A Guide to Proposal Planning and Writing
Grant seeking is a multibillion-dollar-a-year business. If it were a single company, it would rank at the top of the Fortune 500 list. The GRANTS database identifies approximately 9,000 public and private programs that disperse grant dollars. The prefatory comments in this guide offer time-tested suggestions on how you can plan and write your grant proposals so that you can get your share of those dollars. These grant-seeking tips represent a condensed version of information presented in another Oryx publication, Proposal Planning and Writing by Lynn E. Miner, Jeremy T. Miner, and Jerry Griffith (Oryx Press, 1998, 2nd edition).
Grant seekers usually enter the grants arena with many questions. "Is grant writing really worth my time?" "What are my chances of getting a grant?" "Is it easier to get public or private grants?" "How do I know what grant makers really look for in a proposal?" "Do I have to know the 'right people' in order to get a grant?" "How much money should I ask for in a grant?" Questions like these--and many others--often translate into one fundamental question, "Is it all really worth it?" For those organizations that received part of the over 150 billion dollars given last year in grants, the answer is clearly "Yes, it really is worth it."
Motivations of Grant Makers
Why do grant makers give away money? Grant makers (sponsors) are vitally concerned about social problems, injustices, or inequities. They are so concerned, in fact, that they are willing to invest their money to address these problems. In essence, they see a gap between what is and what ought to be. Another name for the "gap" in grant parlance is the "need." The gap represents their view of the world. Grant makers exist because gaps exist; their goal is to close these gaps.
Successful grant writers understand the sponsor's view of the world and express that view in the grant proposal. Successful grant writers are able to reflect the "priorities" of the sponsor. Too often, grant applicants focus on their own need for funds instead of matching their projects with the sponsor's priorities. You should select sponsors that share your view of the world and tailor your proposals to them. Sponsors view grants as investments in an improved future. Proposals are funded when they express the same priorities shared by the sponsor. Projects are rejected when they do not precisely reflect the priorities of the sponsor.
There are three main steps to follow in successful grant seeking. First, you must identify potential grant makers who would be interested in supporting your project. You should use the entries in this directory as a starting point to select those prospects with a high probability of financing your needs. You can use one of the four indexes--Subject, Sponsoring Organizations, Grants by Program Type, or Geographic--to locate the appropriate grant(s) for you. If you need additional reference materials, you may wish to consult other publications in the Oryx Grants Collection or contact the nearest Foundation Center Library, which may contain reference books and tax return information on private foundations in your region as well as basic information on government and corporate grants. Call the Foundation Center at 800-424-9836 for the location of the collection nearest you; there is at least one in each of the 50 states, often more.
Second, after you have identified your list of potential prospects, you must contact key people who can help you plan your proposal before you start writing. In essence, you must do your homework if you are going to be successful. A sure way to experience failure in acquiring a grant is to write a proposal without talking to key people who can maximize your possibility of success. The Systems and Procedures section below offers a few of the basic proposal-planning strategies.
Third, after you have qualified your prospects and planned an effective approach, you must produce a carefully written, well-reasoned proposal. Some grant proposals are rejected because they contain bad ideas. Most grant proposals are rejected because they contain good ideas poorly written.
There are basically two types of grant proposals: (1) long proposals to government agencies, and (2) shorter letter proposals to private sponsors. The final section of this guide offers proposal-writing tips for both types.
There are thousands of grant programs identified in the main body of this directory. This section of the Guide identifies a few of the other basic reference sources for finding public and private grants. While identifying possible funding sources is not particularly difficult, the greater challenge lies in knowing what to do with that information once you have it. As a result, it is important to understand the preproposal contact process: what to do after you identify a potential sponsor but before you mail your proposal. Following these steps will significantly improve your chances of getting funded.
Finding Out About Public Grants
Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. The federal government remains a major provider of grant dollars, despite its decline in funding for social services and health and welfare programs during the last two decades. Most federal agencies have some type of grantmaking program. While there is no single source of information about all government grants, the most complete federal grant reference source is the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), available from the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, DC 20402. It is also available on the World Wide Web (WWW) at http://www.gsa.gov/fdac/queryfdac.htm. Many of the federal grant programs listed in the Directory of Research Grants originate from the most current CFDA. The CFDA is published every spring; CFDA supplements are published each fall. The program number entry for the government grants in this directory refers to the grant program number in the CFDA.
Federal Register. In order to keep current with the continually changing federal grant scene, you may wish to periodically check the Federal Register, the government's "daily newspaper." It is also available from the Superintendent of Documents and lists notices of legal rules and regulations, and application deadlines for new grant programs from federal agencies. It can be accessed electronically at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html.
Commerce Business Daily. Besides awarding grants, the federal government also awards contracts. A grant is a mechanism to support a project whereas a contract is an instrument to procure a project. The announcement of intent to procure a project is called a Request for Proposal (RFP) and is published in the Commerce Business Daily (CBD) every federal workday. It represents the official "shopping list" for Uncle Sam. For most nonprofit organizations, the first section, entitled "Services," is the most important because it contains those RFP announcements most apt to pertain to your organization. Those entries will be very brief, but will indicate where you can obtain more information. This information is also on the WWW at http://cbdnet.access.gpo.gov/index.html.
