How to write a successful Funding Proposal
There are many organizations right in your community that are waiting to share their funds with you!
Fundraising is hard work that demands a commitment of time and energy from both agency staff and volunteers but it pays off! You will not only be able to access funds to support a component of your agency, but will hopefully have enjoyed the results of your team working well together for the direct or indirect benefit of your clients.
This manual has been developed to take the mystery away from proposal writing. The hardest part used to be just figuring out where to start. This manual offers you a step-by-step guide so that you maximize your ability to create a winning proposal.
Preparing an application for a foundation or service club is part of a process of planning and of research on, outreach to, and cultivation of potential foundation and corporate donors. This process is grounded in the conviction that a partnership should develop between the nonprofit and the donor. When you spend a great deal of your time seeking money, it is hard to remember that it can also be difficult to give money away. In fact, the dollars contributed by a foundation or corporation have no value until they are attached to solid programs in the nonprofit sector.
This truly is an ideal partnership. Non-profit agencies have the ideas and the capacity to solve problems, but no dollars with which to implement them. The foundations and corporations have the financial resources but not the other resources needed to create programs. Bring the two together effectively, and the result is a dynamic collaboration.
A proposal must convince the prospective donor of two things:
• that a problem need of significant magnitude exists, and
• that the applicant agency has the means and the imagination to solve the problem or meet the need While some foundations may provide an application guide, most do not.
There’s no trick to grant seeking. It’s not a game. It requires good planning and hard work. Planning the project out thoroughly is the single best thing you can do to insure a good proposal. Once you have designed the project, noting its intent and steps to establish it, then you can draft your proposal. Be prepared to invest a great deal of time towards this process. Successful grant proposals are not commonly written the evening before the submission deadline. While agencies are often under duress because of funding needs, a successful application will demand a commitment from Board members and staff.
You need to follow a step-by-step process in the search for private dollars. It takes time and persistence to succeed. After you have written a proposal, it could take as long as a year to obtain the funds needed to carry it out. And even a perfectly written proposal submitted to the right prospect may be rejected. Raising funds is an investment in the future. Your aim should be to build a network of foundation and corporate funders, many of which give small gifts on a fairly steady basis and a few of which give large, periodic grants. By doggedly pursuing the various steps of the process, each year you can retain most of your regular supporters and strike a balance with the comings and goings of larger donors.
The first thing you will need to do in writing the master proposal is to gather the documentation for it. You will require background documentation in three areas: concept, program, and expenses.
If all of this information is not readily available to you, determine who will help you gather each type of information. If you are part of a small nonprofit with no staff, a knowledgeable board member will be the logical choice. If you are in a larger agency, there should be program and financial support staff who can help you. Once you know with whom to talk, identify the questions to ask. This data- gathering process makes the actual writing much easier. And by involving other stakeholders in the process, it also helps key people within your agency seriously consider the project’s value to the organization.
There are some basic guidelines that you must follow:
1) Be Brief
The proposal must be brief and consist of no more than two to three pages, accompanied by support documentation in a binder. Place yourself in the shoes of the people that you are approaching. They may be volunteers or paid staff . Regardless, they do not wish to plow through page after page of material that may only be interesting to you.
Here is an example of being wordy:
“A detached fragment of the terrestrial lithosphere, whether of igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic origin, and whether acquiring its approximation to sphericity through hydraulic action or other attrition, when continuously maintained in motion by reason of the instrumentality of gravitational forces constantly acting to lower its center of gravity, thus resulting in a rotational movement around its temporary axis and with its velocity accelerated by any increase in the angle of declivity, is, because of abrasive action produced by the incessant but irregular contact between its periphery and the contiguous terrain, effectively prevented from accumulating on its external surface any appreciable modicum of the cryptogamous vegetation normally propagated in umbrageous situations under the optimum conditions of undeviating atmospheric humidity, solar radiation, quiescence, and comparative sequestration from erosive agencies.” or more concisely:
“A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
A concise proposal demonstrates your respect for the time that they have to commit to your application and your ability to succinctly outline your request.
2) Be enthusiastic and positive
Write persuasively – you’re selling a concept – you’re not writing a term paper. You will be writing about a program or project that will inevitably , hopefully, have a very positive impact on some people that have defined needs or problems. Put your heart into it and let the reader feel how you feel. Set a positive tone when writing a proposal. Using conditional language only gives outlook for your project:
• “We would like to . . .”
• “We may include . . .”
• “Possible results might be . . .”
• “Dr. —– may be invited to . . .”
Instead, march boldly forward in your proposal with positive language such as:
• “We will . . . ”
• “Programs will include . . .”
• “The results will be . . .”
• “Dr. —– will participate . . .”
3) Write for each foundation
There is no such thing as a fill-in-the-blank proposal that can be just mailed to a list of potential funders. No matter what you’ve been told, don’t write one proposal and then mail it out to a bunch of potential funders. Each grant maker should receive a different, highly personalized proposal, fitting “to the letter” whatever guidelines they require.
