A project proposal is a document that defines the necessary steps towards solving a particular problem. It presents a logical progression and description of the problem, your intended plan of actions towards tackling the problem and the budgetary requirement for the same. The proposal is submitted to the donor in anticipation of funds so that you can continue your efforts for creating a social impact.
Designing a project is a time-taking process and requires you to pay attention to each and every stage of project development. Before we discuss the tips for writing the proposal let us first understand the process of proposal writing.
The entire process primarily consists of two main stages:
1. Project planning: During the planning phase, you will be required to answer several questions before you can finally start penning down the proposal. Some of the questions that you would like to ask yourself during the planning phase are:
- Who are the donors that you will be applying to?
- Does your organization qualify the eligibility criteria set by the donor agency?
- What is the problem that the proposal aims to tackle?
- Who all will be involved in the proposal writing activity?
Most organizations completely miss out on project planning and ultimately fail in writing a good quality proposal.
2. Proposal writing: Once you are through with the planning phase, the actual work of drafting the proposal starts. While writing the proposal you will have to pay attention to the donor guidelines, the formatting, setting the right tone of the proposal, developing a budget etc.
It is important for you to pay attention to both the steps in order to develop a strong proposal. To help you write effective proposals the guide has been divided into three parts.
Part 1 gives important points to remember during the planning phase;
Part 2 details important points to keep in mind while writing the proposal;
Part 3 provides some of the reasons because of which proposals fail to get the desired funds.
Part 1. Tips to remember during the Planning Phase
(1) Identify the problem that your project would solve: While writing the proposal it is important for you to identify a problem that you will address. There may be several problems that exist in your locality but you cannot tackle all these problems at once and therefore you need to identify a particular problem for a proposal. Identify the most pressing issue prevalent in your project site and accordingly finalize the strategy you would adopt to solve the issue.
(2) Identify prospective funding agencies: The likelihood of your proposal getting funds largely depends on whether you submit the proposal to the right donors. It is important for you to identify donors whose priorities and funding criteria suits your organization. Some questions that may help you in identifying prospects are:
- Which donor agencies are actively funding in your locality?
- Does the donor agency fund organizations like yours?
- Do you qualify for submitting a proposal to the agency?
- What are the guidelines for applying?
- Do you have sufficient time to submit the proposal?
The best way to locate donors is to conduct an internet search to find out various details about them. You can also use your donor database to identify suitable donors for submitting the proposal. During this particular step, you are most likely to identify 4-5 donors who provide grants for the kind of work you intend to do.
(3) Know what the donor is looking for: Read the Funding Announcement Guidelines very carefully and understand what the donor is looking for. Many organizations skip this important step and look at it only while submitting the proposal. The guidelines clearly specify the eligibility criteria, format requirements, deadline, budgetary information, page limit, documents to be submitted etc. Do some background research of the donor, so as to understand the donor, the past projects that have been funded, the number of projects being supported etc. Once you are through with the background research you can start working on your proposal.
(4) Organize a good working team: Do not overburden yourself with the entire process of proposal writing; instead, allocate different sections to your team as per their expertise. Depending on the size of your NGO, organize a team with clearly defined duties, responsibilities, and timeline. The team members should possess good writing skills along with sound technical knowledge of the related subject.
(5) Read winning proposals: While drafting the proposal make sure that you read a few winning proposals (these are usually available online). This will help you in structuring your proposal and will give you insight into the terminology, format, and language that is preferred by donors.
Part 2. Tips to remember during the Proposal Writing Phase
(1) The project title should capture the essence of the project: While deciding on the title of the proposal, make sure that the title is appealing and provides the reader with a general idea of the project.
(2) Structure the proposal properly: Most often the funding agency will provide you with a proposal template/format for submission. In case the funding agency has not provided a template you can use a standard proposal template with the following subheads:
(3) Bring in innovative ideas and elements in the project: Most donors support organizations that are able to innovate and come up with innovative ideas in their project proposal. Try to incorporate some creativity in any one of the project elements be it service delivery, communication channels, or adoption of technology.
(4) Write the executive summary in a clear, succinct and appealing manner: The executive summary not only summarizes the project proposal but also reveals important points relating to the problem, the solution, the uniqueness of the proposal and the reason your organization is suitable to carry out such a project. To set the right tone it is important that you are able to address to the Why, How, and What of the proposal in the summary itself.
(5) Be specific and to the point: Write only what is really important and mention the facts that strengthen your case. Write the proposal to convey necessary information to the reader, so that he is able to clearly understand your project proposal. Avoid writing stories and irrelevant things in the proposal, as the reviewers have to go through several proposals your objective should be to make your case clear in a few pages and not bore/overburden them with unnecessary details
(6) Include relevant examples/case studies: Including relevant examples in the proposal gives the donor an idea of how your organization has tackled similar situations earlier. Try to mention suitable case studies where your organization has helped people in overcoming issues/problems and created a positive impact.
(7) When writing about your organization don’t brag about your achievements: In the section where you mention about the organization, use language that doesn’t appear to boast about you, instead proves to the donor that you are capable of handling and successfully completing the project. You can mention some achievements and awards that your organization has received for doing similar kind of work.
(8) Use data and facts to support your case: While writing the project rationale quote facts and figures as evidence to your problem. These facts can be from data that your organization has collected or can be from research articles, government reports, news articles etc. Make sure that the data you quote is up to date and is from a credible source. Avoid using data if it is outdated and you are not sure of the source.
(9) The Goal should clearly indicate the purpose of your proposal: The goal of the proposal should be written in a clear manner to indicate the main purpose of the project, target beneficiary and specific aspects of the project. Avoid using impractical and vague statements in the goal statement.
(10) Keep only one goal for the proposal: It is advisable that your project proposal should just have one goal. Having multiple goals in the project indicate that you are confused and not sure of what you really intend to do through the project.
