportunities are closed or postponed due to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that donors are not interested in hearing about your work. It means it’s an excellent time to develop a long-term strategy. Consider approaching donors through informal channels and networking.


Phase 1: Tell your story

Donors are approached by countless fundraisers from great causes every day. How can you stand out from the crowd? Before approaching anyone, make sure you have a thorough and updated ‘Case for Support’, a sleek and concept note with eye-catching infographics to make your case.

Want to learn more? I’ve been working with the master wordsmith and experienced—she has raised millions of £ for UK-based social impact organisations—Jennifer Ruthe on a series of articles called Step change: a roadmap for new fundraisers. The series gives step-by-step guides, practical tools, and actionable tips for creating a communication strategy that works.

Phase 2: Understand the ecosystem

Sure, you hear the splashy announcements about grant winners—the Skoll Foundation and Ashden make big announcements, and under normal circumstances do in-person events. However, there are a lot of funding decisions that go on behind closed doors. Many Foundations and Trusts distribute funds discreetly or through long-term relationships with trusted social impact organisations. Big donors in international development like DFID (now the FCDO) and USAID award multi-million dollar contracts to implementing organisations, many of which are not widely publicised.


I know it’s tedious, but taking time to do the research and following the threads deep into the rabbit hole can be essential to understanding who likes to fund what, how, and when. Also, this is different from prospecting—when you’re looking for opportunities, it’s narrower. When you do an ecosystem mapping exercise, you should look at the social impact organisations getting funding, the popular buzzwords, and how donors are framing their funding strategy.

Phase 3: Make the approach

After you have your communication strategy ready and understand the ecosystem, it’s time to approach donors. Does this feel overwhelming? If you, like me, suffer from networking-phobia, the irrational fear of putting yourself out there in case you, gasp, come off as desperate or money-hungry. Instead, figure out what the donor wants. For example, are they passionate about a particular issue? If so, how can you show them an innovative solution to that problem? Are they too busy to closely monitor the social impact organisations they fund? If so, how can you demonstrate that you are self-sufficient, well-organised, and ready to put the funds to good use?


I found it useful to learn about networking and to reframe the word in my mind as a relationship that adds value to both parties. I never recommend starting a conversation by asking for money. Reframing how I think about networking has revolutionised how I feel about it, and it has opened a lot of doors for me. I plan to create more resources about networking in a genuine, productive way—let me know if you have specific questions that I can address!


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