Grant makers want good proposals. They will help you. Call them and ask questions – but be sure you’ve done your homework first and that you’re not asking a question already answered in their literature.
4) Be clear
Remember the reader, above all. Write so the reader, any reader, from any profession, can read your proposal. Do not assume that they know everything about your client base or aspect of the social service field. No jargon! Use simple, clear, concise sentences. Writing is easy. It’s about 20% of the issue in grants acquisition. It’s only hard if you have nothing to say! Write so that a stranger knows what you are talking about!
Be careful not to write sentences that sound pretty but don’t say anything.
“We will put the project to the test by studying factors that have some opportunity of enhancement of its various facets to lead to successful working partnership.” Those are nice words in there but do they say anything? No. How about this?
“Project evaluation will include a pre- and post-questionnaire of participants with questions specifically designed to measure their perceptions of the effectiveness of the community partnership (Objectives 1 and 2).”
A proposal should reflect planning, research and vision. The importance of research cannot be overemphasized, both in terms of the funders solicited and the types of funds requested. The appropriate format should be used, and the required attachments should be included. The most successful proposals are those which clearly and concisely state the community’s and organization’s needs and are targeted to donors which fund that field, a reflection of careful planning and research.
There are factors all funders consider “highly important”:
• project purpose
• community need for the project
• applicant accountability
• competence Other factors also considered important include:
• project logic
• probable impact
• money needed
• community support
• not too ambitious
• not too narrow
• not rambling
• currently relevant
5) Prepare an attractive proposal
Proposals should not be submitted bound, as funders often dismantle the proposal and make copies of it when referring it to a review committee for consideration. To assemble a proposal, an organization should consider using staples, a folder or a three ring binder to contain the proposal and attachments. Funders do not judge a proposal on its weight, but on its contents and presentation. Thus, it is important to assemble the proposal in an organized, concise, and attractive manner. First impression counts so an attractive binder and well presented materials quickly demonstrates your commitment to the process.
Letter of Intent
Some foundations/corporations prefer a letter of inquiry to determine whether the applicant falls within the foundation’s guidelines. In this case, an inquiry letter used instead of a cover letter and proposal. It must very concise and attachments are not included. If the funder determines the organization and project fit within it’s scope, the organization will be directed to submit a complete proposal. If not, a decline letter is usually issued at that time.
A letter of inquiry should meet the following criteria:
• Includes the funder’s name, title, and address
• Is directed at the individual responsible for the funding program
• Provides a brief overview of the organization and its purpose
• Includes the reason for the funding request
• Includes the amount requested (if required by funder)
• Describes the need the project intends to meet (including target population, statistics, example)
• Provides a brief description of the project
• Lists other prospective funders for the project
• Includes a thank you and next step to be taken
• Does not exceed two pages (one page is recommended)
• Includes name and phone number of contact at the organization
• Is signed by the person who can speak with authority on behalf of the organization
It will consist of a cover letter preceding a two page application supported by appendices
The cover letter serves as the organization’s introduction and should always accompany a proposal. A cover letter, written on your letterhead, should meet the following criteria:
• Includes funder’s name, title, and address
• Is directed at the individual responsible for the funding program (is not addressed “To Whom It May Concern”, “Dear Sirs”, etc. – call for a name)
• Provides a brief overview of the organization and its purpose
• Includes the reason for the funding request
• Includes the amount requested (if required by funder)
• Is one page in length
• Includes name and phone number of contact at the organization
• Is signed by the person who can speak with authority on behalf of the organization
It’s hard to be brief but you must be able to express yourself concisely and enthusiastically so that your proposal is no more than two – three pages You can include appendices that support your comments. Summary (umbrella statement of your case and summary of the entire proposal )
Qualifications of the Organization (history and governing structure of the nonprofit; its primary activities, audiences and services and why it can successfully carry out this project)
Problem Statement or Needs Assessment (why this project is necessary)
Program Goals and Objectives (nuts and bolts of how the project will be implemented)
Methodology (a step-by-step outline of the development and implementation of the project)
Evaluation (a plan to determine the project’s success)
Budget (financial description of the project plus explanatory notes)
Conclusion (summary of the proposal’s main points)
Appendices (supporting materials)
This section clearly and concisely summarizes the request. It should provide the reader with a framework that will help him/her visualize the project. The remainder of the proposal will then serve to deepen and amplify the “vision” presented in the summary section at the beginning. While the summary is the first section, it is the last one that you should write. Once you have completed the other sections, it will be much easier to prepare the summary and insert it at the beginning of your proposal.
