Some nonprofits are concerned they need to develop new ideas all the time. Regularly someone will ask me, now that I have submitted idea A to donor X, do I need to have a new idea for donor Z? In other words, can you submit one idea multiple times? Or do you need new ideas for each and every donor?

Here is what I think!

Your idea is your idea for a reason

In previous posts I have shared how you need to validate your idea. How you need to make sure it fits your mission and vision as well as the community you serve and their priorities and needs. And how it needs to fit your donor, too. So, you have an idea for a reason. And it should by now be a good idea for a good reason.

Focus on your idea

So, the focus should be on your idea. This is what you want to do. It is what the community you work for needs and wants. This is aligned with donor dreams. So this is the idea you propose to the donor who is a good match with it.

Fast Forward?

Many donors that provide grants have a grant cycle in place, and procedures to process grant proposals. These procedures take time. This is logical of course. But it is also difficult if you are waiting for news. Then every week of waiting is a long one. And every month. And yes, I have even experienced a few donors taking more than a year before an approval was communicated and formalized with a grant agreement.

What to do when you are waiting?

So this is where the question comes from. What to do when you have submitted a good idea in the form of a good proposal to a donor whose dreams seem aligned? What to do as you are waiting? Key is to remember that a donor can come back to you with good news but also with bad news. Even if you think their dreams align, it might not be the right time for them. So for one reason or another, they may need to decline. And it may take them a while before you have clarity on their decision anyway. So don’t just wait for their decision, is my advice. But keep going!



So what to do in the meantime?

What do I mean by Keep going? Well, keep looking for donors whose dreams, vision, mission or strategy may be served through your idea. Keep translating your idea into proposals that suit those donors. So yes, by all means, as long as you do not have a grant agreement or similar where a donor pledges to pay for the implementation of your idea, keep submitting and sharing your idea. After all, you want to make sure that it will be implemented. And you don’t want to waste months or maybe a year, waiting to hear a no.

But is that ethical?

As long as you are transparent about this, it should not be a problem. So, include in your proposal and cover letter a paragraph highlighting what similar proposals you have submitted to or shared with other donors (and disclose the donor names, too). Share what your approach will be in case one of the other proposals will be approved as well. You may then withdraw the proposal, to make sure you are not receiving funding for the same work twice.

But it is also possible that a proposal for another donor focuses on a different geographical area (another community or province). Or a slightly different target group (say, one proposal focuses on girls, the other on their families, or on the government, or on the schools). In this case, implementing more than one proposal around the same idea can strengthen the impact you may have. If this is case, be clear about this, too.

The one To Don’t

The only thing you should never ever do is submit the exact same idea to different donors, without disclosing this, and then happily receive financial support for all of them, without disclosing this. The worst-case scenario is that you would receive double the money for only once the costs. This is of course fraudulent, and the easiest way of losing your reputation, credibility and support fast. (and don’t think you can get away with this because you won’t.)

My 3 tips

  • Keep the focus on your idea and why that is needed by the people you want to serve.
  • Continue fundraising with all force for implementing this idea for as long as you do not have a grant agreement or similar pledging the financial support you need.
  • Be transparent in all your communications, internally and externally, in case you can submit your idea to multiple donors in the same period. This includes disclosing who you have approached and what you will do in case one of the pending proposals is approved.

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