Contact with donors should generally start through an email. After the initial contact through email, try to set up a meeting. Afterwards, you can have telephone conversations. However, emails are good records for of all the issues discussed with donors. The issue should be somehow relevant so it is advisable to have an important document to start with: a report, joint reports or any other important document.
Donor representatives change very often, sometimes every 6 months. Try to ask the donor for the replacement contact. Also ask a donor that works in a similar area to put you in contact with the new representative. If you have the ability to have regular contacts with donors, then you should try to preserve them.
WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL PROCEDURE FOR SETTING UP A MEETING WITH DONORS?
Through a direct request in a well structured email where the content and purpose are clearly specified.
IS THERE AN EMAIL FORMAT OR PHONE CALL FORMAT TO CONTACT DONORS?
In the first paragraph, write an introduction that includes some information on the person or organization and its work. In the second paragraph explain the reason for contacting them and in the third suggest a meeting time. In the fourth you should thank them in advance for their response.
However, a face to face meeting is also very important since from the body language of the representative you can guess whether she/he is going to proceed with your request or not. In a telephone call or email her/his intentions are more difficult to predict. An example of an email:
Dear Mr/Ms X,
My name is XX and I received your contact from XY who is at the moment working for XAid. My organization has trained local community members, who are currently monitoring your organization’s project ______ (Name of Project) in _____ (Province) for the past _______ (Duration of Time).
ADD PARAGRAPH DESCRIPTION ON ORGANIZATION & PROGRAM.
We are interested in securing access to the following documents:
1) Technical Specifications of the Project, e.g. Scope of Work, Drawings.
2) Project Contract
I wanted to ask you whether it was possible to set up a meeting in the coming days to discuss issues related to our request listed above. I think that cooperation between our organizations will be mutually beneficial for improving the quality of the project. The interview should last approximately 45 minutes.
Thank you in advance for your response.
Tel : +93 797 105 XXX
BARRIERS TO CONTACTING DONORS
Donor representatives are sometimes on leave or absent. It can take a long time to get an answer. You will rarely get a strong decision, but more of a ‘green light’ whether to proceed or not. Therefore a follow-up process after the meetings is strongly advisable. Sometimes they do not trust local people, and prefer international, which can also affect your access to donors.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT BARRIERS FOR AFGHANS VS. FOREIGNERS’ IN TALKING TO DONORS?
It seems that sometimes foreigners have an easier access to donors in Afghanistan. It may happen because of linguistic and cultural barriers that among expats are probably less present. However, a well prepared national with well structured positions can easily deal with donors. A good option is therefore a national and an expatriate attending a meeting together.
Since most of the meetings happen through social links like dinners and parties and since Afghans may have a limited access to those, it may happen that Afghan’s access to some people may be constrained.
HOW DO YOU USE PERSONAL CONTACTS TO OVERCOME BARRIERS AND ARRANGE MEETINGS?
There may be some disagreement whether to use personal contacts for gaining access to donors or not. It can be useful to use personal contacts for contacting high ranking officials, especially for the first time. It can be done for example through other donor representatives who recommend you. It can be useful to contact donors through email, including the director, the head of programs and a contact from the donor’s office in carbon copy (CC).
IF YOU DON’T HAVE PERSONAL CONTACTS, HOW DO YOU ARRANGE MEETINGS?
In this case the subject addressed by the meeting is crucial and it should therefore be important. Usually it is done through contacting the head office to ask for the related contact in the desired country. Again one way is to conact them through other donor representatives: at meetings people usually give away their card and it can be useful to contact them for gaining access to other donor representatives.
Additional contacts should be provided through embassies or ISAF representatives in provincial offices. Foreigners change rapidly and contacts become quickly obsolete. Provincial government should have all the necessary contact information for donors based in the provinces.
GETTING DONORS INTERESTED IN CBM
HOW DO YOU INFORM THEM OF YOUR WORK
They are informed with newsletters, reports, database reports, movies, smaller round table meetings, or conferences. Also in bilateral meetings that address a certain problem, the organization’s work can be introduced. The information provided should include the work itself, the objective and goals, the tools of work and the efficiency of the staff. It is also important to produce brochures to hand out at any suitable moment.
HOW DO YOU GET THEM INTERESTED
Give an analysis of the political context, the obstacles and where does the program fit into. A good analysis of corruption, aid effectiveness, and where CBM fits into and deals with this problem is a good way to get donors interested. A good context analysis, why is monitoring effective and how is to going to bring change to a certain environment, is therefore crucial to make donors interested. Put it simply, it should include the macro (corruption/aid effectiveness) and micro levels (CBM).
You can also provide measurement and data on the impact of CBM work and the types of problems solved and faced and what can donors do. Donors get easily interested in simple solutions that are cheap and easy to implement.
Do you pitch differently to different donors, for example talking to SIDA vs. the World Bank? It should be in line with their mandates and interests. Sometimes they can be interested in only one project or in all projects of an organization.
GEOGRAPHIC PRIORITIES Donors often, also have geographic interests. International aid policies are formed by the foreign aid offices of countries. Countries thus, have regional priorities. European countries may be more interested in Africa, for instance, whereas the US may be more focused on the Middle East. In Afghanistan, countries have different priorities in different provinces. The French are focused on Kapisa. The Americans have a large presence in Nangerhar. The Italians are in Herat. Depending on the province where you want to operate, you should first identify the donors operating in or interested in that province.
ORGANIZATIONAL MANDATE If you need funding from USAID, in order to attract their attention you have to emphasize how your program deals with transparency and accountability. Meetings should be also tailored according to their interests and the appropriate information should be prepared for the meeting. If they do not fund all the programs in your organization, leave the uninterested programs out of the agenda.