A summary should meet the following criteria:
• Appears at the beginning of the proposal
• Identifies the grant applicant
• Includes at least one sentence on credibility
• Includes a brief statement of the problem or the need your agency has recognized and is prepared to address
• Includes at least one sentence on objectives
• Includes at least one sentence on methods
• Includes total cost, funds already obtained and amount requested in this proposal
• Is brief (limited to a couple of paragraphs at most)
• Is clear
• Is interesting
If the funder reads beyond the summary, you have successfully piqued their interest. Your next task is to build on this initial interest in your project by enabling the funder to understand the problem that the project will remedy.
2) Qualifications of the Organization
This section describes the applicant agency and its qualifications for funding and establishes its credibility. The programs and accomplishments of the organization will be examined in light of how they address current demographics, social issues, specific constituencies, etc. In addition to convincing the funder of the extent of the need for the proposed project, the agency must also demonstrate that theirs is the appropriate agency to conduct the project. In this section, the organization should demonstrate that it has the means and the imagination to solve the particular problem or meet the need.
A proposal will often sink or swim based on the need for the project and the project methodology, not on the accomplishments of the overall organization. Therefore, an agency should not make the mistake of devoting half of its proposal to the history or programs of the agency.
The proposal should address the projects and programs the organization intends to undertake over the next twelve to fifteen months. If growth is projected in the program, anticipated goals should be stated, as should any new projects to be undertaken. If a detailed program description or annual report exists, it should be included as the first item in the proposal appendices.
The qualifications of the organization section should meet the following criteria:
• Clearly establishes who is applying for funds
• Briefly addresses the rationale for the founding of the organization
• Describes applicant agency’s purposes and long-range goals
• Describes applicant’s current programs and activities
• Describes applicant’s clients or constituents
• Provides evidence of the applicant’s accomplishments
• Offers statistical support of accomplishments
• Offers quotes/endorsements in support of accomplishments
• Supports qualifications in area of activity in which funds are sought (e.g. research, training)
• Describes qualifications of key staff members
• Provides other evidence of administrative competence
• Leads logically to the problem statement
• Is as brief as possible
• Is interesting
It is not necessary to overwhelm the reader with facts about your organization. This information can be conveyed easily by attaching a brochure or other prepared statement. Tell the reader when your nonprofit came into existence; state its mission, being certain to demonstrate how the subject of the proposal fits within or extends that mission; and describe the organization’s structure, programs, and special expertise.
You can allude to the following in the summary but most of the information should appear in the appendix:
• Discuss the size of the board, how board members are recruited, and their level of participation. Give the reader a feel for the makeup of the board. (include the full board list in an appendix.)
• If your agency is composed of volunteers or has an active volunteer group, describe the function that the volunteers fill.
• Provide details on the staff, including the numbers of full and part-time staff, and their levels of expertise.
• Describe the kinds of activities in which your staff engage.
• Explain briefly the assistance you provide.
• Describe the audience you serve, any special or unusual needs they face, and why they rely on your agency.
• Cite the number of people who are reached through your programs.
• Cite your agency’s expertise, especially as it relates to the subject of your proposal.
3) Problem Statement or Needs Assessment
When seeking funds, a specific problem area or need should be addressed. This is a critically important section of the proposal. Information based on objective research, not subjective impressions, should be provided to justify the need or problem. This data, however, should not be voluminous, but sufficient to demonstrate that a problem or need exists. A problem statement or needs assessment should meet the following criteria:
• Describes the target population to be served
• Defines the community problem to be addressed and the need in the geographical area where the organization operates
• Is related to the purposes and goals of the applicant agency
• Is of reasonable dimensions – not trying to solve all the problems of the world
• Is supported by relevant statistical evidence (appendix)
• Is supported by relevant anecdotal evidence (appendix)
• Is supported by statements from authorities (appendix)
• Is stated in terms of clients’ needs and problems – not the applicant’s
• Is developed with input from clients and beneficiaries
• Is not the “lack of a program”, unless the program always works
• Makes no unsupported assumptions
• Is as brief as possible
• Is interesting to read
• Is free of jargon
• Makes a compelling case
You want the need section to be succinct, yet persuasive. Like a good debater, you must assemble all the arguments. Then present them in a logical sequence that will readily convince the reader of their importance. As you marshal your arguments, consider the following six points.
First, decide which facts or statistics best support the project. Be sure the data you present are accurate. There are few things more embarrassing than to have the funder tell you that your information is out of date or incorrect. Information that is too generic or broad will not help you develop a winning argument for your project. Information that does not relate to your organization or the project you are presenting will cause the funder to question the entire proposal. There also should be a balance between the information presented and the scale of the program.
Second, give the reader hope. The picture you paint should not be so grim that the solution appears hopeless. The funder will wonder whether an investment in a solution will be worthwhile. Here’s an example of a solid statement of need:
“Breast cancer kills. But statistics prove that regular check-ups catch most breast cancer in the early stages, reducing the likelihood of death. Hence, a program to encourage preventive check-ups will reduce the risk of death due to breast cancer.” Avoid overstatement and overly emotional appeals.
