What is a proposal?
For NGOs, a proposal is a document which is used to request funding to implement a project. The proposal details the plan for a project which NGOs can submit to a donor to request funding.
Proposal writing can be a complex job. Even developing a one-page concept note requires a lot of background research and planning. So a proposal is not always just a document submitted to a donor, it is also an exercise which allows a project idea to be fleshed out, explained, tested, proven, critiqued and shared. Creating a proposal helps plan a project from the idea stage to reality.
A proposal is:
- A document meant for donors which lays out the project plan and requests funds.
- A good way to help NGOs fully plan out projects.
- A reflection of the capacity of the NGO.
Donors that provide funding to NGOs often request proposals in a pre-set format. While this format can vary from one donor to the next, it usually follows a standard template.
How long should a proposal be?
Long enough to describe all the relevant details of the project. It is very difficult to give an exact figure for the size of a proposal because it varies from donor to donor and project to project. Proposals 10 to 20 pages in length are common, but some donors prefer to receive short concept notes, while others like USAID and the European Commission can request lengthy proposals that could run into dozens of pages. However, the length of a proposal does not matter nearly as much as its content. The donor is primarily interested in the idea proposed. If the idea is interesting and relevant and the application guidelines are followed, the proposal can be accepted.
In open calls for proposals or requests for proposals, proposal guidelines including length are given by the donor. These guidelines usually have a limit on the length of the proposal and the application form to be used. Sometimes they require an initial short concept note followed by a longer proposal.
Carefully read and follow these guidelines.
In submitting unsolicited proposals or directly approaching a donor for funding, it is often best to prepare a letter of inquiry or short concept note of not more than 2 to 3 pages. Use this short summary to peak the donor’s interest, hopefully leading to further conversations and an invitation to submit a full proposal.