WHAT DOES A PROPOSAL CONTAIN
Although proposals vary from donor to donor, in general they contain the elements described below.
In the beginning, write some ‘quick information’ on the duration, location, start and end date, total budget, requested budget and a summary of funding by all donors. This is followed by a program description that includes the outline of the problem addressed, the objectives of the program, and the approach: for example, in CBM a collaborative problem-solving approach amongst multiple stakeholders (donors, implementers, sub-national government and beneficiary communities) is used. It should contain a detailed description of the activities undertaken. In the case of CBM, it is community mobilization, selection of projects to be monitored, capacity building of local monitors and locally elected or government officials, documentation and dissemination of societal expectations and concerns, etc.
A description of who are the beneficiaries, how to deal with gender issues, the geographical coverage/time-span and the deliverables (like in the case of Integrity Watch, 800 local monitors were trained, 400 projects were monitored in 2 years, etc.). There should be a description of the impact of the program like improved service delivery, responsive government officials, and empowered communities. How is it cost-effective and the economic benefits it brings (for example CBM is cheaper than conducting external evaluations) and the issue of sustainability or how will the monitoring efforts last. It is also important to address how does the program fit with donors’ goals and strategies: if the donor is for example working in governance issues, then the governance aspect of the program should be highlighted.
Finally, the proposal should contain a management and operational approach and capability that includes the organizational structure, about who and how will undertake the monitoring and evaluation (M&E), partners that the organization collaborates with and some details on past performance.
REPORTING TO DONORS
Are guidelines for reporting to donors negotiated or standard? In the case of Integrity Watch, it is negotiated. IWA established a unique reporting mechanism to all donors at the same time. Reporting sometimes evolves according to the ‘direction’ taken by the program. This way the organization also ensures transparency: all donors get the same report and know that the organization has nothing to hide. Some NGOs can invoice the same program to different donors. Needless to say that the reporting time is this way also reduced.
HOW DO YOU ORGANIZE DONOR REPORTING ON A REGULAR BASIS
In CBM, data should be gathered regularly at the district and provincial level. The report is always dated and represents a picture of the program at a given time. There are quarterly and an annual reports. Things that have not happened yet, should never be reported; a clear statement of their implementation but not completion should be clearly stated. Reporting requirements can be always discussed before the contract is signed. Reporting is followed by a meeting, where donors ask questions such as what challenges does the organization face, what kind of political support they can provide, etc.
WHAT DOES A REPORT INCLUDE
They include information on the context, data framework (with previous reports’ data, baseline and foreseen objectives). Then it should include the narrative explaining the data and their discrepancies (all the program activities). Problems faced and the way forward should be also included. Finally, it includes the financial issues (in words and numbers) and the name of the person filling the report.
For example, Integrity Watch reports generally include the following elements:
Basic data: name of the project, cost, project duration, purpose, status of report, type of agreement, major acronyms
Executive summary: key achievements, operational constraints that have arisen and actions taken to address them, management and administration issues, and lessons learned.
The progress report is divided in two parts. The report by output describes in detail every progress made in each program (like CBM, Community Trial Monitoring, Public Service Monitoring, etc.). The second progress report or report by logframe, is based on a management tool that is usually required from donors in international development projects.
Operational constraints or challenges encountered in the proposed period.
Risk management: describes the risks encountered when pursuing a certain objective and the ways to mitigate them.
Management and administration: human resources and staff management, financial issues, procurement and contracting, and internet.
Security: security issues concerning the organization.
Lessons learned: for example subjects such as accountability, extractive industries and social mobilization are relatively new terms for the Afghan media, which means that they are unable to have an adequate presentation of the topic. Therefore the lesson learned is that any engagement that targets media will need careful messaging and ideally some training on the issue.
Communication, Information and Advocacy: an update on the work of this unit.
Financial report: it has details on expenditure by donor and by work stream.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES FOR NOT REPORTING REGULARLY
The credibility of the organization is questioned and at serious risk; objectives are missed. Problems are not identified or are missed and can grow and become harder to solve. Funding can be delayed.
HOW DO YOU REPORT A PROBLEM TO DONORS
Problems are the rule and not the exception. There are always problems that should be always reported, along with their solutions. If solutions are difficult to find, then they should be discussed with donors. Usually an email is sent, where the problem is explained along with some supporting documents. If a program is not working there is a mechanism for assessing the problem. An evaluation is sent to the board, then a report to the donors and the program can be stopped. If we face challenges with the government officials, the donor can provide political support that can be requested during meetings or through an email.
Often, people are intimidated by donors and afraid to write to them to ask for changes in the proposal, budget lines or to report problems. DO NOT LET FEAR PREVENT YOU FROM CONTACTING DONORS. This is the biggest mistake an organization can make. Being transparent with donors is generally better than hiding problems that will anyways, be revealed in the future.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH BUDGET ISSUES
Budget should be given a year in advance. Donors are flexible on budget lines (2 to 5%), especially if they are aware of the variation well in advance (for example, 6 months). Donors’ flexibility on budget is mentioned in the contract.
If there were some changes to the purpose the budget was used for, you should explain the reasons. If the changes are substantial, the budget has to be amended. If the budget is considered too rigid and there is excessive expenditure, the donor should be contacted and a re-alignment of the budget should be performed, in order to create a balanced proportion on what was spent. If the program spends less, a no-cost extension of the program can be requested.
IF THERE ARE PROBLEMS OF THEFT OR CORRUPTION RELATED TO THE BUDGET, these must be solved and signaled as soon as possible and the measures undertaken to avoid it in the future. Also budget reporting should be consistent: if it is not, an explanation should be provided. It is important to add that if you are working for transparency and accountability, having any theft or corruption in your budget can completely delegitimize your work and reputation. Thus, any issues identified should be solved quickly and with full transparency to protect your reputation.