Finding Out About Private Grants
Private grants come from both foundations and corporations. Brief overviews are presented for both sponsor categories.
Overview of Private Foundations. There are over 43,000 private foundations in the United States. Annually, they award more than $8 billion. While the figures vary slightly from year to year, the 4,000 largest foundations have 90 percent of the assets and make 80 percent of the awards. By federal law, foundations must give away 5 percent of their market value assets or interest income each year, whichever is greater. This means, for example, that the Kellogg Foundation with $6 billion in market assets must award at least $300 million annually. Foundations must follow the 5 percent rule or they risk losing their tax-exempt status.
At present, roughly 1 percent of the private foundations maintain Web sites that disseminate grant-related information, and that number is increasing rapidly. There are two major Web sites that maintain links to foundations. One is maintained by the Foundation Center: http://fdncenter.org/grantmaker/contents.html. The other is maintained by the Council on Foundations: http://www.cof.org/links. Beyond these electronic lists of foundation links, a comprehensive print list of Web sites is found in the front of this Directory.
Appealing to Foundations. Foundations award grants to those organizations presenting a convincing case that they will help the foundation reach its long-term goals. The grant appeals can assume several different forms. Some foundations make their money available for specific purposes, e.g., building funds, operating support, equipment, or seed capital. Some foundations make their money available to serve specific populations, e.g., frail elderly, minorities, homeless. Some foundations make their money available to specific types of organizations, e.g., hospitals, universities, boys' clubs. Some foundations make their money available to specific geographic areas, e.g., a city, a county, a state, a region. Some foundations have their own specific priorities and interests, which determine the types of programs they support. The program descriptions in this Directory often list sponsor preferences and any program restrictions or requirements for applying. With these considerations in mind, cast your project in a way that appeals to the foundation's self-defined mission.
Analyzing Foundation Tax Returns. To gain additional information about all foundations, large or small, review their tax records. By law, foundations must submit IRS 990-AR (Annual Reports) or 990-PF (Private Foundation) returns. The 990s are the private foundation's equivalent to your individual 1040 income tax records. While you would not want anybody looking at your personal tax returns, you can examine the tax returns of private foundations at your nearest Foundation Center Library or request this information directly from the Internal Revenue Service. Generally, the information is quite useful in identifying foundation personnel and grant recipients.
Overview of Corporate Philanthropy. Most corporations follow a concept of "profitable philanthropy." They often fund projects that will bring them better products, happier or healthier employees, lower costs, or an improved public image--all things from which they benefit. Your challenge is to describe your project in terms that will benefit them. If your organization doesn't have a history of attracting corporate donations, start small and request larger grants as you establish credibility. You may wish to request nonmonetary support as a first grant. Corporations are very cost conscious; challenge grants, dollars awarded to match other grants, have special appeal because corporations feel they are getting the most for their money. While there are nearly 2.5 million corporations, only about one-third of them make contributions to nonprofit organizations.
Appealing to Corporations. Corporations exist to make a profit. When you are asking for a corporate grant, you are asking for the stockholders' income. When profits increase, corporate giving increases--slightly. When profits decrease, corporate giving decreases--dramatically. When corporations make grants, they look for something in return. What can you offer them?
Your presentation to corporate funding officials must emphasize what they are "buying" with their grant--prestige, employee satisfaction, or increased profits. As a result, your request should involve a project that is related in some way to their business. For instance, corporations often feel they are unfairly taxed to provide the public services required to deal with many social problems, such as illiteracy and high dropout rates. You can argue that their support will reduce long-term tax liabilities for such problems. Corporations often support those organizations with which they already have a relationship. Don't give up if you don't make it on the first try. Use any business contacts your board, staff members, or volunteers have to help advocate for your project.
Most corporations have a very unstructured application process. Personal contact, crucial to success in any grant solicitation, is especially important here. Again, show in concrete terms how their grant to you will benefit them. Try your answers out on your own corporate board members before you present them to the corporate funding officials you are soliciting.
"One-Stop Shopping" for Public and Private Grants
There are many times when grant seekers want one comprehensive source that provides current information on both public and private grant makers. The GRANTS database is one such tool. It offers descriptive information on approximately 9,000 grant opportunities covering the range from curriculum development and teacher training grants to fellowship and conference opportunities. Multiple indexes provide handy cross references. The data for this directory come from the GRANTS Database, available online through Dialog and Knowledge Express Data Systems and on CD-ROM.
Systems and Procedures
After reviewing the large body of proposal funding information, the beginning proposal writer is often left with two reactions: "I had no idea so much information is available," and "How do I possibly organize and manage so much information?"
Below are some well-established systems and procedures that will help you organize and process your grant information in order to increase your chances of getting funded. With a systematic approach, you can significantly reduce your proposal development time, an important advantage, especially when you have a pressing grant deadline.