Third, decide if you want to put your project forward as a model. This could expand the base of potential funders, but serving as a model works only for certain types of projects. Don’t try to make this argument if it doesn’t really fit. Funders may well expect your agency to follow through with a replication plan if you present your project as a model. If the decision about a model is affirmative, you should document how the problem you are addressing occurs in other communities. Be sure to explain how your solution could be a solution for others as well.
Fourth, determine whether it is reasonable to portray the need as acute. You are asking the funder to pay more attention to your proposal because either the problem you address is worse than others or the solution you propose makes more sense than others. Here is an example of a balanced but weighty statement: “Drug abuse is a national problem. Each day, children all over the country die from drug overdose. In the city’s east side the problem is worse. More children die here than any place else. It is an epidemic. Hence, our drug prevention program is needed more in this area than in any other part of the city.”
Fifth, decide whether you can demonstrate that your program addresses the need differently or better than other projects that preceded it. It is often difficult to describe the need for your project without being critical of the competition. But you must be careful not to do so. Being critical of other non-profits will not be well received by the funder. It may cause the funder to look more carefully at your own project to see why you felt you had to build your case by demeaning others. The funder may have invested in these other projects or may begin to consider them, now that you have brought them to their attention. If possible, you should make it clear that you are cognizant of, and on good terms with, others doing work in your field. Keep in mind that today’s funders are very interested in collaboration. They may even ask why you are not collaborating with those you view as key competitors. So at the least you need to describe how your work complements, but does not duplicate, the work of others.
Sixth, avoid circular reasoning. In circular reasoning, you present the absence of your solution as the actual problem. Then your solution is offered as the way to solve the problem. For example, the circular reasoning for building a community swimming pool might go like this: “The problem is that we have no pool in our community. Building a pool will solve the problem.” A more persuasive case would cite what a pool has meant to a neighboring community, permitting it to offer recreation, exercise, and physical therapy programs. The statement might refer to a survey that underscores the target audience’s planned usage of the facility and conclude with the connection between the proposed usage and potential benefits to enhance life in the community.
This seems like a lot of information but it is presented in order for you to consider all the needed information and present it succinctly. Short, concise information captures the reader’s attention.
4) Program Goals and Objectives
This section of the proposal describes the outcomes of the grant in measurable terms. It is a succinct description of what the organization hopes to accomplish and by when. Each goal should be clearly stated and have an associated time frame. Program goals and objectives should meet the following criteria:
• At least one objective for each problem or need committed to in the problem
• Objectives are outcomes
• Objectives are not methods
• Describes the population that will benefit from the program
• States the time by which objectives will be accomplished
• Objectives are measurable and quantifiable (if at all possible)
Objectives are the measurable outcomes of the program. They define your methods. Your objectives must be tangible, specific, concrete, measurable, and achievable in a specified time period. Grant seekers often confuse objectives with goals, which are conceptual and more abstract. For the purpose of illustration, here is the goal of a project with a subsidiary objective
Our after-school program will help children read better.
Our after-school remedial education program will assist fifty children in improving their reading scores by one grade level as demonstrated on standardized reading tests administered after participating in the program for six months. The goal in this case is abstract: improving reading, while the objective is much more specific. It is achievable in the short term (six months) and measurable (improving fifty children’s reading scores by one grade level). With competition for dollars so great, well-articulated objectives are increasingly critical to a proposal’s success.
There are at least four types of objectives:
– A human action is anticipated.
Example: Fifty of the seventy children participating will learn to swim.
– A specific time frame within which a behavior will occur, at an expected proficiency level, is expected.
Example: Fifty of the seventy children will learn to swim within six months and will pass a basic swimming proficiency test administered by a Red Cross-certified lifeguard.
– The manner in which something occurs is an end in itself.
Example: We will document the teaching methods utilized, identifying those with the greatest success.
– A tangible item results.
Example: A manual will be created to be used in teaching swimming to this age and proficiency group in the future. By means of the objectives, you have explained to the funder what will be achieved by the project. The methods section describes the specific activities that will take place to achieve the objectives. It might be helpful to divide our discussion of methods into the following: how, when, and why.
This is the detailed description of what will occur from the time the project begins until it is completed.
The methods section should present the order and timing for the tasks. It might make sense to provide a timetable so that the reader does not have to map out the sequencing on his own. The timetable tells the reader “when” and provides another summary of the project that supports the rest of the methods section.
You may need to defend your chosen methods, especially if they are new or unorthodox. Why will the planned work lead to the outcomes you anticipate? You can answer this question in a number of ways, including using expert testimony and examples of other projects that work. The methods section enables the reader to visualize the implementation of the project. It should convince the reader that your agency knows what it is doing, thereby establishing its credibility.
This section describes the activities to be conducted to achieve the desired objectives. It also includes the rationale for choosing a particular approach.
