A proposal must be written according to the format and guidelines provided by the donor or funding agency. For most institutional donors, this information is accessible on their website, call for applications notice or available upon request. Before applying, carefully review the criteria and guidelines to ensure eligibility and read any information about the application process. Sometimes, there are specific deadlines or steps such as an online registration or concept note submission which is required before the proposal.
Do research before writing
Although it is believed that the organization has enough references & data about the problem, however it is always advisable to keep the information handy before sitting to write the proposal. This research could either be online or offline.
Use simple and concise language
Write in simple language that can be easily understood even by someone who is not linked to or aware of the problem. Avoid using too-technical terms or jargon. Use active voice, avoiding passive sentences and cut out any extraneous information that is not immediately relevant. Try to keep the tone of the proposal positive and uplifting, not negative or overly weighed down by information. All statistics, maps and pictures used should be quoted with its source clearly stated.
Most importantly, remember that the proposal is not about the needs of the proposing NGO, but about the needs of the beneficiaries and the donor.
A good proposal must convince donor/funding agencies about the following aspects of the project to be proposed by the organization:
- The issue to be addressed matches with the objectives/target area of the donor agency.
- The problem to be addressed is of significant magnitude in the proposed area amongst the target population.
- A needs assessment/baseline survey has already been done to assess the gravity of the problem.
- The beneficiaries were involved in needs assessment by using various participatory tools. Many participatory tools are currently in use, including Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), Participatory Learning and Action (PLA), Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) etc.
- The organization believes in beneficiaries’ capacity & capabilities to bring changes.
- Partnership and networking with other organizations in the area, working for the same problem/issue.
- Is the organization well equipped to undertake the project in terms of manpower, capital, infrastructure etc.?
How to Create an Outline for Writing a Project Proposal
Creating an outline before writing is a great way to stay organized and on point; this is true for writing a proposal or any other document. Creating a general outline and then filling it in with details from past research and project planning is an easy way to create the structure of the proposal.
The exact format of a proposal will vary greatly depending on what the donor requests and how the NGO decides to frame its project. Depending on the size and purpose, a proposal may have all or some of the following:
- Cover Page
- Table of Contents
- List of Abbreviations
- Executive Summary
- Project Rationale
- Project Goals and Objectives
- Project Strategies and Activities
- Project Results
- Monitoring and Evaluation Plan
- Sustainability Plan
- Crosscutting Themes
- Case Study
- Innovation Plan
However, not all proposals are structured exactly the same way. A good proposal should be organized with the donor specifically in mind. This means the outline should be modified based on what the donor requests. For example, an evaluation score sheet from an opportunity by the European Commission is provided below:
This scoresheet clearly states what the EC wants to see in the application. Thus, the applicant wants to make certain the reviewers can easily find this information. One way to accomplish this is to directly take the outline from the scoresheet and use it for the proposal outline. The headings of such of an application for this example might look like this:
- Relevance of the Action
- Relevance of the proposal to the needs and constraints of the target country, target groups and final beneficiaries
- Relevance of the proposal to the objectives of the call for proposals
- Effectiveness and Feasibility of the Action
- Problem identification and analysis
- Description of proposed activities
- Involvement of implementing partners and other stakeholders
- Sustainability of the Action
- Assumptions and risk analysis
- Long-term sustainability after completion of the action
Note that this outline covers the same general topics as listed previously, but uses a different language to more accurately reflect what this specific donor is looking for. While most donors will not have publicly available scoresheets as in this example, they will most likely provide some application guidelines which can be used the same way.
Regardless of donor specifications, the basic purpose of creating a proposal is the same for all organizations, thus the basic components are universally recognized. A typical proposal has the following content:
These five parts are a recognized and proven method to organize an effective proposal. These sections are interlinked with one another in the proposal narrative. It is often a good idea to directly use these components as headings so donors reading the proposal can find the information they are looking for easily. The following sections will focus on these five parts, with some supplementary information on other pieces which may be included.