As you begin the process of prospect research with the entries in this directory, look for those sponsors who share your view of the world. As you review your initial prospect list, sort them into two categories: (1) Maybe: on the basis of the program description, it appears that this sponsor might be interested in my project; and (2) No: it seems unlikely, based on the program description, that this sponsor would be interested in my project. Said differently, initial prospecting will not identify the final list of sponsors to whom you will submit proposals. Rather, it will identify the point from which you must gather additional prospect information before you can say "yes, I definitely should submit a proposal." The gathering of additional information may be the most critical phase of proposal development. Here is a four-step process to follow in conducting preproposal contacts so you can fine-tune your proposal planning and gain a competitive funding edge.
Step One. Write for the Application Forms and Guidelines. Write the program officer who was identified from your initial prospect research. Request a list of past grantees and reviewers, if appropriate. Some sponsor Web sites list reviewer names. If you are unable to get specific names of past reviewers, ask the program officer for general information on the types of reviewers they use--their age, background, and training; how they are selected; how they are used in the review process; and how points are allocated to a proposal. This information will allow you to match your proposal writing style to the level of sophistication of your reviewers.
Step Two. Call a Past Grantee. From the information you gathered in step one, contact someone who received a grant from this sponsor. Ask to speak with the project director or the person who wrote the proposal. Indicate where you got their name and raise questions that will assist you in learning about the funding source. More specifically, ask
Step Three: Call a Past Reviewer. Contact some past reviewers and indicate that you understand they were reviewers for the grant program you intend to approach. Your goal is to learn about the actual process to be followed as your proposal is reviewed. For example, if a reviewer has only three minutes to review your proposal, you will write differently than if the reviewer has three hours to review your proposal. Ask
Step Four: Contact the Program Officer. Tell your program officer you have studied the program guidelines carefully and you have some additional questions. Realize, however, that your credibility will decrease if you ask questions that are answered in their written guidelines. Use this contact as an opportunity to obtain "between the lines" information. Start by asking if he or she could answer some questions now or would prefer to schedule a 10-minute call at a later time. When you have your chance to ask questions, begin by briefly describing your project, stressing its objectives and outcomes. Then ask
Successful grant seekers who follow this four-step proposal planning process can use that information to write winning proposals.
Public grants usually require full proposals that range from 15 to 100 pages and contain such sections as a cover letter, title page, abstract, introduction, need/problem, objectives, methods, evaluation, dissemination, budget, and appendices. In contrast, private grants often require a letter proposal, a brief two- to five-page document in letter form that concentrates on the problem and solution portions. The remaining section of this guide offers suggestions and tips on the major components of public and private proposals. For more details and examples of successful proposals, refer to Proposal Planning and Writing, 2nd edition and the sample letter proposal following this article.
Purpose of Introduction Statement. The introduction is a credibility statement that describes your professional and organizational qualifications and establishes the significance of your idea. For private foundations, it should be extensive, perhaps even half the length of your proposal. Your qualifications, or credibility, may have more to do with your being funded than anything else. In a government proposal, the application guidelines may or may not ask for an introductory section.
The introduction section establishes the tone of the whole proposal. Novice proposal writers focus on their own need for funds instead of using the introductory section to link their project with the sponsor's priorities. Successful grant seekers capitalize on the partnerships they build with sponsors during their preproposal contact and cast their projects in ways that mesh with sponsors' values. For novice writers, the psychological orientation is "I-I, Me-Me" while successful writers take a "You-You" perspective.
Key Questions to Answer. As you write the introduction, answer these questions. Does your introductory section
Writing Tips for Introduction Section. The introduction section of a proposal represents a credibility statement about you and your environment. While your resume is an important credibility statement, particularly in government proposals, it may not communicate the fact that you work in an environment conducive to conducting your project. Weave this point into your introduction. Tell the reviewer about your track record in projects of this kind and how this project fits into your overall organizational goals. If you don't have a strong track record in your proposed project area, borrow credibility from other field experts through the use of project consultants, letters of endorsement, and supporting statistics.
Statement of Problem or Need
Purpose of Problem Statement. Your statement of the problem--your need--represents the reason behind your proposal. It specifies the conditions you wish to change. It should be supported by evidence drawn from your experience, from statistics provided by authoritative sources, and from appropriate literature reviews. Your problem or need statement should quickly summarize the problem, show your familiarity with prior research or work on the topic, reinforce your credibility for investigating the problem, and justify why this problem should be investigated. Do not assume that everyone sees the problem as clearly as you do. Even if the problem is obvious, your reviewers want to know how clearly you can state it.
Key Questions to Answer. As you write your statement of problem or need, answer these questions. Does your problem statement
Writing Tips for the Problem Section. A common error is to paint the problem in grand or general terms. Don't say "little is known about...", "there is a lack of information about...", or "no research has dealt with..." this problem. Arguing for something that isn't makes for a weak need statement. Instead, go one step further. Explain the consequences of the information void. Describe the need in human terms. For example, if you want to buy computers for your school, talk about the happy, computer-literate students who will benefit in the future. Beyond discussing the importance of the project's topic, demonstrate the need for your methodology; the reviewers should be able to anticipate your solution based upon your analysis of the problem. This important transition paragraph is frequently left out of proposals written by beginning proposal writers.
