It is a good idea to try sending an email or otherwise getting in contact with a donor before applying for funds. Networking can give you a good first impression and help you improve your application. However, there are some very common mistakes some NGOs make.
Do not ask for money. It is a BAD IDEA to directly ask for money at this stage. The donor at this stage is still just getting to know you and will not commit significant investments right away. You can mention the estimated project budget or ask questions about money in the conversation, but your goal here is just to be invited to the next round. Donors know you want money and you should not pretend otherwise, but there is a give-and-take to funding that typically occurs before the talk turns to money. Ask for money in the full proposal.
Make a specific request. Do not include a description of your organization with nothing else. Always make sure to include a request or action you want the donor to take. This should be a specific request such as for a meeting, answer to a question, supply more information, etc. Make sure you know what it is you want before contacting a donor and make sure that message is clear; a request ‘for partnership’ or ‘need your assistance’ or ‘please help’ does not tell the donor anything- it just wastes their time trying to figure out what it is you want.
Do not ask the impossible. Never ask something that is not actionable or doable. Most donors cannot fly and visit your NGO tomorrow or wire you a grant today. Nor are they willing to spend hours to answer questions you could research yourself. Make sure the request is reasonable and not a burden on their time.
Do research before outreach. Do not ask questions you could easily find the answer to yourself. Make sure you research a donor before asking questions like “do you fund xx?” If you ask a donor very basic questions, you are wasting the donor’s time and discrediting your own capacity. Conversely, asking insightful, well-thought-out questions can make a donor think better of you.