Inside the Donor Dragon's Den

By Sally Maddox and Shaylyn Mendenhall

On 25 June, four finalists entered the Inyathelo Donor Dragon’s Den. Each made a four minute pitch to a distinguished panel of real donors. After careful deliberations, the judges announced that The Centre for Early Childhood Development had made the winning pitch for their innovative and interactive Childrens' Museum project. 

Inside the Donor Dragon's Den

The other three organisations that pitched to the donors wereHealth FoundationEducation Africa for their SA Model UN; and Tsiba Education for student sponsorship.

All of the finalists were more than worthy, and their causes well-known and admired by the judges. But the winner was selected on the strength of the pitch. By way of a public critique, the judges offered an inside look at a donor’s decision-making process and shared invaluable feedback on what donors are looking for in a proposal.

The donors who took part were Rowan Dunn from SAB; Chris Mingo from the HCI Foundation; Lorenzo Davids from the Community Chest; Audrey Elster from the Raith Foundation; Patrick Schofield from Ripple; and Sandra Ngwena from The DG Murray Trust.

Their advice was simple:

  • Ask for money upfront, specify an amount, and then explain why you need it.
  • Use plain, jargon-free language. Donors are a diverse lot, and may not share your background and specialised training.
  • Don’t present your brochure.
  • Don’t spend your time describing the problem. Most donors are well-informed, and know what the problems are. Instead, explain how your proposal is the solution.
  • Tell success stories that demonstrate your project’s impact.
  • Show how practical the project is, then show results. Donors must SEE the value from your presentation.
  • Don’t use disempowerment to sell your project, rather explain how your project will empower it’s beneficiaries.

The panel of donors said it was Professor Eric Atmore passion, sincerity and directness that secured the Centre for Early Childhood Development the winning prize of a free subscription to Inyathelo's donor database FundingFinder; a copy of Inyathelo's NPO toolkit and two tickets to the upcoming Advancement Academy in September. 

The next opportunity to participate in the Inyathelo Donor Dragons' Den will be on 19 August. Your one-page 'case for support' document should be submitted to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Friday 24 July 2015. Hope to see you there!

Watch the winning pitch: