Writing Tips

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  • Proposal-writing is like any other kind of effective non-fiction writing in all the important ways. As with any memo, scholarly article, research paper, or letter from a college student to a parent asking for money, the basics apply:  

     
    Know your audience and tailor your language to that audience. 
    Avoid mistakes of grammar, usage and spelling. 
    Avoid clichés and jargon, and define any specialized terminology. 
    Avoid the passive voice. 
    Always edit and rewrite. 
    Be specific, employing exact wording.
    Use active verbs, evocative metaphors and clear sentence structure. 

    Effective proposal-writing also requires a heightened understanding of your audience, a greater awareness of your persuasive purpose, and the willingness to see your argument from another person’s perspective. The purpose of most grants is determined by the needs of the funders. Generally, the funders are interested in implementing their policy, philosophy or vision. They want the grantee to use the grant money to shape the future and to solve problems. So, the needs and beliefs of the funder are paramount. The proposal itself serves a marketing tool in that in presents your case for how you can help the funder solve their problem, and the burden of proof is on the proposal writer to show that the proposed project will be effective. 

     
    Elements of a Proposal

    Essentially, the proposal describes a problem-solving process. The components of almost every proposal are arranged to reflect this. 

    First, you provide an Overview or Summary or Abstract to give the funder the "big picture" of your proposed project. 

    Second, you define the Problem you're trying to solve or the issue you are trying to amelioriate. Statistics help, but you also have to provide context for those numbers, and give the numbers an appropriate "spin." 

    Third, you present Goals and Objectives that define the way the world will look once you solve that problem. 

    Fourth, you describe the Activities or Methodology whereby you will achieve those goals and objectives, defining the project in terms of specific steps, timelines and persons responsible for carrying out specific tasks. 

    Fifth, you present a plan for Evaluation of the project, describing how you will know if and when, and to what degree, the objectives of the project have been met. 

    Sixth, you provide a detailed Budget -driven by the project's Activities- that explains how you will be spending the funder's money. These are general guidelines, and the funder may have specific additional information requirements. The rule is "Follow the Directions." 

    Understanding the RFP

    Most funders issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) that defines what you need to do to successfully compete for funding. The following are things to look for and the questions to ask.
    • What program, agency or foundation is issuing the RFP?
    • What is the due date, and is that a postmark date or a receipt date? 
    • Will the proposal be submitted electronically?
    • What is the maximum funding level for each grant, the number of grants that will be funded, the overall amount of money to be awarded, and the average award?
    • Is this a preliminary (pre-application) or final proposal?
    • Is a pre-application letter of intent required?
    • What is the purpose of the funding (the legislative mandate)?
    • Does the program have invitational or absolute priorities?
    • What are the philosophical and/or political dimensions you need to deal with? Are there existing program models that work? 
    • Are partnerships and collaboration with other agencies required?
    • Is there a contact person listed (so you can call to ask questions)?
    • What are the goals and objectives of the funder?
    • What are the funding criteria for awarding grants and what is the points awarded for each criteria?
    • Are there, font requirements or other presentation constraints?
    • Other presentation concerns: Page limitations? Appendices? Margins and font size? Line spacing?
    • Is a checklist provided?
    • What is a complete application: forms, narrative, letters of commitment, etc.?
    • What are the budget limitations (Amounts or percentages? Unallowable items?)
    • Are there “cost per unit” considerations?
    • What questions would you like to ask the agency contact/program officer?
    • Can you make a pre-application visit to the agency to discuss your project?
     
    This form is designed to guide you in the application development process.