Generally, a straightforward, chronological description of the operations of the proposed project works most effectively. The methodology section should meet the following criteria:
• Flows naturally from problems and objectives
• Clearly describes program activities
• States reasons for the selection of activities
• Describes sequence of activities
• Describes staffing of program
• Describes clients and client selection
• Presents a reasonable scope of activities that can be accomplished within the time and resources of the program
• Provides a timeline of activities (if possible)
Proposals must include a plan for determining the degree to which objectives are met and methods are followed. This section is extremely important as funders pay particular attention to evaluation methods since they need help determining whether a proposed project represents an intelligent investment for them. An evaluation plan should not be considered only after the project is over; it should be built into the project. Including an evaluation plan in your proposal indicates that you take your objectives seriously and want to know how well you have achieved them. Evaluation is also a sound management tool. Like strategic planning, it helps a nonprofit refine and improve its program. An evaluation can often be the best means for others to learn from your experience in conducting the project.
There are two types of formal evaluation. One measures the product; the other analyzes the process. Either or both might be appropriate to your project. The approach you choose will depend on the nature of the project and its objectives. For either type, you will need to describe the manner in which evaluation information will be collected and how the data will be analyzed. You should present your plan for how the evaluation and its results will be reported and the audience to which it will be directed.
The evaluation section should meet the following criteria:
• Presents a plan for evaluating accomplishment of objectives
• Presents a plan for evaluating and modifying methods over course the program
• Tells who will be doing the evaluation and how they were chosen
• Clearly states evaluation criteria
• Describes how data will be gathered
• Explains any test instruments or questionnaires to be used
• Describes the process of data analysis
• Shows how evaluation will be used for program improvements
• Describes any evaluation reports to be produced
When developing a budget, think project budget first. List every penny it will take to run the entire project. Don’t forget support staff, copying charges, postage, memberships, telephone charges, meeting costs, and all the “hidden” expenses. Then think, what part of this budget is appropriate to request from the funder. No grant maker will fund every cent of a project. They want to see your investment. Then put together an itemized list for the part of the overall budget you’re requesting from the funder, the request budget. Use this request budget to fill out the grant maker’s summary forms. Remember the forms you see are just summaries of line items, not the budget itself – the budget itself are those line items you used to complete the summary.
All proposals should include a budget which clearly delineates costs to be met by the funding source and those provided by other parties and outlines both administrative and program costs
. If a proposal is for a specific project, separate budgets for the general operating budget and the special project budget should be included. Budgets should show income as well as expenses and should be structured in columnar form, listing the expense on the left and the dollar amount in the right column, according to general accounting/bookkeeping principles. Budgets should not be submitted in narrative form.
Budget expense information should delineate personnel costs such as salary and benefit information, and non-personnel expenses such as facility costs (rent/mortgage, utilities, maintenance, taxes), fundraising expenses, travel, postage, equipment costs, supplies, and insurance. These should be reflected in both the expense and income columns.
Sources of income should be listed separately as part of budget information. Sources should be actual funders, not merely prospects. However, pending proposals may be listed separately, if desired. Sources for funding may include fees for service, government funds, corporate/private grants, individual donations, etc. A budget should meet the following criteria:
• Tells the same story as the proposal narrative
• Is detailed in all aspects
• Includes project costs that will be incurred at the time of the program’s implementation
• Contains no unexplained amounts for miscellaneous or contingency
• Includes all items asked of the funding source
• Includes all items paid for by other sources
• Includes all volunteers
• Includes all consultants
• Details fringe benefits, separate from salaries
• Separately details all non-personnel costs
• Includes separate columns for listing all donated services
• Includes indirect costs where appropriate
• Is sufficient to perform the tasks described in the narrative
You need to devote a few sentences to discussing the number of staff, their qualifications, and specific assignments. Details about individual staff members involved in the project can be included either as part of this section or in the appendix, depending on the length and importance of this information. “Staffing” may refer to volunteers or to consultants, as well as to paid staff. Most proposal writers do not develop staffing sections for projects that are primarily volunteer run. Describing tasks that volunteers will undertake, however, can be most helpful to the proposal reader. Such information underscores the value added by the volunteers as well as the cost-effectiveness of the project. For a project with paid staff, be certain to describe which staff will work full time and which will work part time on the project. Identify staff already employed by your nonprofit and those to be recruited specifically for the project. How will you free up the time of an already fully deployed individual?
Salary and project costs are affected by the qualifications of the staff. Delineate the practical experience you require for key staff, as well as level of expertise and educational background. If an individual has already been selected to direct the program, summarize his or her credentials and include a brief biographical sketch in the appendix. A strong project director can help influence a grant decision.
Describe for the reader your plans for administering the project. This is especially important in a large operation, if more than one agency is collaborating on the project, or if you are using a fiscal agent. It needs to be crystal clear who is responsible for financial management, project outcomes and reporting.
