Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 8
Funding from grants: sections 2-3

8.2 Funding from NGOs

NGOs (non-government organizations) are a growth industry in the world today. All of these agencies have social agendas that they want to promote. For many of them, radio is a popular medium to use to further their aims.

Consider all the NGOs operating in your area. There could be a lot more than you think. When visiting Phnom Penh in Cambodia a few years ago, I saw a directory of NGOs operating there: it had over 200 pages.

If you can find a list of local NGOs, you could look through it, and try to determine which of them might be interested in providing some funding for your station.

Typically, an NGO will have much more specific goals than a government - but less specific than a commercial advertiser. The ideal NGO to fund your station is one that will value your current program structure and audience. For example, in Africa, where AIDS is a huge problem, several well-funded international NGOs are active in promoting health education and safe sex, specially for rural women.

If you can find a local NGO whose values your listeners will accept, and that won't try to dominate your programming, you may be able to work with that NGO in a useful partnership: they provide money, you provide an audience, and together you could create programs.

8.3 One-off grants

A third source of bulk funding is the single grant. This is more difficult to handle than the annual funding you might hope to obtain from a government or NGO. When you're deciding whether to apply for a one-off grant, here are some questions to ask yourself:

If you can answer these questions, you can calculate your expected hourly return. If you have a 10% chance of getting $1,000, your expected return is $100. If it takes you 40 hours to put in the application, your expected hourly return is $2.50.

If you can calculate the expected hourly return, this will greatly help when deciding whether or not to apply for the grant. The problem is, you often can't calculate it, because you won't have the necessary information until it's too late. Therefore you'll have to estimate the chance of winning and the time it will take.

Because people are usually over-optimistic, the chances are that you will probably over-estimate your chance of success, and under-estimate the time needed to prepare the application.

Some granting agencies - especially charitable foundations - demand a huge amount of information before they will consider a grant. It takes many hours to gather the information needed and write the application - and it is usually your managers who will have to spend this time, not your low-paid clerical workers.

So the big danger with grants is that you come to believe you will win the grant, you spend hours and hours polishing your application - and then you don't win the grant. Because your time is limited, maybe some important things didn't get done while you were writing the grant application.

When you are preparing a grant application, try to get copies of previous applications, made by other stations. Try to work out how the successful applications differed from the unsuccessful ones, and use that knowledge in preparing your own application.  A well-written application will clearly relate inputs (e.g. grant money) to outputs (e.g. programs that the grant agency will approve of). The agencies always seem to like plenty of financial statistics and numbers from surveys, but narratives can also be appealing - such as the story from a listener whose life was greatly improved in some way by hearing one of your programs.

An application usually needs to include a clear business plan: exactly how you plan to spend the money you might get, how this might make you self-sustaining in the long run, and how it will improve your programs. It's usually a mistake to admit much uncertainty, except in very minor things.  The grant agencies generally seem to favour stations that have a very clear idea of how they will spend the money they are requesting. And in countries where corruption is a tradition, it will be good if you can demonstrate that it will not be possible for your grant to be diverted to some individual's pocket.

One way to guard against the time-wasting caused by over-confidence in your ability to win a grant is to set up a subcommittee to investigate applying for grants. Some members of the subcommittee should be formally designated as skeptics. If only one person takes on this role, he or she will come to feel very isolated from the group, so you need to appoint several skeptics. These "devil's advocates" are given the task of pointing out the disadvantages of the grant application. This helps committees to stay realistic.


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