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Identifying institutional donors

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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The term “institutional donors” generally refers to organizations that give grants to organizations and sometimes individuals within a policy framework that reflects the mandate of the organization. The most common institutional donors are government and inter-governmental organizations, and private foundations or other grant-giving non-governmental organizations (NGO). Institutional donors may provide multi-year multi-million dollar budgets, or – especially in the case of smaller NGOs – fund specific, one-off activities only.

Which donors are most likely to support a specific campaign? A first step to answer this question is to examine the campaign strategy especially the campaign issue, the campaigning organization or alliance, the target audiences and the planned activities – and gauge its relevance to the policies of potential institutional donors. A donor is most likely to fund initiatives that are compatible with its thematic priorities and geographic remit, and that can help the donor attain its own strategic goals.

Most institutional donors have criteria for eligibility, which normally require applicants to be registered organizations with a clear governance structure and a proven track record in the relevant domain. The nature of the campaign team or alliance may open access to specific types of donors. For example, campaigns led by women’s groups are in a good position to apply for grants reserved to women’s organizations, e.g. the Global Fund for Women, or the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights.

Bear in mind: Large institutional donors may operate with relatively long approval and funding cycles. In some cases (e.g. European Commission grants), up to two years can elapse between the (successful) grant application and the first transfer of funding. Campaigns that rely substantially on institutional funding need to reckon with such delays when crafting their strategy and time-line. The first year of the campaign may have to be devoted mainly to fundraising.