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. 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 aims/objectives clearly. What will be the outcomes? Funders want to know that they will make a difference.
6. Closely read any application or solicitation guidelines - build your proposal around any guidelines. (No guidelines? See the section below.)
- Use any review criteria or review elements as a sort of rubric to ensure your proposal meets funder expectations.
7. Use a chart, figures, 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.
8. Construct a timeline against your research aims/objectives.
9. Prepare a budget with estimated costs of staff, materials, program expenses, and equipment. Write job descriptions for all staff.
10. Plan an evaluation or assessment structure for your project. How will you know that your objectives, whether they be research- or education-related, have been reached?
11. Your primary audience is the reviewer.
12. 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.
13. Avoid the passive voice, and excessive use of jargon and non-standard acronyms.
14. Work ahead of yourself (i.e., 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.
15. If allowed, add a limited number of attachments, press releases, new clippings, resumes, etc. Keep appendices to a minimum. (If not allowed, don't use appendices.)
16. Make sure you follow ALL formating guidelines, including, where applicable, font size and type limitations.
Use this outline consisting of a cover letter and proposal:
As always, if you have any questions about writing your proposal, feel free to contact Amy Cuhel-Schuckers in the Office of College Grants.
Cover Letter (for details, see below)
Proposal (for details, see opposite)
- Cover/Title Page
- Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- The issue
- The solution
- Qualifications of the institution to address the issue
- Proposed methods
- Evaluation Plan
- Future Funding Plans
- Appendices, As Appropriate
The cover letter should be on F&M stationery. In some cases, the cover letter should be written and signed by the college president. If you are unsure of whether this applies to your proposal or not, please email Amy Cuhel-Schuckers, Director of Faculty Grants and Compliance Resourcing, at email@example.com.
Table of Contents: Only if the length of your proposal exceeds 10 pages.
Executive Summary: The executive summary should be no longer than one page for a long proposal, or one paragraph for a short proposal. The summary includes, among other things, the amount of funds requested, the specific purpose of the grant, and the anticipated outcomes.
Introduction: Begin your proposal with a brief paragraph that will summarize your project in a sentence or two. This will serve to orient the reader as he or she begins to read the proposal.
The Issue: What is the issue(s) that your project is trying to address?
The Solution: What are the goals and objectives of the project? This section will begin with a brief summary of the project, then proceed to discuss the goals and objectives in more detail.
Qualifications of the Institution: Why should you be funded to do this?
Methods: How will the project's objectives be met? What will you do?
Evaluation Plan: How will you know how well you have done in achieving the objectives of your project?
Future Funding Plans: How will the project survive in the future, when the grant is ended?
Appendices: The appendices should include evidence of F&M's tax-exempt status, supporting documents, letters of commitment, commendation, support, etc., as required by the foundation you're seeking your grant from. Don't stuff this section with lots of fluff and padding. Keep it sparse and high-quality.
Grant- and fellowship-writing, contacting program officers, and what NOT to do ...
Christina M. Gillis, ACLS
Adam Przeworski, Frank Salomon, Social Science Resource Council
- Michael J. Spires
- What to Say - and Not Say (to Program Officers)
- The Chronicle of Higher Education