Purpose of Objectives Statement. Your objectives specify the outcome of your project, the end product(s). When sponsors fund your projects, they are literally "buying" your objectives. That's why it is extremely important to state your objectives clearly. When you write your objectives, follow the acronymic advice: "Keep them S-I-M-P-L-E." Your objectives should be
Specific--indicate precisely what you intend to change through your project.
Although these categories are not mutually exclusive, each of your objectives should meet at least two or three of these six criteria.
For instance, given the goal of "improving the quality of life for homeless individuals in our city," a proposal objective might be for the "Midwest Home Shelter Agency to reduce the number of homeless [Specific] [Practical] [Logical] during the next 24 months [Immediate] by 15 percent [Evaluable] as noted in the Department of Social Welfare Homeless Survey Report [Measurable]."
Your objectives section indicates precisely what you intend to change through your project and what you would accept as proof of project success for your target population. Your objectives provide the yardstick you use to conduct your evaluation section; that is, if you write your objectives in precise, measurable terms, it is easy to write your proposal evaluation section because you know exactly what will be evaluated.
Key Questions to Answer. As you write the objectives section, answer these questions. Does the section
Writing Tips for Objectives Section. List your specific objectives in no more than one or two sentences each in approximate order of importance. Don't confuse your objectives (ends) with your methods (means). A good objective emphasizes what will be done and when it will be done, whereas a method will explain why or how it will be done. Include goals (ultimate) and objectives (immediate) statements.
Purpose of Methods Section. The methods section describes your project activities in detail, indicating how your objectives will be accomplished. The description should include the sequence, flow, and interrelationship of activities as well as planned staffing for the project. It should present a clear picture of the client population, if any. It should discuss the risks of your method, and indicate why your success is probable. Finally, tell what is unique about your approach.
Data Collection. You will probably need to collect some data as a part of your project. Common data collection methods include achievement tests; psychological tests; role-playing exercises; clinical examinations; personal diaries; ratings by program staff, management participants, or experts; interviews; observations by program staff or evaluators; daily program records (telephone logs, tracking slips, referral forms); historical program records and archives; government records; searches of news media; questionnaires; and surveys.
You can either make up your own data-gathering instruments or use existing ones. To find out if an appropriate instrument already exists (and avoid reinventing the wheel), consider looking through Buros' Yearbook of Mental Measurements, a two-volume listing of available tests in many different fields. The Buros' volumes review the various attitude, behavior, and motor tests that exist. Each review includes a description by the test author(s) and critiques by several experts in the field. The descriptions include the purpose, statistical characteristics, and, when available, the test norms. The Buros' Web site address is http://www.unl.edu/buros. You can also try the ETS Collection Catalog, a six-volume set of standardized tests and research instruments ranging from vocational tests to personality tests; it is available from the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ: www.ets.org.
Writing Tips for Methods Section. Begin with your objectives. Describe what precise steps you will follow to carry out each objective, including what will be done, who will do it, and when it will be done. If you have trouble writing this section, assume the sponsor's check just arrived in the mail. What is the first thing you will do? Hire additional staff? Order equipment? What will you do next? Keep asking and answering the "What's next?" question and you will lead yourself through the methodology section (sometimes called procedures in other proposal guidelines).
Once you have determined the sequence of events you will follow in completing your project, cast the major milestones into a time-and-task chart. In graphic form, it segments your total project into manageable steps and lets your reviewers know exactly what you will be doing--and when. It says to the reviewers that you are organized and have thought out the major steps of your project. It lets them know you have done significant planning and are not just proposing on a whim. It gives them a road map of the territory you plan to cover. Finally, the time-and-task chart represents a clear, one-page, visual summary of the entire methodology section.
Why Evaluate? Evaluations pinpoint what is really happening in your project so you can improve your project efficiency. Based on evaluation information, you can better allocate resources, improve your services, and strengthen your overall project performance. Beyond these immediate benefits, a project evaluation can uncover needs to be served in your next proposal and make it easier to get and sustain funding.
If you want to include an evaluation component in your proposal but know nothing about the subject, consider borrowing ideas from the evaluation plans developed for similar programs or ask a colleague or consultant to review the rest of the proposal and develop an appropriate evaluation strategy. Too frequently, proposals don't explain how the project will be evaluated. At best, they mention some vague process, such as holding a discussion meeting or assigning the evaluation to an expert, with no specifics on how the evaluation will be conducted or what will be learned from the evaluation.
Using Evaluators Effectively. Whether you use an internal or an external evaluator, or both, be sure to include them in the proposal development process. A common proposal-writing mistake is to budget an amount for evaluation costs and worry later about the evaluation procedure. Instead, involve evaluators in the proposal writing. Be sure to give them a copy of your project objectives. Remember that pointed objectives will simplify the evaluation process.
An evaluator should provide you with important proposal information. Specifically, ask your evaluators to identify precisely what will be evaluated, what information they will need to conduct the evaluation, where that information will be obtained, what data collection instruments will be used to get that information, what evaluation design will be used, what analyses will be completed, and what questions you will be able to answer as a result of the evaluation.
How to Evaluate. Evaluation is essentially a four-step process. As you will see, if the objectives and methodology sections of your proposal are precise, you are well on your way to completing the evaluation protocol.