(11) Write S.M.A.R.T objectives: Objectives are detailed statements describing the ways through which you intend to achieve the goal. Use the S.M.A.R.T. method of writing your objectives which means writing Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound statements.
(12) Cleary describe the methodology that you will follow to achieve the desired goals/Objectives: While writing the approach/methodology of the project clearly describe each and every step that you would implement. Give details of the strategy (No. of workshops to be organized, Trainings on XVZ topic to be given over a period of 3 months etc.) that you will adopt to align your project activities with the project goals and objectives.
(13) Avoid using jargons and technical language: Use simple, easy to understand language throughout the proposal. The reader/reviewer of the proposal may not necessarily be an expert in the particular field and may not be aware of technical words, so use simple words to explain your problem and solution.
(14) Use Charts, Flow diagrams, info graphs to make the proposal: To make your proposal stand out, it is always better to use simple diagrams, maps, graphs etc. instead of plain text. Use of flow charts and diagrams helps the reader in understanding the context in a better way and also makes the proposal more appealing
(15) Follow the specific guidelines: Under no circumstances, you should overstep the limits set in the donor guidelines, the number of pages, font size, line space, etc., should be as per the guideline. The guidelines are there for a reason and you should follow them.
(16) Format the proposal properly: Format the proposal in a way that it looks attractive. All the paragraphs should be neatly aligned; the text should be readable with sufficient spacing between lines and the entire text should be of the same font (Both size and type). Page all the numbers correctly.
(17) Get the proposal reviewed by your colleagues and revise it: It is always a good idea to get the proposal reviewed by your colleagues/board members etc. Many organizations also get their proposals reviewed by a cold reader (a person who was not involved in the project writing). Go through the comments given by the reviewers and accommodate their suggestions, criticisms and correct errors and omissions suggested by them. The review helps in improving the quality of the proposal. Go through the proposal again and again to remove unnecessary details, grammatical and factual errors. While revising the proposal make sure that your proposal is as per the guidelines, clearly links the objectives and activities and is error free.
(20) Answer all the questions/sections mentioned in the proposal template: Do not leave any section/question unattended. Even if you feel the questions are repetitive make sure that you write an appropriate answer. Incomplete forms are disqualified in the very first screening and are not accepted for further review by the agency.
(21) Avoid Plagiarism: Be sure that the proposal is edited properly and has been checked for plagiarism. In case you have used a paragraph, data, facts or other information from any article be sure to give credit to all your sources. You can paraphrase, cite, quote or include a reference page at the end of the proposal to avoid plagiarism. Many agencies (Specially the research oriented) use anti-plagiarism software and the moment your proposal shows signs of plagiarism the proposal can be disqualified.
(22) Design the budget with utmost care: Make sure that all budget items meet the funding agency’s requirements. Always prepare a narrative with the budget so as to explain the various expenses. It is important for the project budget to be aligned with the project activities and you should be able to justify for all the costs that you mention.
Part 3. Why proposals fail??
Even though NGOs develop several proposals every year, only a selected few receive required funding. This brings us to an important question of why organizations fail in writing good proposals. There are several reasons of why some proposals are unable to convince donors to support their cause, some of the most commonly occurring reasons are presented below:
(1) Non-adherence to guidelines: Most donors have a specific guideline for proposal submission, project theme, format and deadlines. Many NGOs do not read through the guidelines and submit their proposals without integrating the necessary instructions. You have to understand that these guidelines exist only because the donor wants you to follow them.
(2) Insufficient facts and data to support your proposal: Many NGOs write proposals with so much emotion that they completely miss out on using relevant data. You can have an appealing story but unless you have some facts to support your story, a donor would not pay much attention to it. Remember that your proposal is not a script for a movie, but is a business document basis which your organization will receive funding.
(3) Vagueness: Another reason that many proposals fail to appeal to the donor, is the fact that any NGOs write proposals without properly describing the problem, the target beneficiaries, objectives and the activities. This makes the proposal vague and does not clearly indicate of why you want support from a certain agency. No donor would invest in a project that lacks proper vision and unrealistic goal.
(4) Poor Presentation and errors: As pointed out earlier proposal forms the basis of your relation with the donor, it is important that you present the proposal in a professional way. At times the proposals are so poorly written and presented that the reviewer misses the point/ intent. Another major issue with proposals is spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in the proposal. A donor will certainly ignore a few mistakes but if your proposal has numerous mistakes it will not create a good impression and will lead to failure.
(5) The proposal lacks evaluation or monitoring plan: Donors tend to fund those projects that have an evaluation plan and monitoring structure. Having an evaluation plan in the proposal makes your organization to be more accountable and enhances your chances of getting funded.
(6) Submission after the deadline: Many organizations submit the proposal after the deadline has passed, this only leads to disqualification of your proposal entry.
(7) Not directed towards the mission of the donor agency: If the organization has not done enough research on the donor agency it is likely that the proposal does not match with the donor mission and objective.
(8) Incomplete Proposal/Documents not complete: Many organizations submit proposal that are incomplete and do not answer all the questions/sections of the project template. At times the organizations do not submit the documents (Letter of support, registration documents, letter of authorization etc.)
Top 25 tips at a Glance
As proposal writing is a time taking process, always start early so that you have time for editing, revising, review and final submission. Go Ahead, Write the proposal and Submit the proposal timely.
If submitting the proposal by mail, make sure that all the documents are named properly and are put together in a zipped folder. This should be accompanied by a cover letter.
If the donor agency requires hard copy submissions, send the copies on a timely manner so that the proposal reaches the office well within the deadline. All the documents should be filed properly and submitted in the office of the funding officer.
If submitting an online application, click on the submission button and submit the application.
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