Funding is in many areas declining, and donors are expecting more value-for-money. It's a results-focused environment, and every development dollar has to count.
So, How Do We Identify Projects That Donors Will Support?
And, of course, what we do has to matter, to make a difference - and create a positive, measurable change for the communities we serve.
Now your donors will have a checklist when evaluating any proposal, and those will vary from organisation to organisation. But there are always three broad things to consider when identifying a project - value, capacity and support.
What do we mean by value?
What we are saying is that it has to be something decision makers consider to be important.
It means that solving this problem is going to bring significant value to the country, region or project area. The problem you have identified has to be, in today's development context, aligned with either a global, regional or national priority.
This means that addressing the issue will contribute towards the country achieving a development milestone - for example something in the national development plan - or a Sustainable Development Goal, such as poverty eradication, improved food security or inclusive education. This is where the impact of your project aligns with the shared objectives of other development organisations.
So, if your planned intervention isn't aligned with the shared goals of other development actors such as donors and governments, , you may want to take a step back and see if there is actually a credible link between the project's outcome and those shared goals at country and global level.
Some donors will work closely with their partners to build their capacity to deliver results. But if you are approaching a new donor for support, they still have to be convinced you can 'walk the walk'.
Does your team have the capacity and skills to address the issue? Can you mobilise quickly? Can you do it better than others? In short, is this something you are good at?
Perhaps your organisation has some unique attributes. What is it that sets you apart? Perhaps you have skills in working in emergency situations, mobilising communities or working in conflict areas.
What sort of reputation do you have that makes your team the right one for addressing this issue?
Are you perceived as neutral (great if working in conflict areas), or have some other kind of unique reputation. When you think of MSF, Amnesty International, Save the Children, UNHCR or the Red Cross - what comes to mind?
Let's look at support. Let's start internally - is the issue / project in line with your own mandate, the reason your organisation exists? That's internal support.
And what about relations with Government - can you count on their support and the support of other organisations? What about other decision-makers and those with power and resources? You may have the best project plan ever, but donors want to see those plans coordinated with the plans of others. (Think football: a team full of centre forwards isn't going to work.)
So if your project ticks all the boxes and you are taking it to the right donors, congratulations! You've got yourself a strategic priority.
But what if you are missing something? If support is absent, work on creating that - network, research, explore, and see how you can coordinate your efforts with others and build that support.
If you have support and the project offers value but your skills / capacity aren't up to it, don't give up too quickly. Partners can provide the capacity we may lack, and we can build our own. After all, the organisations that have been thriving a long time have changed over time - their purpose, relevance and capacity. For example, Save the Children was started by two sisters in 1919 to provide food aid to children in Germany and Austria-Hungary after World War I. Austria-Hungary doesn't exist anymore - but Save the Children does.
And what if you do have support and capacity, but the project doesn't offer any value? If the problem it addresses doesn't match national development goals or is seen as unimportant by donors?
Then you may want to identify a project that actually aligns with what donors actually want - and one that delivers development results.