Note that of these four steps, the first two are completed as you write the objectives and methods sections of your proposal. In other words, you are half-done with the evaluation section before you start it.
Key Questions to Answer. As you write the evaluation section, answer these questions. Does your evaluation section
Writing Tips for Evaluation Section. Include a separate evaluation component for each project objective. Strengthen your evaluation section by including examples of surveys, questionnaires, data collection instruments, data analysis forms, and other evaluation methodologies in order to demonstrate the credibility of your evaluation section. If you use outside evaluators, identify costs, credentials, and experience. Evaluation sections are less likely to be included in basic research than training grants. Replicability is the primary evaluation criterion in most basic science research proposals.
Purpose of Dissemination. Dissemination is the means by which you let others know about your project: its purpose, methods, and accomplishments. Among other things, it generates publicity for your sponsor and you. As grants become more competitive, dissemination of results is increasingly important. No longer is it sufficient to say you will submit a journal article or present a paper at a professional society meeting. Instead, specify the tentative titles, target journals, and submission dates. Likewise, indicate which meetings will be attended, including dates and locations for presenting papers.
Key Questions to Answer. As you write the dissemination section, answer these questions. Does your dissemination section
Dissemination Strategies for Proposals. Choose from the following dissemination options the ones that would be most appropriate for your proposal: A project newsletter; conferences and seminars; site visits; interim working papers; convention papers; journal articles; pamphlets; books or manuals; displays at meetings; demonstrations; audiovisual materials; speeches; press releases; postings on computer networks or Web pages; executive fax summaries.
Purpose of the Budget. A project budget is more than just a statement of proposed expenditures; it is an alternate way of expressing your project. Programs officers will look at your budget to see how well it fits your proposed activities. Incomplete budgets are examples of sloppy preparation. Inflated budgets are signals of waste. Budgets that are too low cast doubt on your planning ability. In essence, your budget is as much a credibility statement as your project narrative.
Allowable Budget Categories. Unless the sponsor guidelines dictate otherwise, you can include in your budget request such things as accounting, advertising, animals, audiovisual instruction, auditing, binding, books, computer time, consultants, dues, equipment, fringe benefits, indirect costs, instruments, insurance, legal services, maintenance, periodicals, postage, publication, recruitment, registration fees, relocation, renovation, rent, repairs, salaries and wages, security, subcontracts, supplies, telephone, travel, and tuition.
Direct Costs. Those costs that are line items listed in the budget as an explicit project expenditure are called direct costs. The direct costs are usually categorized into personnel (people) and nonpersonnel (things) components. Personnel costs include such items as salaries, wages, consultant fees, and fringe benefits. Nonpersonnel costs include such items as equipment, supplies, travel, and publication charges. Space and utilities may be reflected as direct costs or included as a part of your indirect cost rate.
Indirect Costs. Those costs that are not directly listed in the budget and yet are costs incurred in the project are called indirect costs. Indirect costs are real costs that are hard to pin down, such as payroll and accounting, library usage, space and equipment, and general project administration. Do you include in your proposal budget the costs associated with preparing payrolls or the time your boss spends talking with you about the project? While you could cost out those factors, and others, they become more difficult to quantify. At the same time, they are real project costs--someone has to write your payroll checks. Rather than calculating a strict cost accounting of these nebulous factors, many sponsors allow you to calculate a percentage of your direct costs and add it to your budget request.
Semantically, the federal government uses the term indirect costs to refer to these extra project operating costs. These costs are usually figured as a percentage of the grant, either of the total direct costs or the total project salaries and wages. Organizations regularly receiving federal grants have an approved federal indirect cost rate that is included in the budgets of federal proposals. If you plan to submit federal proposals periodically but do not have a federal indirect cost rate, ask your federal program officer to refer you to the appropriate federal agency so you can negotiate a federal indirect cost rate for your organization.
Foundations usually use the term administrative costs rather than indirect costs when referring to extra project operating costs, though the terms are interchangeable. Foundations vary considerably in their policies regarding the allowability of administrative costs. Some will pay administrative costs on grants, and their application guidelines specify the allowable percentage of total direct costs. Others say explicitly in their application materials that they do not allow administrative costs.
In contrast to governments and foundations, corporations use the term overhead to mean administrative or indirect costs. As business professionals, they are accustomed to the concept of overhead and are apt to have a fairly high overhead rate. In most instances, corporate application materials do not specify a policy regarding the payment of overhead. You can either ask what their policy is or include all costs as direct-cost items.
Cost Sharing. Those costs that your organization will contribute to the total project costs are called shared costs. You may contribute partial personnel costs, space, volunteer time, or other costs towards the total project expenses. Your cost sharing may be in the form of a "hard" dollar match. Alternatively, you may donate "in-kind" contributions; that is, costs that do not require a cash outlay yet would cost real dollars if you had to pay for services rendered. Volunteer time is one example of in-kind cost sharing.