Every proposal should have a concluding paragraph or two. This is a good place to call attention to the future, after the grant is completed. If appropriate, you should outline some of the follow-up activities that might be undertaken to begin to prepare your funders for your next request. Alternatively, you should state how the project might carry on without further grant support. This section is also the place to make a final appeal for your project. Briefly reiterate what your nonprofit wants to do and why it is important. Underscore why your agency needs funding to accomplish it. Don’t be afraid at this stage to use a bit of emotion to solidify your case.
As you have ideas of what to include in your proposal, write yourself a note and put it into the folder. When you are finally ready to write, it will be easier to organize your thoughts and recall the material that you wanted to include in the appendices.
Some attachments are recommended in all proposals, while others may be included at the author’s discretion. If a recent article or endorsement has been written about your organization, and if it is germane, it may be included as an attachment to the proposal. Generally funders will look at only one or two articles / endorsements. Therefore, your organization must carefully select the best recent article/endorsement to submit. Additional attachments can be included at the author’s discretion.
Appendices may include:
• Verification charitable status
• Names and affiliation of officers and Board of Directors members
• Financial statements for last completed fiscal year (audited, if available)
• Current general operating budget and special project budget (if applicable)
• Illustration clients served (include stories to make your assistance real))
• List of other current funding sources
• Biographies of key personnel (only if requested)
• Articles / endorsements (a few)
• Diagrams for equipment or building requests
• Organization’s by-laws
Include a table of contents for the attachments / appendices that enables the reader to quickly turn to the needed material. You could use tabs to identify each appendix that enables the reader to flip to it easily.
What Happens Next?
Submitting your proposal is nowhere near the end of your involvement in the grant making process. Grant review procedures vary widely, and the decision- making process can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months. During the review process, the funder may ask for additional information either directly from you or from outside consultants or professional references. Invariably, this is a difficult time for the grant seeker.
You need to be patient but persistent. Some grant makers outline their review procedures in annual reports or application guidelines. If you are unclear about the process, don’t hesitate to ask.
If your hard work results in a grant, take a few moments to acknowledge the funder’s support with a letter of thanks. You also need to find out whether the funder has specific forms, procedures, and deadlines for reporting the progress of your project. Clarifying your responsibilities as a grantee at the outset, particularly with respect to financial reporting, will prevent misunderstandings and more serious problems later.
Nor is rejection necessarily the end of the process. If you’re unsure why your proposal was rejected, ask. Did the funder need additional information? Would they be interested in considering the proposal at a future date? Now might also be the time to begin cultivation of a prospective funder. Put them on your mailing list so that they can become further acquainted with your organization.
A successful grant proposal is one that is well-prepared, thoughtfully planned, and concisely packaged. The potential applicant should become familiar with all of the pertinent program criteria related to the Catalog program from which assistance is sought. Refer to the information contact person listed in the Catalog program description before developing a proposal to obtain information such as whether funding is available, when applicable deadlines occur, and the process used by the grantor agency for accepting applications. Applicants should remember that the basic requirements, application forms, information and procedures vary with the Funding agency making the grant award.
Individuals without prior grant proposal writing experience may find it useful to attend a grantsmanship workshop. A workshop can amplify the basic information presented here. Applicants interested in additional readings on grantsmanship and proposal development should consult the references listed at the end of this section and explore other library resources.
Initial Proposal Development
Developing Ideas for the Proposal
When developing an idea for a proposal it is important to determine if the idea has been considered in the applicant’s locality or State. A careful check should be made with legislators and area government agencies and related public and private agencies which may currently have grant awards or contracts to do similar work. If a similar program already exists, the applicant may need to reconsider submitting the proposed project, particularly if duplication of effort is perceived. If significant differences or improvements in the proposed project’s goals can be clearly established, it may be worthwhile to pursue Funding assistance.
Community support for most proposals is essential. Once proposal summary is developed, look for individuals or groups representing academic, political, professional, and lay organizations which may be willing to support the proposal in writing. The type and caliber of community support is critical in the initial and subsequent review phases. Numerous letters of support can be persuasive to a grantor agency. Do not overlook support from local government agencies and public officials. Letters of endorsement detailing exact areas of project sanction and commitment are often requested as part of a proposal to a Funding agency. Several months may be required to develop letters of endorsement since something of value (e.g., buildings, staff, services) is sometimes negotiated between the parties involved.
Many agencies require, in writing, affiliation agreements (a mutual agreement to share services between agencies) and building space commitments prior to either grant approval or award. A useful method of generating community support may be to hold meetings with the top decision makers in the community who would be concerned with the subject matter of the proposal. The forum for discussion may include a query into the merits of the proposal, development of a contract of support for the proposal, to generate data in support of the proposal, or development of a strategy to create proposal support from a large number of community groups.
Identification of a Funding Resource
A review of the Objectives and Uses and Use Restrictions sections of the Catalog program description can point out which programs might provide funding for an idea. Do not overlook the related programs as potential resources. Both the applicant and the grantor agency should have the same interests, intentions, and needs if a proposal is to be considered an acceptable candidate for funding.
