Donors provide grants for a purpose. Unfortunately, that purpose is not always clear from the outside. When you begin researching donors, it is important to think about how your project or program fits in to their donor priorities. Every donor has different priorities, but these priorities can be grouped into 6 main categories. This article will cover the first three, and our next article will cover the remaining three.
And remember – most donors will have multiple priorities in the same category. Or even category-crossing priorities. This list is just to help gain an overall understanding of how donors organize their programs.
Geographic location is typically the starting point in donor research. After all, location tends to be the easiest to define and research quickly.
Some donors have very specific geographic focuses. Community foundations, for example, almost always only fund within their own local area. Corporate foundations are often interested in funding areas where their employees live and work, which may be international but only in select cities or counties.
Other donors have vague geographic preferences. You may come across a donor that provides no geographic information at all. In this case, it is generally best to assume they only fund in their local community. Others donors may claim to award grants anywhere in the world. In reality, very few donors actually give grants to any country in the world. Some large government aid agencies might get close, but even these will still have country priorities. Alternatively, some donors who say they fund internationally actually just fund INGOs with international programs.
Issue, theme, or area of interest
Focusing funding around an issue area, theme, interest or problem is another common way donors describe their funding programs. While some donors have very specific thematic areas to fund such as “female genital cutting” or “HIV/AIDS drug research”, it is more common for donors to have looser requirements. This might be “education” or even “general charitable purpose.”
Some of the most common donor themes for international development include:
- Disaster relief
- Community development
- Human rights
- Peace and conflict resolution
Do not worry if these themes sound too vague or too clear-cut for your NGO. Sometimes, even donors do not articulate their thematic focuses well. When searching, you should start with a very general thematic area, find donors for that area, and then research past organizations they have funded to see if any are very similar to you.
Researching donors based on the types of beneficiaries supported can be difficult as it often overlaps with geographic and thematic areas of interest. In fact, many NGOs and donors alike will often merge this category with location or issue are. However, it is best practice to distinguish who you want to help from what you want to do. Donors give money because they want to create a change in the lives of others. So it is very important to recognize who it is the donor wants to help most. Some examples may include:
- Women and girls
- The LGBTQI community
- Indigenous Peoples
- Unemployed youth
- Minority families below the poverty line
- Individuals suffering from chronic or debilitating diseases
- Rural communities underrepresented in government
- Veterans or others suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Elderly individuals at risk of homelessness
- Individuals with disabilities which make it difficult to find and hold jobs
Similar to thematic priorities, these priorities may cross, be too vague, or be too specific. As long as there is at least some overlap with the groups your organization works with, it makes sense to research the donor further.