Creative Consulting & Development Works

We are a research, evaluation and communications consultancy, servicing nonprofits, governments and donors with innovative solutions within the development context.

Planning for Communications in the Proposal Phase and at a Grant Opening

31 July 2014


Communications is a big umbrella, and many NGOs struggle to clarify what all it entails. But this is no reason to abandon ship and downplay the importance of communications.

You might tick the below boxes and think you’ve covered “comms and marketing”, but this over-simplification could be the very reason your NGO struggles with fundraising, sustainable programming and donor retention.

          There’s so much more to it!

What does NGO Communications Include?

Communications includes any materials

  • associated with programme-related campaigns used to deliver messages to target communities (Behaviour Change Communication and information on services),
  • for capacity building and training materials, and
  • for communicating success and programme impact to donors and other stakeholders.

Demonstrating impact to supporters is key to successful fundraising and sustainable programming in an NGO. Ways in which you can demonstrate impact to supporters include photography, video, online campaigns, case studies and events.

The Proposal Phase

Your relationship with a donor, and your ability to demonstrate that you understand their priorities and will successfully communicate your collaborative successes, begins with the development of your proposal.

Remember that just because a donor supported your programme in the past doesn’t mean they will support it again. To earn donor loyalty, an NGO must demonstrate effectiveness and communicate success.

  1. Understand. Establish that you understand the community needs and the issues the donor cares about. What project do you want to get off the ground, why is it important and how will you effect positive change?
  2. Engage. Show that you have practical, sustainable solutions. Does the project have buy-in from community, and how will you engage stakeholders within and outside of the community throughout the life of the project?
  3. Communicate. Propose cost-effective ways for communicating the project’s impact and results of the funding. Are you addressing this particular donor’s needs, complying with their branding guidelines and sharing the success in innovative ways?

Communicating effectiveness with your donors requires that you demonstrate need and illustrate tangible impact. There is a direct correlation between a) showing the need for support, b) ensuring donors believe they can make a difference, and c) your NGO’s ability to fundraise and influence public opinion.

Whether the donor is an international or national government agency, foundation, corporation or individual, donors are “investors” who must also show results to their funding sources. Donors expect to see the difference their funds are making, and these results can be communicated effectively and powerfully through the use of case studies, photo essays, video and social media. Digital technology allows you to share your work directly, delivering strong, personalised content.

Facilitation2When Budgeting and Opening a Grant

So your NGO has been awarded funding from a donor and you are ready to draft a detailed budget. Now is not the time to forget about communications!

Plan ahead. Find out what photographers and other consultants charge before you draft the budget. Consider that daily rates for photographers, videographers and other technical experts are going to be higher than you might imagine. Their fees include use of professional equipment, insurance overheads, time and expertise.

If your proposal includes a significant communications component, include a strategy and expected impact of the activities. Demonstrate value for money by looking for best available prices and using in-house resources when possible.

Some donors don’t accept lump sum allowances in communications lines, so remember:

  • Communications costs include payments to external suppliers for services related to photography, video, design, content, production and placement of online, printed, audio and video materials.
  • The cost of development and production of Audio-Visual, design and print projects should be supported with documentation and multiple quotes.

Key elements of communications budgets include:

  1. Unit cost – amount per item/consultant, demonstrating the best available price
  2. Quantity – number of photographer/consultant days, printed materials or spots/messages
  3. Timing – when the communication activity is required and therefore when the associated cash flow is required

The Project Life

Throughout the life of the project, it is important to make use of the communications budget you have planned. For many NGOs, even after activities have been budgeted and approved, communications is the first to go when money gets tight.

Remember that communications – photography, video, print and online materials – are invaluable to help you tell the story of your project with stakeholders, partners and donors.


Written by our Communications Manager Jenn Warren, this article was first published on the Nonprofit Network. See it in it’s original form here. The Nonprofit Network is a resource centre for nonprofit organisations, particularly those based in South Africa, in using social media, websites and e-newsletters.

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