Standard 15: Engaging donors appropriately throughout implementation.
Engage with donors throughout project implementation to ensure accountability and compliance and to strengthen donor relationships.
Plan for and use donor visits and other communication activities to advance the CRS-donor relationship and influence donor perspectives on programming and operations issues.
The quality of CRS’ relationship with the project donor has a significant impact on project management, as does the donor’s understanding of the project and its operating environment. Communicating proactively with the donor through visits, meetings and other mechanisms in addition to regular, formal reports:
- Deepens the donor’s understanding of the project, associated opportunities and challenges, and CRS’ ability to effectively manage them.
- Strengthens the relationship between CRS and the donor, and strengthens the foundation for effective, adaptive project management.
- Creates opportunities for shared learning and enhanced collaboration.
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)
- The PM/CoP leads the planning and overall management of donor visits and other donor communication activities, with inputs from other members of the project team.
- Others involved: Country representative (CR); head of programming (HoP); head of operations (HoOps); technical advisors; IDEA staff; for project donor visits specifically, partner leadership and project staff (e.g., project officers) and operations staff (e.g. logistics and administration staff).
- The CR contributes to planning donor visits and communications, and leads engagement with high-level donor representatives;
- The HoP and HoOps support the PM/CoP in identifying and planning programming and operations-related dimensions of visits and meetings;
- Technical advisors may contribute inputs for programming-focused discussions and participate in donor visits and meetings;
- IDEA staff (e.g., for centrally-managed donor relationships) help ensure donor visits, meetings and communications activities are informed by project-specific and bigger-picture donor interests;
- Other programming and operations staff contribute to visit planning and execution;
- Partner project staff and leadership play a key role in organizing field-level donor visits and meetings.
Engage regional staff and HQ technical advisors in visits and meetings with donors: Most donors greatly appreciate when regional and HQ leaders (e.g. regional directors, deputy regional directors, technical advisors) make the time to meet with them. The perspectives of these staff can help add valuable context and deepen donor and agency understanding of issues, opportunities and constraints. If they are not closely involved in the project the donor is funding, be sure to brief these staff on key project and donor relationship issues and talking points.
- As per the project donor engagement plan
- As appropriate at other times during implementation
Start planning early for donor visits: Whenever possible, begin planning donor site visits several weeks, or even months, in advance.
Follow the steps below to plan and carry out successful donor visits, meetings and communications activities. Telescope steps as needed based on project complexity and donor profile and interests.
This key action guidance is organized by different types of donor engagement activity:
- See below for guidance on donor field visits.
- Click here for guidance on donor meetings.
- Click here for guidance on donor-oriented communications materials and activities.
Donor field visits
- After an inquiry by the donor and/or during quarterly and annual planning and review, the PM/CoP leads the CRS and partner project team in a discussion of potential options for donor field visits and/or participation in project events. For centrally-managed donor relationships, prior to planning the PM/CoP should connect with IDEA donor engagement staff for an update on donor interests and preferences.
- Click here for a list of Factors to consider when assessing field visit options, including field visit locations.
- (If the donor requested the visit) Has the donor suggested or does the donor require specific activities and/or locations for the visit?
- What is the donor’s primary objective/interest in the field visit?
- Are there any other donor interests and preferences we should factor into site selection?
- How is programming progressing at the proposed field visit site(s)?If the donor does not have a specific field visit location in mind, during this meeting, the CRS team should develop a shortlist of field visit site options.
- What is the partner relationship with the community in the potential field visit site location, and what is the community’s general level of engagement in the project?
- How accessible and appropriate is the site location (particularly given any donor constraints or preferences in terms of security, travel time, and accessibility issues)?
- What operational context issues can we highlight at the proposed field visit site or during the project event? For example, will the conditions at the project site enable the donor to better understand challenges CRS and partners may be experiencing? Will the proposed field visit site help CRS and partners to highlight an opportunity we would like to leverage?
- (When considering organizing a field visit around a project event) How interesting might the proposed event be for the donor representatives, given their understanding of the project and the event focus?
Think beyond start-up and close-out events: Other project event opportunities to consider include initiation of a major project activity; reflection workshops; service delivery day visits; and events for exchange of experiences between and among partners, as well as inter-community exchanges.
- The PM/CoP and country program senior management review and decide among the field visit options based on donor preferences/requirements and CRS and partner recommendations. For centrally-managed donor relationships, make the selection in consultation with IDEA donor engagement staff.
Be sensitive to repeat visits to the same partner and community locations: While some partners and communities are natural fits for donor visits, be careful about overburdening these partners and communities with repeated visits.
