Chap 4

A first funding proposal

This short section considers some of challenges of preparing a first funding proposal on behalf of a coalition. It focuses on issues specific to coalition work – so there are many aspects of general fundraising that are not considered here.

A first funding proposal

Funding is vital, but it can also be a major source of disturbance and tension in the dynamics of a coalition. The need to have funds held centrally by an individual organisation can be at odds with the collective spirit that coalitions foster. As we have noted regarding structure, it is common at first for one organisation to ‘host’ the coalition (rather than having it set up as a formal institutional entity in its own right) so funding will likely mean money going into that organisation. Seeking funds for the coalition can also reduce the funding prospects of individual members. Such issues will bring to the fore the relationships of trust among the coalition’s early partners.

“Funding can be the biggest disturbance and damager to the dynamics of a coalition. If a coalition is based on collective ownership, there is a fundamental contradiction with the centralised accountability of receiving and managing funds. Donors are not very flexible with this. So you need to work through this stuff very carefully.”

Richard Bennett, Effective Collectives

Can the coalition describe itself clearly

A first proposal is likely to be an important first external articulation of the arrangements and understandings being put in place within the coalition. How will the coalition describe its work, how will the roles of different members be described and what objectives will be set out over what timeframe? In this respect a first funding proposal is also a chance to develop how the coalition represents itself.

What should form the content of the coalition’s proposal?

Early work is likely to require such things as:

  • Support for coalition staff
  • Building or compiling evidence on the issues and packaging this in an accessible form
  • Development of a website
  • Developing mechanisms to build engagement and understanding among the membership, such as workshops and meetings

Thought should be given to what donors are likely to be able to fund and how this can be packaged for the coalition. Research and advocacy might appear two distinct tracks of funding – with some donors preferring to fund the former rather than the latter. In the early stages of work, research, hosting meetings or giving briefings on research findings can all provide a framework around which advocacy can be undertaken and organised even if it is not being described as the primary output of the project. On the other hand, research can sometimes be a tricky focus for coalition work because members may have differing research standards and interpretations of data. Furthermore, research is a good activity for individual coalition members to undertake. Bringing together and sharing different research findings and institutional perspectives can be a basis for coalition funding that still allows members to take on such a role.

“Collective vision is the strength of the coalition. The voice of the coalition can get garbled and mixed up but that can be fixed – but if the collective vision is garbled then it can’t. Everything flows from the strength of the vision.
When there are tensions and problems, the collective vision gives you the base from which to get things back on track.”

Daniel Mack, Instituto Sou da Paz

What level of funding can be expected?

Funding for NGO coalition work has generally come from the following three sources:

  • Trusts and foundations
  • Individual NGOs
  • Governments

Where funding comes from governments this can have an impact on how the coalition will be perceived. Is the coalition going to criticise donor states as strongly as it might criticise others? Alternatively, is the authority of the coalition limited because it is seen as a mouthpiece for certain states? However, having multiple donors supporting the work not only increases the level of funding available but is also a positive indication of buy-in to the coalition’s agenda.

Not all coalition efforts will get funding. Many may get only very limited funding, severely restricting the activities that can be undertaken and so shaping the priorities of work. Underfunding in a coalition can also increase tensions. There is a constant balance required between planning what you need to do to achieve goals and being realistic about the amount of money that is likely to be brought in.

The focus of the coalition will have a major impact on whether funding can be found or not. In part this will reflect how easy the issue is to communicate and sell and how realistic the chance of success is considered to be. However, funding can also be limited if the issue under scrutiny is one around which donors have political sensitivities. This can include anxieties about how their own policies might be put under pressure, or how support to the theme might be perceived by others.

There are many factors that can affect funding decisions and often such decisions are made on the basis of instinct rather than hard and fast analysis of evidence. The coalition needs to project a sophisticated understanding of the issue in question, both on paper and through convincing representatives, and a sense that they have relations with people in a position to make a difference on the issue. The coalition also needs to project a realistic sense of what can be achieved, including the levels of funding that might be raised, and a competence to take money and manage the grant process effectively in accordance with donor requirements. As it is between members of the coalition, trust is a very important component of funding relationships.

Are the administrative arrangements in order?

As we have noted in the introduction to this section, it is vital that adequate administrative arrangements are in place for the coalition to receive funds. Failure to have such mechanisms in place can be embarrassing and undermine donor confidence in the coalition effort.

  • Who will receive the money? Are the bank account details included with the proposal or are you planning to resolve this later when a donor offers the money?
  • If the coalition does not have a legal identity, who is legally responsible for any contracts agreed? What are implications for that organisation?
  • What systems does the contracting organisation have to ensure adequate grant oversight?
  • How will the wider coalition have oversight of expenditure?

Should the proposal fund multiple coalition members?

Another question for coalition funding is the extent to which the coalition should raise funds for distribution to member organisations for the conduct of their work. In the early stages this could be the work of the small group of organisations forming the core of the coalition but in later stages it might imply distribution of small grants to a large number of network members for national level activities.

