Crafting a Winning Pitch to Attract Funding

By: Lungelo Ndhlovu | 07/29/2021

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) is connecting journalists with health experts and newsroom leaders through a webinar series on COVID-19. The series is part of our ICFJ Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum — a project with our International Journalists’ Network (IJNet).

Crafting a successful funding proposal is a challenge for journalists around the world. Competition can be tough, so it’s important to find ways to make your pitch stand out.

Across two webinars, ICFJ Global Health Crisis Reporting Forum Community Manager Paul Adepoju, spoke with representatives of funding organizations, as well as journalists who have successfully received grant funding in the past, offering valuable insights into how journalists can secure financial support for their reporting projects.

In the first webinar, Adepoju spoke with Aldana Vales, managing editor at IJNet, Steve Sapienza, a senior strategist in collaborative news partnerships at the Pulitzer Center, and Lars Boering, director of the European Journalism Centre, to discuss the topic from the perspective of grantmaking organizations.

When applying for funding from the Pulitzer Center, for example, Sapienza said that journalists should know how to create a compelling story idea, followed by a reporting plan and details on how their final reporting product will be distributed. This includes identifying the audience they seek to reach, as well as an outlet that will publish their work. Last, but not least, it is important to develop a budget for the project. 

“We hope that the applicant will closely review the rules of the application. Sometimes people don’t follow or answer all the questions on the form and that’s really important for us to know as much as we can about the journalist who is applying, and what they are trying to approach in terms of the topic,” said Sapienza.

Vales added that journalists often make the mistake of not being specific enough in their funding proposals. “They mention topics that are very broad. Say, for example, I want to report on the impact of COVID-19 — that’s a very generic topic. A great proposal would say where you want to see that impact,” she said.

Boering added: “To strengthen your grant application, take into account the story you tell yourself and package it into a convincing pitch. This will help demonstrate the thought you’ve put into your reporting idea.” 

Here are some key takeaways for developing a strong funding proposal:

  • Showcase your recent work
  • Demonstrate the thought you put into your reporting plan
  • Identify your intended audience 
  • Research past successful grants and the reporting that has resulted from them


Collaboration with other journalists or newsrooms can boost the appeal of your reporting proposal. “Identify a dynamic distribution plan that involves local and regional outlets. Make clear what is unique about your reporting project, that will contribute to new understandings of the issues or challenges you plan to cover,” said Sapienza.

This may be more difficult for freelance journalists. In addition to pitching your work, you have to constantly be building relations with people that are able to work with you, said Boering. 

[View past webinars and key quotes]

Crafting a winning pitch

In a second ICFJ webinar, journalists who have developed successful funding proposals in the past provided insight on what worked for them when applying for grants. 

Fredrick Mugira, a National Geographic storytelling explorer and Pulitzer Center grantee, Rekha Chandiramani, who won an ICFJ grant with Receta Justa, a project under Abriendo Datos Panama’s initiative, and Ezaldeen Arbab, an ICFJ-Facebook Journalism Project grantee offered helpful tips on how to master the grant application process.

Throughout his 15 years in journalism, Mugira has been on both the winning and losing end of funding proposals. “Show us your award-winning samples. Get those strong letters of support from your editors, said Mugira. “I have been getting these support letters from Science Africa and Code for Africa. You must show the strength of your story idea.”

It’s important to do your research, and identify the impact your project will have, added Chandiramani. “Think about the topics constantly. Think of a powerful project with a huge impact on society. Brainstorm constantly and do your due diligence on who is giving out the grant,” she said.

Arbab stressed the importance of costing out your proposal, too. “The most important thing is explaining how you are going to use the project funds,” he said. 

Tips to consider when crafting a winning pitch

  • Do your research
  • Identify your target audience
  • Highlight your past reporting on the issues(s)
  • Collaborate with other journalists especially if the funders say this is  important
  • Follow the timeframe identified by the funders
  • Demonstrate the intended impact of your reporting 
  • Develop a clear reporting plan 

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