Key Budget Questions to Answer. As you prepare your budget, answer these questions. Does your budget
Writing Tips for Budgets. Here are some tips for planning your budget. Make sure your calculations are as clear as possible: fuzzy: travel = $324; specific: local mileage for project director, 100/mi/mo @ .27/mi x 12 mos. = $324. Indicate name, location, and date. Estimate office supplies (pens, pencils, paper clips, and so forth) at an average of $300/year/key person. List the components of your fringe benefit rate; indicate if they include FICA, health, life, retirement, dental, and disability insurance, and other benefits. In multiyear budgets, allow for yearly increases; indicate annual percent increases. (Ask your program officer what percentage increases are currently being approved in multiyear budgets.) If the project is to occur in phases, identify the costs associated with each phase. Don't overlook budget support for such things as service or maintenance contracts, insurance, shipping, or installation. If you anticipate training costs associated with the purchase of new equipment, include those costs in your budget as well. Include a budget narrative immediately following your budget to explain or justify any unusual expenditure items, even if one is not required by the sponsor.
Some sponsors expect you to continue funding your project after the grant expires. If you have a financing plan for future funding, briefly outline it. Other fund-raising options include membership fees, user charges, local organizations, other granting agencies, wealthy individuals, product sales, publications, service fees, direct mail, bequests, memorial gifts, telethons, and capital campaigns.
Purpose of Abstract. The abstract is usually the last written and first read section of your proposal. It should be carefully written, providing a cogent summary of your proposed project. It should provide a quick overview of what you propose to do and clear understanding of the project's significance, generalizability, and potential contribution. Project end-products should be clearly identified. Often, proposal reviewers must write up a summary of your project for presentation to a larger review panel. If you write a quality abstract, you make your reviewer's job easier. If the abstract is poorly written, the reviewer's job is more difficult and your funding chances diminish.
Writing Tips for Proposal Abstracts. Don't write the abstract until you have completed the proposal. Generally, the abstract section contains 250 to 500 words. Include at least one sentence each on problem, objectives, and methods, using the major subheadings you used in the proposal.
Purpose of Appendices. Appendices contain information peripheral to your proposal, such as reprints of articles, definitions of terms, subcontract data, consortia agreements, tabular data, certifications, lists of board members and officers with titles, recent annual reports, organizational fiscal reports, organizational charts, resumes, past success stories, significant case histories, agency publications, publicity, and letters of support. Some grantmaking agencies do not circulate copies of appendices when transmitting proposals to reviewers. (Ask your program officer about this, and if materials are not circulated, include essential proposal information in the narrative.) Nevertheless, the use of appendices is recommended, especially when page limits are sponsor-imposed.
Writing Tips for Appendices. After your proposal is written, reread it to make sure your reviewers could make an informed funding decision without any appendix information. Include strong letters of support and endorsement. Attach assurances of cooperation in instances of interagency proposals. Be sure to include the resumes of all key project personnel, including consultants.
While you will obviously spend much time working on the content of your proposal, you should also pay attention to the appearance or design of your proposal. Just as clothing is important in the business world for establishing initial impressions, so, too, is the appearance of your proposal as it reaches the reviewer's hands. The proposal should "look" familiar to the reader. A familiar proposal is a friendly proposal. Look at the printed materials issued by the sponsor. Note their use of type size and style, layout, white space, and headers. Structure your private foundation and corporation proposals to match their publication preferences; when appropriate, use the same type size, style, layout, and headers as they do in their publications. Your proposal will look more credible if you consider these factors.
As you learn about your audience and consider proposal appearance, try to anticipate which of the following reading styles the reviewer is likely to use: skimming, search reading, or critical reading. Recall that your earlier prospect research from a past reviewer or program officer identified the likely manner in which your proposal would be reviewed. Reviewers skim proposals when they have many pages to read in a very short time. Reviewers search proposals when they are following an evaluation sheet that assigns points to specific proposal sections. Reviewers always critically read proposals, especially when the reading occurs in the time luxury of a mail review. The following table shows some of the writing techniques that are particularly appropriate for different reading styles.
Proposal Writing Tips
Strengthen your proposal by following these content and format suggestions, ranging from bold type to white space. They are tips that experienced proposal writers follow.
Bold Type. Bold type is easier to read than underlining, italics, or all capital letters as a means of creating emphasis. Use bold type to emphasize only the key words, but avoid overemphasis.
Editing. Revise, reduce, rearrange, and rewrite to improve. Are all the major pieces of the proposal in the proper order? Does your draft look attractive and readable?
Guidelines. Read and reread proposal forms and guidelines--and believe them!
Headings. Headings and subheadings act like a table of contents placed directly in your proposal text; that is, at a glance they reveal the main ideas and the organization of your proposal to the reader. Ask your program officer for a copy of the reviewer's evaluation form, and use those same headings and subheadings in your proposal. If a reviewer's evaluation form is not available, use headings and subheadings that are specific to your proposal.
Lists. Lists help to get the message to the reader with a sense of immediacy, without being wordy. Furthermore, because lists are easy for readers to skim, they convey chunks of information quickly. Use a numbered list when items need to be examined in a specific sequence. Use a bulleted list when items are all equally important.
Page Numbering. Place page numbers in the top right or bottom center of the pages of your proposal. Do not number the first page.