- After the PM/CoP confirms CRS and partner staff’s availability during the proposed field visit dates, the PM/CoP, CR, or IDEA staff contacts the donor representative to confirm donor interest in proceeding with the site visit.
- If the donor requested the field visit and specified a timeframe, CRS should respect the donor’s schedule as much as possible. If there are unavoidable conflicts for communities, or for staff with key roles in the visit, work with the donor to try to find a more mutually agreeable time.
- As needed, the PM/CoP or IDEA staff works with the CR or other senior staff to extend a formal invitation to donor leadership.
- Once the donor has confirmed availability for the field visit, the PM/CoP uses the Donor Visit Planning Checklist to lead the CRS and partner project team and other operations colleagues in visit preparations, engaging with donor staff as needed throughout the process. Refer to the examples and adaptable templates provided for:
- Field visit plans/schedules
- Visit/meeting briefing packets prepared for donor
- Briefing documents on donor and visit/meeting prepared for CRS staff
Test the donor field visit plan before finalizing: For high-level or complex donor visits (e.g. with large delegations), conduct a “dry run” of key parts of the field visit plan. Visit the communities the donor would visit, using the same route you’d take with the donor. Put yourself in the donor’s shoes, and adjust the plan as needed. Take advantage of this “dry run” to work with the partner to ensure a common understanding of visit objectives and key project messages (see step 9) and to anticipate and address any potential challenges before the visit.
- The PM/CoP works with senior management and IDEA donor engagement staff (e.g. for centrally-managed donor relationships) to develop clear CRS talking points and key messages for the donor visit. In developing these:
- Explore with donor staff any specific issues, challenges, or opportunities the donor wishes to focus on or learn about during the visit.
- Consider both operations and programming achievements, opportunities, risks, and issues (review the project risk register and issues log).
- Align visit-specific talking points with the project donor engagement strategy and any wider agency donor engagement strategy.
- The PM/CoP finalizes all materials requested by the donor (see examples under “Other Resources”) by the date set/requested, and offers to arrange a final pre-visit call to review the plan and answer any final questions.
- Depending on the donor relationship, the PM/CoP, CR, or IDEA donor engagement staff will share the materials with the donor.
- The HoOps ensures confirmation of all visit logistics.
- The PM/CoP, with support from IDEA donor engagement staff as applicable, circulates a CRS briefing document (see examples under “Other Resources”) and organizes a pre-visit briefing for all relevant CRS staff.
- The PM/CoP arranges a briefing for partner staff who will participate in the donor visit, and works with partners to ensure appropriate stakeholders (government and community officials, leaders, etc.) are also fully briefed on the donor visit plan and purpose.
- During the donor visit, the PM/CoP:
- Checks in regularly with the donor teamFor centrally-managed donor relationships, if the IDEA donor liaison participates in the donor visit, he/she may be best placed to check in with the donor. to make sure the visit is meeting the donor’s expectations and to solicit input on any adjustments needed to the visit plan or schedule.
- Checks in regularly with CRS and partner staff to make sure things are on track or determine whether adjustments need to be made to the visit schedule.
- Organizes a debriefing meeting with the donor team and CRS leadership as an opportunity for formal feedback and identification of questions, issues, and/or next steps. Include this debriefing in the field visit plan/schedule.
- Following the donor visit, the PM/CoP:
- Prepares an internal donor visit report highlighting key discussion points, decisions, and follow-up required from CRS, circulates the report, and files it on Gateway.For visits by a donor to a project they are currently funding, file the trip report under the Gateway award record for the project, under the “Notes and Attachments” section of the award record. Keep in mind that award record notes and attachments don’t automatically carry over to the project record. Include a note about the visit on the donor’s institution record, with a link to the visit report file saved on the award record.
If a donor visits a CRS project that the donor is not currently funding, save the donor visit report to the donor’s institution record. Use donor-specific templates where available (e.g., trip report templates – contact IDEA staff).
- Prepares a message from the appropriate CRS staff person (e.g., CR, regional director). This message should convey CRS’ thanks to the donor for taking the time to visit the project, share any community and partner feedback, and provide follow-up (as possible) on points discussed and questions raised.
- Communicates CRS’ appreciation to partners, community leaders and others involved in the donor visit for their time in organizing and hosting the visit.
