Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Tips for Writing Winning Proposals

  1. Spend time in developing your idea or project, thinking about the critical needs it will address, and researching foundations that will support it. Finding the "right match" will contribute to your success in submitting a winning proposal. This is the most time-consuming step in proposal writing, but it's well worth the invested time.
  2. Commit your ideas to writing and thoroughly describe your project. Pretend you're sitting across from the program officer of a foundation, and you have fifteen minutes to describe your project and the critical needs that it will address. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write an instant version. You'll be surprised at how much you will produce in this short, focused time.
  3. Now look at the instant draft that you have produced, and focus on the needs. Have you explained why you, or your organization is qualified to address these needs? This is the time to employ your best persuasive writing skills, for this is where you begin to make the case for the proposal.
  4. State your goals and objectives clearly. What will be the outcomes? Funders want to know that they will make a difference.
  5. Use a chart or staggering statistics to make your point, but do not overuse them. A picture may be worth a thousand words; however, too many can interrupt the flow of the narrative.
  6. Construct a timeline.
  7. Prepare a budget with estimated costs of staff, materials, program expenses, and equipment. Write job descriptions for all staff.
  8. Plan an evaluation for your project. How will you know that your objectives have been reached?
    And don't forget...
  9. Keep it readable and concise, with lots of white space on the page. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and use headings and subheadings to give your reader contextual clues.
  10. Avoid the passive voice and the use of jargon or acronyms.
  11. Number the pages!
  12. Don't procrastinate. Give yourself plenty of time to revise and edit your proposal. Begin the revising process by reading the proposal aloud with a pencil in your hand. As you hear your proposal from the reader's perspective, you will hear the cadence of the language and catch many errors. Put your proposal aside for a few days, and then re-read it again. Let a colleague or friend read the proposal and offer suggestions.
  13. Add a limited number of attachments, press releases, new clippings, resumes, etc. Keep appendices to a minimum.