Standard 10: Laying the foundations for effective donor engagement and accountability.
Lay the foundations for successful donor engagement throughout the project.
Prepare a plan on how to engage with the donor(s) during the project (influence, communication, marketing).
Engaging with donors throughout the life of a project is important for accountability because donors should know what is happening in the projects they fund, and for adaptation because the strength of the CRS-donor relationship affects CRS’ and the donor’s ability to propose and make the changes necessary to ensure positive project impact. Creating a project-specific donor engagement plan during project start-up is a worthwhile investment that can help CRS leverage the "win themes"A win theme is a concept presented in a proposal that is designed to persuade a donor of your unique suitability to deliver the project. (summarized from James England, Why Should They Choose You - Use Win Themes to Differentiate Your Proposal) developed for the proposal, and guide donor engagement and communication for the rest of the project. Developing a project-specific donor engagement planThe project donor engagement plan is an internal tool to guide CRS’ donor engagement efforts related to the project; the intent is not to develop a plan for donor engagement for submission to the donor. enables the project team to be both complete and strategic in communication with the donor, and to identify opportunities to:
- Deepen the donor’s understanding of the project from the outset, thereby strengthening the collaborative relationships that enable effective project management.
- Help donor staff responsible for following up on the project to communicate about the project with others in their organizations.
- Share project achievements and learning with the donor and other potential donors interested in the issues addressed by the project.
- Leverage CRS and donor project investments to generate additional interest in and support for successful approaches.
- Primary responsible: Project manager/chief of party (PM/CoP)
- The PM/CoP leads the process of developing a project-specific plan to engage with the project donor beyond required reports and other deliverables.
- Others involved: CRS and partner project team; country representative (CR) and senior management team (SMT); country program and/or regional business development (BD) staff; IDEA staff; country program communications staff; and Marketing and Communications (MarComm) where applicable.
- The project team works with the PM/CoP to develop the initial plan;
- The CR, SMT, BD, and IDEA staff provide guidance on how any agency-level institutional engagement plan should inform the project-specific plan and integrate the project-specific plan into higher levels of donor engagement planning;
- Communications staff (if part of country program staff) provide ideas and review the plan;
- MarComm staff (e.g. Regional Information Officers) provide advice on external communications strategies and branding considerations, as feasible and applicable.
Donor engagement plans are for discretionary-funded projects, too: Staff working on discretionary-funded projects may also develop plans to leverage CRS’ investments in the project by engaging institutional donors around key issues of mutual interest, and effective approaches to address these issues.
- For development projects: In the first quarter (with ongoing updates)
- For emergency projects: Within the first month
Start thinking about donor engagement activities when developing the project early start-up plan. Integrate finalization of the formal project donor engagement plan into the start-up workshop and/or the detailed implementation plan (DIP) development workshop.
This key action builds on any initial discussion about the donor and donor interests during the handover between proposal and project start-up team members as well as project team orientation to donor requirements.
Follow these steps to create a strong project donor engagement plan:
- The PM/CoP convenes the project team as well as the SMT and CP business development and communications staff (if these positions exist) to create a project-specific donor engagement plan, using the five steps outlined in the Creating a Project Donor Engagement Plan guidance:
- Gather information about the current donorCheck the donor’s Institution Record in Gateway for existing information and resources and information on any IDEA point person , particularly around their strategy and specific project priorities and requirements.
- Analyze your audiences (both current and prospective donors) and engagement objectives.
- Consider your engagement key messages.
- Consider your engagement options.
- Create a donor engagement plan.
Project donor engagement plan “bare minimum”: Sometimes a project is small and/or narrowly focused on an issue that may not be of wider interest. Sometimes CRS already has a strong, existing relationship with a donor. In these cases, it may not be necessary to develop a full donor engagement plan for the project. At a minimum, however, the PM/CoP, CR, and relevant BD staff should have a strategic conversation at the start of the project to discuss how to leverage the project’s implementation process, outputs and results to create more opportunities to talk with both the current donor and prospective donors (as feasible given the project focus).
- The PM/CoP shares the draft donor engagement plan with relevant CP staff, partners and regional and IDEA staff, and incorporates feedback.
- Depending on when the plan is drafted, review it during the project start-up workshop.
- Be sure to share the donor engagement plan with key program staff who join the project later, as part of their onboarding to the project and their role.
Different levels of donor engagement: The project-specific donor engagement plan should roll up into country, region and HQ level plans for the donor, if relevant. As such, country program senior management, business development and donor engagement staff, not only the PM/CoP, are involved in developing and implementing the plan. Coordinate project messaging at these different levels. Donor engagement plans are particularly important for multi-country projects where coordinating communication can be more challenging and essential for effective donor relationship management.
- The PM/CoP inputs donor engagement plan actions into the detailed implementation plan (DIP).
- If the DIP is to be shared with the donor or other stakeholders outside the project team, be sure the version of the DIP prepared for external distribution incorporates the appropriate level of detail regarding donor engagement activities (e.g., high-level actions).
- Upload the plan to the Gateway award record.
- The PM/CoP ensures that the project team reviews project donor engagement actions incorporated in the DIP as part of regular project review and planning (see Standard 11, key action 3). The PM/CoP also ensures an annual review of the wider donor engagement plan.
Know your donor… As you develop, implement and update your donor engagement plan, reflect on the relationship with the donor and what you know of their interests and preferences for communication. A strong donor relationship can strengthen mutual learning from the project, aid project management and create opportunities for future collaboration around shared interests and concerns.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Engage partners in creating the project donor engagement plan and ensure partners understand roles, responsibilities and protocols for donor communication, especially informal communication with the donor. As part of this, ensure that partners understand that project-related communication is the responsibility of the prime, and that partners should not communicate about the project directly with the donor without CRS consent.
- Ensure partners are comfortable with their role in the project donor engagement plan; provide coaching as necessary to partner staff.
- When leading a consortium of partners, CRS must coordinate its work with donors carefully with consortium members in order to agree on the key messages that all members will promote. The consortium will also need to agree on the timing and mechanisms for highlighting these key messages. This can be sensitive. Establish both internal and external communications ground rules early on. Consider developing a project communication protocol (see example) and communication plan (see template).
- Negotiate a role for CRS in project communication and marketing.A good way is to negotiate for CRS staff to fill a “key personnel”/senior project team position as these staff often participate in donor meetings and contribute to the planning of wider project donor engagement.
- Request information from the prime on any prime-led donor engagement activities that will require CRS inputs and/or participation, so that CRS can factor these into project plans, including DIPs.
- Telescope the process and plans as needed.
- When developing the donor engagement plan for an emergency project, keep in mind that frequent contact with the donor is key. As the emergency evolves, CRS may need to change the types of project interventions, target areas, beneficiaries, etc. Keeping the donor informed of the evolving context can speed approval for any changes needed, and helps deepen the donor’s understanding of project management realities.
Tools and templates
- Primary responsible: Project manager/chief of party (PM/CoP)