Deep inside in your mind, an “idea” to help the poor and the needy is fast taking shape after earnestly witnessing the community problems around you. You know the solutions – you know what needs to be done to improve their living.
On the other side, funders and donors are willing to provide you with the much-needed grants to implement your idea. But these funders and donors require a proposal from you explaining your “idea.” A proposal is a written document that elaborately explains the “idea”, the reasons behind it, how it will be implemented and what will be its benefits.
But although many NGOs have the most inspirational ideas occupying their minds, when it comes to writing a proposal, they are lost. They do not know where to start and when to start. To assist such NGOs and development professionals, we have developed a set of questions that will help them elaborate on their ideas and build up a successful proposal quickly.
When you question your idea, new channels open up, and you will find new issues and problems. You realize that there is another problem that has led to the current crisis in your communities. Then it would help if you went to the root of the problem which needs to be addressed. With this type of structural approach, it is easier for you to write your proposal and your donors can understand the problem easier and will be more convinced to support your work!
We will primarily look at the What, Why, When, Who, How and all the possible questions you should address before you start writing the proposal.
Before you begin the task of writing the proposal, make sure you have answered the following questions. These questions will not only help you in planning better but also in developing a winning proposal.
Questions to be answered when assessing the opportunity
Do you have enough time for preparing and submitting the proposal?
This is an important question to be answered, and in case the answer is in negative, you better look at another opportunity. Proposal writing needs time, and if there is a grant opportunity, that you just came across and you don’t have enough time to prepare the proposal, it is best not to spend your efforts in preparing the proposal. Always keep enough time to prepare, revise and submit the proposal, much ahead of the actual deadline.
Does your organization have the required strength to prepare a quality proposal?
Many organizations jump into writing a proposal, without actually assessing if they have the necessary manpower to write a quality proposal. If all your project staff is engaged in managing a field project and you do not have a dedicated person to devote all his/her time in writing the proposal, then you should either hire a consultant or an expert to draft your proposal. Writing a quality proposal requires you to think research and then develop the proposal; this can be done only when you have a dedicated team to complete all the sections of a proposal successfully.
Are the donors willing to support your cause?
You have identified the problem and are dedicated to putting all your efforts towards the cause, but have you made sure that there are donors to support the cause. This is where your donor database will come handy. Before you start on with the proposal, you need to identify the donors who will be interested in supporting your organization. Make a list of all the donors that are active in your region and who have supported similar projects in the past. This way, you will be sure that your efforts will not go wasted, and there will surely be people who would be keen to support your project.
Does your organization qualify the eligibility criteria?
All the solicitations published by donor agencies have clearly defined eligibility criteria, which state the organizations that may or may not apply under the particular solicitation. Before you start preparing the response against the solicitation, it is advisable that you go through the eligibility criteria and work on the proposal, only when your organization is eligible for applying.
Does this opportunity align with your mission?
Your organization must be having a mission, and all your activities should be aligned to achieve the organization’s mission. When applying for any solicitation, always make sure that the opportunity is aligned with your organization’s mission. Applying for random opportunities drains not only the efforts of your team but also dilutes the organization mission.
How will winning the grant help your organization?
When planning a proposal, always think of the larger picture and see how will wining a particular grant help your organization in accomplishing the goal/mission? Answering this question during the planning stage enables you to assess if all your efforts are going in the right direction and if applying to a particular opportunity will positively help your organization. Many organizations submit a proposal without even realizing the real worth of it, and even if they win the grant, they are unable to make the best use of it.
Does your organization have the Human and Capital Resources to execute the project successfully?
When planning a project, try to assess your organizations existing resources and ability to manage and implement the project. If you are a small or a new organization, then do not run for large projects. Donor agencies review every submission very carefully so if your current team does not have the required expertise or experience in managing million dollar projects, then it is advisable for you to apply for smaller projects. It is always better to pass on an opportunity than to execute it poorly.
Questions to be answered when ready to prepare the proposal
Now that you are sure that you should apply for a particular opportunity, the following set of questions should be addressed.
What do you want to do through the project proposal?
Answering this question will help you justify the reason for applying for a particular opportunity. You may have multiple reasons for applying for a grant and noting the reasons will help you in ensuring that you are applying to the correct donor agency. While answering the question, you may also like to consider answering the following questions: What will you achieve through the project? What do you expect to happen by the end? What difference will it make? What are the various activities that will be undertaken under the project?
Who will be writing the proposal?
You might already be aware that writing the proposal is not a one-person show and requires a team effort. Before you start writing the proposal, you should have a clear idea of who will be leading the proposal writing team and who all will be writing the various sections of the proposal.
How is your proposal unique/different?
Donor agencies look for uniqueness and innovation in projects. Make sure your project stands out from others, and it is unique, innovative and worthy of getting the grant. Towards making your project unique, you may learn from the examples of other NGOs. Take time to see what other NGOs have done, and using the information, try to make your proposal unique and innovative.
Who are the project beneficiaries?
When applying for a particular opportunity, you should have in mind a specific set of people who will benefit from the project. You should be clear about the following aspects about the beneficiary right from the planning stage: (1) What is their socio-economic background? (2) Why have you selected them? (3) What makes them vulnerable? (4) Is there anything else that is important about them—disabilities, gender, and religion etc.?
How well do you know the donor?
Knowing the donors’ requirements is of utmost importance, no matter how much hard work you put in preparing the proposal if it is not as per the donor requirement, it is of no use. Organizations should conduct proper research to understand what the donor is looking for before applying. Thematic area, geographic range, typical grant size, type of support, etc. are all critical factors to consider when determining prioritizing which donors to approach. Do not waste time sending out mass proposals.
Who are your competitors?
Getting information about your competitors is essential as it helps you to understand who the people are applying for the same grant and those ways you are better prepared to offer a unique proposition to the donors.
Who are you writing the proposal for?
There are different kinds of donor agencies, and each of them has a different process of grant-making. Before you start writing the proposal, it is important for you to know what kind of funding agency you will be applying to. When you know about the audience of your proposal, you are in a better position to match your project idea with the interests of the donor agency. It is necessary for you to understand the types of donors and the types of funding opportunities before you start fundraising. Most donors can be classified into the following categories:
Foundations: Foundations are non-governmental entities that are established to provide grants to a smaller organization, research institutions and NGOs. Most NGOs rely heavily on foundations mainly because they provide grants for a long duration.
Corporations: Corporations are business houses and private firms that provide funding to NGOs. Corporate Social responsibility has opened up new gateways for NGOs in developing solutions to various societal issues.
Individuals: Individuals tend to support NGOs by giving donations or volunteering. Individual donors believe in your organization and your mission and therefore support the organization.
International donors: These include bilateral and multilateral donor agencies which majorly fund large global organizations.