Some donors, particularly those not based in-country, may not have an ability or interest in travelling to the field. For other donors and projects, security issues may present obstacles to donor field visits.In such cases, one option to explore may be a videoconference with local partner staff and/or project participants. Discuss this option with the partner(s), donor and any donor engagement staff, keeping in mind any sensitivities around partner and beneficiary safety. CRS should still seek opportunities for donor engagement around the project outside of formal reporting, in line with the project-specific donor engagement plan and any wider agency donor engagement plan. These opportunities may include “as-needed” meetings driven by developments in the project or project operating context. Donor engagement should also include donor meetings planned in advance and organized at CRS’ office, the donor’s location or, if feasible, on the sidelines of meetings both CRS and the donor attend.
The following guidance was prepared primarily with donors based outside of the country of project implementation in mind; adapt as needed for meetings with in-country donors.
- As part of quarterly and annual review and planning discussions, the PM/CoP and CRS and partner project team discuss specific needs and opportunities for meetings with donors to further engage them around the project.
- This should include identifying opportunities to arrange meetings for CRS and partner staff (including CRS regional staff) who are involved in the project and who may be traveling to a location near the donor’s office.
- Consider organizing meetings for both existing donors as well as those donors CRS identified during discussions about the project-specific donor engagement plan as having an interest in CRS and the issues addressed in the project.
- The PM/CoP, CR or IDEA donor engagement staff contacts the donor to explore interest in and availability for the meeting.
- The PM/CoP and IDEA donor engagement staff, as applicable, prepare briefing materials, talking points and key messages as described above and in the Donor Visit Planning Checklist (see example templates for briefing materials and talking points).
- Careful preparation of briefing materials and talking points is essential for donor meetings, as the donor does not have the benefit of engaging directly with partners or project participants, or of seeing the project context first hand.
- The PM/CoP, with support from IDEA donor engagement staff as applicable, organizes a pre-meeting briefing with all staff who will participate in the meeting, to review the briefing materials (see examples), including the most up-to-date project information and meeting talking points.
- The PM/CoP, with support from marketing and communications colleagues as needed and feasible, prepares appropriate materials to help bring the project to life in the meeting (see the OverOps Library of Marketing Materials).
- After the meeting, the PM/CoP completes necessary follow-up, including:
- Preparing (or ensuring CRS meeting participants prepare) an internal donor meeting report highlighting key discussion points, decisions, and follow-up required from CRS, circulates the report and debriefs with key CRS and partner stakeholders, and files the report on Gateway.For meetings with a donor focused on discussion about a project the donor is currently funding, file the meeting report under the Gateway award record for the project, under the “Notes and Attachments” section of the award record. Keep in mind that award record notes and attachments don’t automatically carry over to the project record. Include a note about the visit on the donor’s institution record, with a link to the visit report file saved on the award record.
For donor meetings that cover a range of issues in addition to discussion of a project the donor is funding, save a copy of the donor meeting report to the donor’s institution record.
- Preparing a message from the appropriate CRS staff person thanking the donor for the meeting, and providing follow-up on points discussed and questions raised.
Project communications materials and activities
As highlighted in the donor engagement and accountability start-up key actions, ongoing communication with the donor outside of required reporting and routine events like start-up and close-out events is key.
- As part of annual DIP planning and in line with the overall project-specific donor engagement plan, the PM/CoP leads the CRS and partner project team in identifying communications materials to develop and communications actions to take during the year to highlight project key messages with the donor.
- The PM/CoP shares these ideas with senior management and any country program marketing and communications staff, the regional information officer, and IDEA donor engagement staff, for feedback and ideas on appropriate formats, templates and sources of communications technical assistance, if needed.
- Throughout project implementation, the PM/CoP works with communications staff (as possible) and IDEA donor engagement staff (as applicable, e.g. for centrally-managed awards) to develop and disseminate communications materials to the project donor and other stakeholders, and to share positive project media visibility with the donor.
Follow donor policies and preferences regarding visibility: While public donors often encourage or require grantees to publicize their support, some private donors like to keep a lower profile. Some even restrict use of their name. Keep donor communications guidelines in mind when planning project communications activities.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Partners have an especially important role to play in donor field visits. Be sure they have the proper support, information and resources to play this role.
- Engage partners throughout visit and meeting planning and ensure that their role, capacity and achievements are properly highlighted.
- CRS’ engagement with the donor will be less direct.
- The prime will organize any donor visits; some of the donor visit planning steps above and in the checklist may still be relevant, but will need adjustment.
- Telescope the guidance above.
- Some emergency donors may have no expectation of field visits; for other donors, field visits may be a priority and can be highly strategic. Assess the appropriateness and feasibility of visits in each emergency operating context.
- Ensuring fluid communication and regular (informal) updates beyond required reporting is even more important to help build the donor’s understanding of the implementation context and programming and operations issues.
Tools and templates
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)