Supporting network members in their national activities is a very valuable way of building up the coalition’s work and supporting members who may often be giving considerable time and effort to the coalition activities without financial compensation. Especially for small NGO partners in the south, small grants can be a really helpful tool.

“Often people have good ideas but can’t get them pushed through funding structures because they don’t have the capacity. Without funds, it can be difficult to do more work to get more funds.”

Bob Mtonga, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

However, any such mechanism brings with it the potential for serious tension. Problems may arise if some partners get funding but others do not. There can be tension if those that do receive funding from the coalition then perform poorly either in the implementation of the work or in the grant management and reporting that is required. There is sometimes a tendency for a coalition, as a donor, not to be afforded the same respect from grantees as might be given to a traditional institutional donor, which can then result in tensions and difficulties for coalition staff.

In undertaking a small grants programme a number of points should be considered.

  • Grants could be given on the basis of applications, guided by and judged against criteria that support the coalition’s goals.
  • A mechanism should be established whereby decision-making is separate from the governance structures of the coalition – it can increase tension if the same group steering the coalition is also seen to be deciding which members get money and which don’t.
  • Grantees should have a clear understanding of the reporting requirements regarding the money received. Failure to document activities or provide required reports should stand as a barrier to the receipt of further funds (including possibly sponsorship to attend meetings that might be organised separately).

Such mechanisms, if they are to be done transparently and fairly require a significant administrative effort and this should not be underestimated in planning such a scheme.

Working towards a ban on cluster munitions, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund established the Local Voices Global Ban project as a small grants scheme. The project awarded a total of 68 grants to 50 organisations in some 44 countries, supporting individual CMC member organisations around the world and helping to strengthen their work on cluster munitions at a national level. The project was administered by Landmine Action, with grants awarded on the basis of proposals received within set grant- giving cycles and decisions to award grants being made by a panel. This panel provided wider input into decision-making for the grant making organisations and also provided some political separation for decisions that could cause institutional tensions.

Who will do the fundraising?

We noted earlier that the people doing the fundraising – talking face-to-face or on the telephone with potential donors – need to be credible in their articulation of the issue being addressed and the coalition’s work to address it. It is also worth considering whether these people will also have to take on fundraising work for their own organisation
(if they are not coalition staff) and considering the clarity of the division between coalition and member fundraising.

Coordination with coalition members

It is important to be clear to coalition members about which donors are being approached to fund the collective effort. There is a potential for tension between the coalition and individual members if the former appears to threaten funding upon which the latter rely. On the other hand, coalition work would be very difficult if it was never possible to engage with donors with whom members already have relationships.

It is also worth considering whether coalition members in certain countries can broker introductions or present the proposal on behalf of the coalition to possible funders in a particular context.

Ongoing relationships

As a final thought in this section, it is worth noting that donors may also be long-term partners in the work of the coalition. Where the donor is a government and change is being sought in international policy or law, this is perhaps to be expected. However, trusts and foundations can also become active agents for change in the area of the coalition’s work.

Where a donor has a strong commitment to the objectives of the coalition and the confidence to think of itself not just as an external provider but also as an active participant, it can significantly add to the coalition’s capacity. Beyond direct funding, many donors can build additional relationships and provide wider services towards the coalition’s goals, such as providing physical and social space for meetings between NGOs and governments. Of course, this makes it all the more important not to lose donors through poor administration and lack of attention to their needs. As in all areas of NGO work, effective grant management is vital to a sustainable and effective operation.

On the other hand, there is a risk of funders imposing constraints on the effective work of the coalition. When money is tight (which it almost always is), the impetus to comply with a funder’s wishes can be strong. In such cases it is important that people responsible for liaison directly with the donors are given clear instructions and strong support from the steering group.

In addition to providing strategic funding to the CMC and small grants to its member organisations, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund also convened two meetings that brought together small groups of diplomats and staff from international organisations and NGOs. Although held at very different strategic points in the process of work towards a ban on cluster munitions, both meetings provided a neutral space in which this small group could talk openly and frankly about the work ahead.


This chapter provided a brief summary of issues that might need to be considered when a coalition begins fundraising. Many of these issues are present in any effort by NGOs to raise funds from donors, but they have slightly different implications when the proposal must be developed and presented on behalf of a group.

Specifying the work that the coalition will be funded to take on as opposed to individual members, assessing the level of funding that is plausible, and determining who is best-placed to approach donors all present challenges. Deciding the extent to which coalition funding supports costs of central administration rather than being disbursed to members is also very important.

As with so many aspects of coalition work, it is the trust between members that will stop anxieties about money from manifesting as problems.

“It makes sense that the biggest campaigns, particularly the biggest international campaigns, could only be waged effectively by coalitions. After all, there are few, if any, individual organisations that have the resources, range of approaches and reach that are required to operate solo at this level.”

Brendan Cox, Campaigning for International Justice, p.34. May 201

End of Chap 4