Aboriginal organizations seeking funding from third party sources can take a page from the negotiator’s book to get better results. Many aboriginal groups negotiate funding arrangements with a variety of third party sources (“Funders”) such as the federal and provincial governments, companies negotiating impact benefit agreements and other interested organizations. Funding arrangements relate to all manner of projects from resource development to education and capacity building, to social programs and more. Over the years, we have consulted with and trained several organizations on such funding negotiations, seeing both the Funder and the Applicant sides.

One key area in which organizations seeking funding can make major improvements to their ability to secure funds, is on the use of factual support (legitimacy) in proposals. While not a negotiation in the traditional sense, the process of applying for and securing funding is still a negotiation, and you need to persuade the Funder to commit their funds.

One of the most powerful tools to persuade the other side in a negotiation is the use of legitimacy (objective criteria, independent third party standards of fairness, benchmarks, comparables).  People often put forward their subjective opinions or simply put positions out with no justification, a characteristic of many funding proposals that I have reviewed. Legitimacy can be thought of as the factual proof or evidence as to why a given proposal is correct or fair.

Many funding proposals make requests for very large sums while providing the Funder with only a minimal breakdown for the use of the funds, and even less support for the need for those funds. As one example, a proposal for a social welfare/medical project listed approximately $50,000 for “Office Equipment” as one line item in a proposal totaling almost a million dollars. Another line item relating to staff was “Travel Expenses” listed for approximately $100,000. No further explanation was supplied.

The Funder reviewing such a request has several options.  One is to reject it as being too vague to justify such high amounts.  The second is to accept the proposal and hope that the amounts are justified and will be well spent.  The third is to go back to the Applicant and ask for supporting information. In a world of tight timelines, tighter resources and overworked staff, not many funding organizations can spend the time to make an Applicant do its homework, which leads them back to the first two choices. If someone else did a better job of persuasion, they will get the funding.

If you want to ensure the path to funding is as smooth as possible, make it easy for the Funder to say ‘yes’ to your proposal as opposed to others. Think like a funding agency. Provide the supporting documentation to answer a few key questions that will always be in the Funder’s mind:

1.    Why is the project worth funding? What is its purpose?

From the very beginning of your proposal, state the project’s purpose in a way that clarifies your goal and communicates why that goal is worth achieving. Your purpose statement is your hook. If the Funder is not convinced your goal is a worthwhile one, they will have little interest in funding it. Did the first sentence of this article make you read further. If so, you were hooked.

2.    What specifically will the money be used for?

If you are asking for more than a few thousand dollars, a diligent Funder will want some detail on what their money will buy. Provide a line item breakdown of all proposed spending with sufficient detail that the Funder can see where the money is going. Saying “Office Equipment – $50,000” is too broad.

Office Equipment

Computers (6 laptops x $1500 each) $6000
(4 desktops x $1000 each) $4000
Desks (4 desk sets x $500 each) $2000

3.    For each line item, why is that item necessary?

Prove to the Funder how that particular good or service is necessary to the underlying goals. Give them a valid reason for that part of the request. Why are computers needed? Why 6 instead to 2? If there is an obvious concern, like “Why do you need laptops instead of cheaper desktops?” give the Funder a rational answer.


Computers: Six laptops are required, one for each new field agent being hired (as recommended in the pilot project report). Although more expensive than a desktop unit, the nature of their work is that field agents will be spending 40-60% of their time visiting the remote communities in their field area (6-8 communities each). Based on the pilot project results in the attached report (see page 27), field agents’ ability to compile and work with the data gathered will be severely compromised without laptops. Four desktop units are required, one for each regional sub-office in ….

4.    For each line item, why is that amount necessary and appropriate?

Don’t make the Funder take your word that the estimated amount is correct. Make their review easy and back it up with corroborating information in an objective form they can verify.


Attach copies of quotations for the computers from a computer supplier (ideally attach 3 competing bids); attach a photocopy of the catalogue page for the item, etc. For the travel, produce quotes from a travel company to support the cost per trip, and records of the previous year’s travel for a typical field agent to support the number of trips.

5.    Are you the person/organization I can trust to manage and spend my money wisely?

Demonstrate the trustworthiness of your organization. Show the Funder that your organization is competent enough to perform the tasks required to meet the goals in a cost effective way. One way to do so is to document the credibility of your staff.  Another is to document successful past projects of a similar nature.


Attach resumes of your key staff, copies of reports on past projects, reviews from other funding agencies or third party agencies of your work.

By doing a good job on organizing and submitting the funding proposal and documentation, you will benefit in three major ways. One, your proposal will be far more convincing. Two, in gathering the documentation, you will gain a greater understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your own proposal, and you will make it stronger. Three, by impressing the Funder with the caliber of your proposal, you have already taken a giant leap towards a ‘Yes’ under question number 5 above. You are proving your ability in a very concrete way by coming to the table with answers in hand.

While there are many skills in putting together a successful funding proposal, don’t forget the power of adding legitimacy to your request. No funder wants to spend money unless they know they will be getting value. Don’t try and sell them, show them.

Paul Godin :: About Author :: Email

Leave a Reply