Leadership · Non-profit

what to do when proposal strategy is potentially in the wrong hands?

Thobeka Gigaba Aspiring Human Rights Lawyer

November 12th, 2017

I emailed my proposal strategy relating to my NGO to 3 organisations. 2 of those organisations told me 3+ weeks back that they would get back to me and 1 NGO has not responded to my email ever since. Now I am seriously panicking. My ideas are relatively unique and I feel stupid for doing what I did. What do you think could be the cause of them not keeping to their promises of returning back to me? They all claim to be busy and that they will get back to me. Should I keep pondering them with my emails? Thank you guys,

Steve Lawrence Launch and operation of companies to $15 mil. for investors/owners, US and Asia, BSEng, MBA Wharton

November 13th, 2017

Hi Thobeka,

I am not a lawyer, this is far from legal advice, but I have some thoughts. First, I personally have never submitted a strategy proposal to an NGO. I have, however, shared numerous strategy documents, business plans, financial forecasts, etc. to investment groups, potential business partners, very big corporations and the like. You have a very common dilemma on your hands. You have information that has business, strategic and personal value that you must share with a potentially enabling entity that has far more resources than you. Further, your lack of relationship and leverage puts you in an uncomfortable 'trust’ position.

It’s important to see there are really two matters at hand here: The real trustworthiness/ethics of the NGO's to whom you sent the docs - and - your own piece of mind, that you've managed your information responsibly. Judge what you do against both of those and you’ll have a framework for balancing the risks and rewards of your actions.

If a clearly stronger firm (by multiple measures) wants to behave poorly with respect to a small firm or person, there’s not much chance it will end satisfactorily for the later as a practical matter. Your actions will not warranty against a situation like that. But there are tactical things you can do (at least, I do) to be diligent about the matter.

  • I research the entity to see if they play well with smaller others. It’s inappropriate not to do so. I ask for an NDA. I don’t always get one; there are groups and entities at this level of interaction that will not, on policy. It doesn’t mean they are not trustworthy. It means they won’t execute an NDA. Asking communicates that I value confidentiality.
  • I make sure I state the need for confidentiality as part of my written communications (including email). Toward the end of an email, “As a professional matter, treat this info as confidential…”, or find your own words. I don’t go overboard, it’s just part of good professional practices.
  • I put a nondisclosure/confidentiality statement right after the cover of any document. There are many examples of these on the web from a simple statement to a legal Rubix cube. I tend towards the simple side, but I always have the company receiving the doc named on that page.
  • My docs are typically 10 to 100 pages. Where possible I first send an extended content summary, maybe 3-5 pages. I’ll relay all the benefits, conclusions or attributes of the subject and state that detailed processes, complete analysis, market research, service testing, etc. are complete and available to interested parties. (This is more than the Professional Summary.) It also balances interest with information, not a bad thing to do.
  • I watermark the document, ‘Confidential’, ‘Trade Sensitive’, or whatever. Just last week I had to send something out to someone I am not quite comfortable with. I took out some proprietary info and watermarked the document, ‘Confidential Draft’. My name and email address appear on the footer of every page also. Wherever the doc goes, my name is unavoidable.
  • I state upfront, ‘Should there be no interest in the subject, please return the materials’. Of course, in the digital age that statement is meaningless, but it does trigger a reason for another touchpoint after not hearing back for too long a time.

Wow, so many words in response to your yes/no question. Apologies.

Yes, I would send another email. I would say that some time has passed, and you haven’t received feedback. That you appreciate they are busy. That the contents of the thing you sent them have confidential value to you (or your firm) and that if you could hear back on their thoughts it would help you know it was in good hands. (I would wordsmith it a bit.)

I would consider adding: Your organization is so well recognized for ______ that feedback from that perspective would be of exceptional value to you.

Like I said, this is a common challenge. My view is that if you measure your actions against the two points I mentioned above, you will do just fine.

However it works out for you, remember getting large organizations to listen to really small organizations is a tremendously valuable skill.

Let me know if I can help.


Steve Owens Startup Expert

November 13th, 2017

Do not worry about them disclosing the idea - never worry about things you can not control.

One option is to have a lawyer send them a letter, but will likely kill any potential deal.

Keep emailing them. In sales, the expression is "keep calling/emailing until they serve you with the restraining order". Sales cycles can be very long.

muhumuza pius open minded and ready to respect change

November 13th, 2017

am a university student in one of East Africa's best business schools in Africa doing a Bachelors degree in Entrepreneurship but am failing to generate new ideas within ma country .............wat could be d cause

Sapir Sosnovsky Innovator and Entrepreneur

November 14th, 2017

I know this answer may not be as technical as you may be looking for, but if someone tries to copy you/ steal your idea let them.

Never worry too much about your competition. Just move quickly and move smart, at the end of you'd be surprised at how hard it is to put your vision down on paper chances are that what you gave them was the first irritation of your idea. If you just keep working and pretend no one else is changing you except your customers, you'll always win. ALWAYS FOCUS ON YOUR PRODUCT, AND Company competition is only a reference.

What I am trying to say is at the end of the day, even if you posted your idea on this website or in any other public domain. The worst think that you can get someone trying to COPY your idea, and the thing about copies is that the ink slightly faded on the second page.

Keep working on your idea, if they copy you, you can learn from their attempts to launch and improve your product before it even comes out :)

Craig Lillard Serial Founder/Bootstrapper of Video Related Startups. Currently Growing ClipScribe.com

November 13th, 2017

Did they request your strategy or did you just send it outright? Who are these organizations? They all could legitimately be busy indeed. Are these reputable people you sent your ideas to?

Sandeep Pai Solopreneur | Internet Marketer | Affiliate Marketer | http://sandypai.com/digitallifestyle

November 13th, 2017

It is always advisable to share the business plan with half info or else it is like giving your fortune at someone's hand without knowing what exactly is going to happen. You need to discuss in detail when you get to meet them..

In India, there are quite a few firms who ask for BPs and they never reply. They review and talk to investors and go further which is not a good thing.

One possibility is that they might be genuinely busy with work. You can send them a reminder email or make phone calls, try to reach out to them in all possible ways and via all medium, if you do not get to hear back from them then I am sorry!