Once a potential grantor agency is identified, call the contact telephone number identified in Information Contacts and ask for a grant application kit. Later, get to know some of the grantor agency personnel. Ask for suggestions, criticisms, and advice about the proposed project. In many cases, the more agency personnel know about the proposal, the better the chance of support and of an eventual favorable decision. Sometimes it is useful to send the proposal summary to a specific agency official in a separate cover letter, and ask for review and comment at the earliest possible convenience. Always check with the Funding agency to determine its preference if this approach is under consideration. If the review is unfavorable and differences cannot be resolved, ask the examining agency (official) to suggest another department or agency which may be interested in the proposal. A personal visit to the agency’s regional office or headquarters is also important. A visit not only establishes face-to-face contact, but also may bring out some essential details about the proposal or help secure literature and references from the agency’s library.
Funding agencies are required to report funding information as funds are approved, increased or decreased among projects within a given State depending on the type of required reporting. Also, consider reviewing the Funding Budget for the current and budget fiscal years to determine proposed dollar amounts for particular budget functions.
The applicant should carefully study the eligibility requirements for each Funding program under consideration (see the Applicant Eligibility section of the Catalog program description). The applicant may learn that he or she is required to provide services otherwise unintended such as a service to particular client groups, or involvement of specific institutions. It may necessitate the modification of the original concept in order for the project to be eligible for funding. Questions about eligibility should be discussed with the appropriate program officer.
Deadlines for submitting applications are often not negotiable. They are usually associated with strict timetables for agency review. Some programs have more than one application deadline during the fiscal year. Applicants should plan proposal development around the established deadlines.
Getting Organised to Write the Proposal
Throughout the proposal writing stage keep a notebook handy to write down ideas. Periodically, try to connect ideas by reviewing the notebook. Never throw away written ideas during the grant writing stage. Maintain a file labeled “Ideas” or by some other convenient title and review the ideas from time to time. The file should be easily accessible. The gathering of documents such as articles of incorporation, tax exemption certificates, and bylaws should be completed, if possible, before the writing begins.
At some point, perhaps after the first or second draft is completed, seek out a neutral third party to review the proposal working draft for continuity, clarity and reasoning. Ask for constructive criticism at this point, rather than wait for the Funding grantor agency to volunteer this information during the review cycle. For example, has the writer made unsupported assumptions or used jargon or excessive language in the proposal?
Most proposals are made to institutions rather than individuals. Often signatures of chief administrative officials are required. Check to make sure they are included in the proposal where appropriate.
Proposals should be typed, collated, copied, and packaged correctly and neatly (according to agency instructions, if any). Each package should be inspected to ensure uniformity from cover to cover. Binding may require either clamps or hard covers. Check with the Funding agency to determine its preference. A neat, organized, and attractive proposal package can leave a positive impression with the reader about the proposal contents.
A cover letter should always accompany a proposal. Make sure there is enough time for the proposals to reach their destinations. Otherwise, special arrangements may be necessary. Always coordinate such arrangements with the Funding grantor agency project office (the agency which will ultimately have the responsibility for the project), the grant office (the agency which will coordinate the grant review), and the contract office (the agency responsible for disbursement and grant award notices), if necessary.
The Basic Components of a Proposal
There are eight basic components to creating a solid proposal package: (1) the proposal summary; (2) introduction of organization; (3) the problem statement (or needs assessment); (4) project objectives; (5) project methods or design; (6) project evaluation; (7) future funding; and (8) the project budget. The following will provide an overview of these components.
The Proposal Summary: Outline of Project Goals
The proposal summary outlines the proposed project and should appear at the beginning of the proposal. It could be in the form of a cover letter or a separate page, but should definitely be brief — no longer than two or three paragraphs. The summary would be most useful if it were prepared after the proposal has been developed in order to encompass all the key summary points necessary to communicate the objectives of the project. It is this document that becomes the cornerstone of your proposal, and the initial impression it gives will be critical to the success of your venture. In many cases, the summary will be the first part of the proposal package seen by agency officials and very possibly could be the only part of the package that is carefully reviewed before the decision is made to consider the project any further.
The applicant must select a fundable project which can be supported in view of the local need. Alternatives, in the absence of Funding support, should be pointed out. The influence of the project both during and after the project period should be explained. The consequences of the project as a result of funding should be highlighted.
Presenting a Credible Applicant or Organization
The applicant should gather data about its organization from all available sources. Most proposals require a description of an applicant’s organization to describe its past and present operations.
Some features to consider are:
The Problem Statement: Stating the Purpose at Hand
The problem statement (or needs assessment) is a key element of a proposal that makes a clear, concise, and well-supported statement of the problem to be addressed. The best way to collect information about the problem is to conduct and document both a formal and informal needs assessment for a program in the target or service area. The information provided should be both factual and directly related to the problem addressed by the proposal.