Proofreading. Proofread and proofread your proposal. Proofread your proposals in multiple readings, looking for different features on each reading. As you proofread, look at
Ragged Right Margins. A ragged right margin is easier to read than one that is right justified because the proportional spacing slows readability. It is easier for the reader's eye to track from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line when the right-hand margins are jagged.
Transitions. Transitional expressions are words and phrases that signal connections among ideas; these connectors can help you achieve coherence in your writing. Common transitional words and phrases can indicate
Type Style. If your proposal guidelines stipulate the type style and type size that you must use, follow them! If type style is not specified, consider using serif typefaces for the text of your proposal and sans serif typefaces for titles and headings. Serif typefaces such as Times Roman and Courier have small strokes that finish off the main stroke of a letter and make it easier to read. Sans serif typefaces such as Universal and Arial, which do not have the small finishing strokes, are ideal for titles and headings because they stand off from the body of the text. Remember, a familiar-looking document is a friendly document.
White Space. Use white space to break up long copy. Ample white space makes your proposal appear inviting and user-friendly. White space can indicate that one section is ending and another is beginning, or that an idea is so central to the proposal that it needs to be set off by itself. Judicious use of white space breaks your proposal into smaller, manageable chunks of information. Even a simple use of white space between paragraphs helps the mind to see the information in that paragraph as a unit. You can easily indent and skip lines for paragraph lists and other pieces of materials. One creative use of white space is the making of lists.
A letter proposal is a short grant proposal, usually two to four pages long. Written in letter form, it is primarily targeted to private sponsors, such as foundations and corporations, though it can be viewed as a preproposal for federal sponsors. Most federal program officers like to receive a letter proposal because it presents them with a "concept paper," or a "conceptual shell" of what you propose. With many private sponsors, the letter proposal is all that is required; they make funding decisions on the basis of your brief letter, whether you are asking for $100 or $1 million. However, some private sponsors use the letter proposal as a screening device and request an expanded proposal if your idea captures their interest. In either case, you face the challenge of clear, concise writing.
In certain respects, a short proposal is more challenging to write than a long proposal. In seven brief sections, you must anticipate and answer the major questions that the sponsor will be asking as your letter proposal is read. Each sentence must carry a heavy load of information. To aid in the writing process, the components of a letter proposal are identified and discussed below.
Part One: Summary. Your objective is to summarize the entire proposal in one sentence. The critical elements of the sentence include: (1) self-identification (your organizational name); (2) uniqueness (your claim to fame); (3) sponsor expectation (what you want them to do); (4) budget request (how much money you want); and (5) project benefit (major project outcomes).
Part Two: Sponsor Appeal. Your objective is to explain why you are approaching this sponsor. Conduct background research on the sponsor to determine prior funding patterns, usually available in annual reports and tax records. Identify values that the sponsor seems to cherish as evidenced by their funding patterns, e.g., high-risk projects not normally funded by the government, cutting-edge research, demonstration projects with a national impact, or low cost/high benefit projects.
Part Three: Problem. Your objective is to briefly summarize the current problem. Focus the problem or need statement from the sponsor's perspective, not yours. Funding your project is not their end goal. You must show how funding your project can be a means for them to reach their end goal--their mission. Remember that a need is really a gap between what is and what ought to be. Document that gap with statistics, quotations, reasoning, or surveys and express it in human terms. Limit your documentation to brief but clear statements. Beware of the excessive use of statistics, which only confuses the reader.
Part Four: Solution. Your objective is to describe your approach to the problem. Summarize the objectives that you will meet with your approach. Convey confidence that you can close the gap between what is and what ought to be. You can detail your precise methodology in a one-page attachment by use of a time-and-task chart. Do not include extensive methodological detail in the letter proposal.
Part Five: Capabilities. Your objective is to establish your credentials to do the project. More precisely, your job is to establish three types of credibility: you have a (1) credible organization proposing a (2) credible idea to be directed by a (3) credible project director. You must demonstrate what is unique about your group in order to show that you can solve this problem.
Part Six: Budget. Your objective is to request a specific dollar amount in the proposal. Ask for a precise amount. Base your request on the review of tax records or other giving references so you are asking for a reasonable amount as viewed by the sponsor. Express your request in meaningful units, e.g., hours of instruction, numbers of students or healthy patients. If you plan to submit this or a similar proposal to other sponsors as well, mention this.
Part Seven: Conclusion. Your objective is to identify the desired action you wish the sponsor to take. Avoid the hackneyed "We'd be happy to talk with you further about this. Please call if you want more information." Identify a contact person for more details if requested. Have a "heavyweight" sign the letter.
GRANT REVIEW AND FUNDING DECISIONS
Once your proposal is submitted, it will undergo review. Whether your proposal is funded or declined, you should plan to deal with either outcome option. Further, since your proposal represents a valuable piece of intellectual property, consider submitting it to other sponsors as well while you are awaiting a funding decision.
Review Criteria. Proposal review usually covers five basic areas: scope of work, personnel, facilities, track record, and budget information. Experienced proposal writers often conduct proposal review sessions within their organizations prior to formal submission using the same evaluation form that their actual reviewers will use.
