Lecture 4. Setting up first contact
Setting up first contact

Understand that donors are bombarded with applications on a daily basis. In one EaP country a grants fund gets 20 applications daily (even when there is no open call for proposals). That is the market you are working in.

The best approach is to establish a personal relationship with a donor. This will take time and several meetings, so do not expect instant funding from Day One. Developing the relationship can be extremely difficult. There is no single way to do this, and some persistence, creativity and luck is required.

However, there are a few tips that may just get you in the door.

In all of the ideas below try to use intermediaries, based in the country where you want to work to organise the meetings for you. These people should have easy access to whomever you want to meet. Familiarity is a great door opener.

Let’s take the example of trying to get funds from an international donor based in another country.

Travelling to a country on a reconnaissance trip and asking for a meeting is a direct way of meeting a donor, but many foundations and big donors discourage this for the reasons explained  before. This first direct introductory contact is best made by the director, founder, chairperson or patron of the organization.

One alternative option is to host a roundtable, or event in your target country. This can be organized on your behalf by a consultant or partner organization based in that country. Use a high-profile speaker to attract a crowd. Reduced travel budgets, and an increase in online meetings means people who work for donor organisations in London or Washington travel less and less. So meeting people from places they fund is attractive to them.

A cheaper option is to not travel but instead hold a livestream event in the language of the donor at a time convenient to your potential target, and advertise it on social media.

For either of these options to work you need to have a very good idea of what specific issues that donor wants to tackle. The debate needs to offer some solutions to the donor’s challenge.

One other way of reaching new donors is to attend conferences or events that they will also attend. You don’t have to be a speaker - you can simply be a delegate. If you are the latter, make sure you ask the first question of a Q&A session. This is an extremely good way of being remembered. 

After the session approach your donor, and ask them first about something they have said/ or ask their advice on a separate topic. Then give them your card and a simple document that explains who you are and what impact you have had with your contact details.  Develop a message, which has a simple Ask of the donor. Ask them if you could meet separately. You may not be successful the first time, but repeat the process with different people in the organization, until you find the right person.

Another option is to hire a person to be your representative. This can be part time work. In major capitals (London, Washington and Brussels) there are people who maybe have worked for a particular agency who still have access to events where they can make approaches on your behalf. This approach is only cost effective if you are seeking major funding.

Finally you can join a European network and become an active member. There are over 50 networks for people working in the Culture and Creativity Sector, so there will be one for your organisation. By doing this you may be able to partner with a similar organization in the country of your donor, who is funded by that donor, and you could learn about how that donor funds by partnering on a joint project.

Good luck!





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