Areas to document are:
There is a considerable body of literature on the exact assessment techniques to be used. Any local, regional, or State government planning office, or local university offering course work in planning and evaluation techniques should be able to provide excellent background references. Types of data that may be collected include: historical, geographic, quantitative, factual, statistical, and philosophical information, as well as studies completed by colleges, and literature searches from public or university libraries. Local colleges or universities which have a department or section related to the proposal topic may help determine if there is interest in developing a student or faculty project to conduct a needs assessment. It may be helpful to include examples of the findings for highlighting in the proposal.
Project Objectives: Goals and Desired Outcome
Program objectives refer to specific activities in a proposal. It is necessary to identify all objectives related to the goals to be reached, and the methods to be employed to achieve the stated objectives. Consider quantities or things measurable and refer to a problem statement and the outcome of proposed activities when developing a well-stated objective. The figures used should be verifiable. Remember, if the proposal is funded, the stated objectives will probably be used to evaluate program progress, so be realistic. There is literature available to help identify and write program objectives.
Program Methods and Program Design: A Plan of Action
The program design refers to how the project is expected to work and solve the stated problem. Sketch out the following:
Evaluation: Product and Process Analysis
The evaluation component is two-fold: (1) product evaluation; and (2) process evaluation. Product evaluation addresses results that can be attributed to the project, as well as the extent to which the project has satisfied its desired objectives. Process evaluation addresses how the project was conducted, in terms of consistency with the stated plan of action and the effectiveness of the various activities within the plan.
Most Funding agencies now require some form of program evaluation among grantees. The requirements of the proposed project should be explored carefully. Evaluations may be conducted by an internal staff member, an evaluation firm or both. The applicant should state the amount of time needed to evaluate, how the feedback will be distributed among the proposed staff, and a schedule for review and comment for this type of communication. Evaluation designs may start at the beginning, middle or end of a project, but the applicant should specify a start-up time. It is practical to submit an evaluation design at the start of a project for two reasons:
Even if the evaluation design has to be revised as the project progresses, it is much easier and cheaper to modify a good design. If the problem is not well defined and carefully analyzed for cause and effect relationships then a good evaluation design may be difficult to achieve. Sometimes a pilot study is needed to begin the identification of facts and relationships. Often a thorough literature search may be sufficient.
Evaluation requires both coordination and agreement among program decision makers (if known). Above all, the Funding grantor agency’s requirements should be highlighted in the evaluation design. Also, Funding grantor agencies may require specific evaluation techniques such as designated data formats (an existing FF-6 11-08 information collection system) or they may offer financial inducements for voluntary participation in a national evaluation study. The applicant should ask specifically about these points. Also, consult the Criteria For Selecting Proposals section of the Catalog program description to determine the exact evaluation methods to be required for the program if funded.
Future Funding: Long-Term Project Planning
Describe a plan for continuation beyond the grant period, and/or the availability of other resources necessary to implement the grant. Discuss maintenance and future program funding if program is for construction activity. Account for other needed expenditures if program includes purchase of equipment.
The Proposal Budget: Planning the Budget
Funding levels in Funding assistance programs change yearly. It is useful to review the appropriations over the past several years to try to project future funding levels (see Financial Information section of the Catalog program description).
However, it is safer to never anticipate that the income from the grant will be the sole support for the project. This consideration should be given to the overall budget requirements, and in particular, to budget line items most subject to inflationary pressures. Restraint is important in determining inflationary cost projections (avoid padding budget line items), but attempt to anticipate possible future increases.
Some vulnerable budget areas are: utilities, rental of buildings and equipment, salary increases, food, telephones, insurance, and transportation. Budget adjustments are sometimes made after the grant award, but this can be a lengthy process. Be certain that implementation, continuation and phase-down costs can be met. Consider costs associated with leases, evaluation systems, hard/soft match requirements, audits, development, implementation and maintenance of information and accounting systems, and other long-term financial commitments.
A well-prepared budget justifies all expenses and is consistent with the proposal narrative. Some areas in need of an evaluation for consistency are:
(1) the salaries in the proposal in relation to those of the applicant organization should be similar;
(2) if new staff persons are being hired, additional space and equipment should be considered, as necessary;
(3) if the budget calls for an equipment purchase, it should be the type allowed by the grantor agency;
(4) if additional space is rented, the increase in insurance should be supported;
(5) if an indirect cost rate applies to the proposal, the division between direct and indirect costs should not be in conflict, and the aggregate budget totals should refer directly to the approved formula; and
(6) if matching costs are required, the contributions to the matching fund should be taken out of the budget unless otherwise specified in the application instructions.
It is very important to become familiar with Government-wide circular requirements. The Catalog identifies in the program description section (as information is provided from the agencies) the particular circulars applicable to a Funding program, and summarizes coordination of Executive Orders. The applicant should thoroughly review the appropriate circulars since they are essential in determining items such as cost principles and conforming with Government guidelines for Funding assistance.
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