Dealing with Grant Decisions. Planned reactions become planned options. How do you plan to behave if your proposal is funded? Rejected? What are your options? When you have a powerful itch, it is almost unbearable waiting to get it scratched! Having to wait to get what you want demands patience and tolerance--unless you have planned options. Patient people turn to other activities to meet other needs while they are waiting for grant decisions. This keeps them strong and in control. Strong people wait a lot. It may take many months before the decision on your proposal is made.
At some point, you will find out if your proposal was successful, and besides getting started, there are certain things you should do. For example, if you were successful, request a copy of the reviewer comments, if allowed by the sponsor. Ask the program officer about common mistakes other grantees make so you don't fall into the same trap. Ask how you can be a good steward of their money. Clarify the submission deadlines for technical and financial reports. You can keep your program officer very happy if you submit your reports on time. Invite your program officer to come and visit you. Add your program officer to your organizational public relations list for information about your agency.
If you were turned down by the sponsor, thank the source for considering the proposal. Ask what can be done to improve the proposal. If it is their policy, request reviewer comments, particularly verbatim comments; otherwise you may only receive summary comments, which are less specific. Ask if you should reapply next year. Use this as an opportunity to build a relationship with the sponsor for the next submission cycle. Periodically send a photocopy of articles or publicity with a note: "Thought you might be interested in this." Invite them to your agency to get to know you better. Avoid making them feel as if you only need them at submission time.
Multiple Submissions. One of the things you should do while waiting to hear from your first sponsor is submit your proposal to other sponsors. This is commonly done and, indeed, expected by sponsors. However, you are ethically obligated to tell a sponsor that you have submitted a similar proposal to a different sponsor. This will not jeopardize the likelihood of getting your proposal funded. In fact, it could help as there is a close communications network among sponsors with similar interests. Cofunding is not uncommon in some cases; that is, several sponsors may contribute to the total project cost. Finally, engaging in multiple submissions communicates to sponsors that you are seriously committed to your project and are willing to exert considerable effort to secure funding.
Example of Letter Proposal
An example follows of a letter proposal to a private foundation that seeks support for a project to improve police-community relations.
Mr. Hubert Williams, President
Dear Mr. Williams:
The Center for Urban Problems (CUP), as Washington's largest organization dealing with police-community relations, invites your investment in a $66,240 special project to improve community relations with minorities.
We are encouraged that the Law Enforcement Foundation supports innovative projects that improve the delivery of police services. Over 85 percent of your grant dollars during the past three years have been invested at the local community level. Clearly, your support fills a valuable niche in light of the more conservative funding offered by the federal government. This strong commitment to unique projects is shared by the researchers and evaluation specialists at CUP.
The Problem: Spiraling Tensions. Despite proactive community relations programs, an unchecked tension exists between municipal police and minority community members. Relationships between law enforcement officers and minorities--Chicano, African American, Puerto Rican--are at a critical stage. One out of every three arrests in Washington, DC, currently involves a member of a minority community; the incidence is even higher in such cities as San Antonio, Kansas City, and Los Angeles.
Many factors contribute to the growing minority community-police tensions: increasing complexity of urban life, unemployment discrimination, and housing problems. Although these nationwide social problems were not created by the police, the police must cope with the consequences of these problems. This vast social dislocation spawns minority attitudes of prejudice and contempt. To counterbalance these problems, many police communities have adopted public relations programs to "sell" their departments to the minority communities without the concomitant need to be ready to work with those communities. As a result, there is an ever-widening gap between present and potential minority community acceptance of police behavior.
The Solution: Evaluating Police-Community Relations Bureaus. Successful claims regarding the effectiveness of police-community relations bureaus remain undocumented. Police departments are latching on to a new fad without understanding the key components of a police-community relations program. Some features of the bureau approach work; others don't. The goal of this project is to identify the successful features of existing bureaus, so that success can be delivered more quickly to police departments serving substantial numbers of minority citizens. The CUP research staff will follow standard social science research techniques as detailed in our time-and-task chart, Attachment A.
CUP Credentials: National Experience and Networks. CUP is uniquely suited to conduct this evaluation project on police-community relations bureaus. As a nonpolice-linked organization, it can objectively and independently assess current practices. This project represents a systematic continuation of prior CUP efforts in this area with state and municipal organizations as well as private police-related associations. Its staff has a cumulative 100 years of experience in evaluating police-related projects. Finally, local and national networking with 28 regional offices make it well postured to effectively conduct this assessment.
Budget Request: $66,240 Payable Over Six Months. With the demonstrated concern that you've shown in the delivery of police services to minorities, I am requesting a grant of $66,240. Quite frankly, the project extends beyond the financial boundaries of CUP. Accordingly, we must now reach out to the community for assistance in what surely is a vital service to the police community. The outcome of this project will touch the operations of over 6,000 law enforcement groups nationwide, resulting in a $13 investment in each existing municipal and state police organization, or a cost of seven cents (7¢) per police official.
In making this investment, the Law Enforcement Foundation will be supporting a cost-effective approach to the delivery of police services for the minority communities where major problems exist. Mr. Lloyd Solomon, National Program Director for CUP, can be reached at (202) 123-4567 to answer questions or give further information.
P.S. Please come visit us and see this important project for yourself.
© Copyright 1999 The Oryx Press