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Proposal Writing Made Easy

Dear Subscriber:

Here is a guide for you to use when you are writing proposals. This information is based on our experience over the last thirty years which we are pleased to share with you to help ensure your success!

All the best,
Connie and Corrine

Proposal Writing: Making it Easy

Proposal Writing: General Considerations

Use simple, direct writing; avoid jargon unless the reader will understand it – that creates a barrier rather than forming a bridge. You want the reader to understand.

Pretend you are writing to your neighbor who knows NOTHING about the project, program or anything.

Have someone totally unrelated to the project read your finished proposal, to make sure it’s clear.

Less is probably better –some foundations specifically state how long a proposal can/should be – do what they say.

Many proposals can be structured as a letter – 2-4 pages long. Paint a picture of the service you are providing: real people will read the proposal; help them understand what's really going on. Give examples of the successes you have such as: a blind person riding independently; an autistic boy touching a horse for the first time; or a child out of his/her wheelchair riding the horse like any child.

Components of a Proposal

The Delaware Valley Grantmakers (DVG) proposal format is widely accepted; if you use this template you will have covered every base. However, it is a bit long for many foundations. We suggest a scaled back version that covers the essentials. Before you begin, check the foundation’s guidelines, if they have them. Follow these exactly – they are looking for any reason to disqualify you! You can find the application in word and pdf format at http://www.dvg.org/grantseekers/CGA-CRF_Final_1.28.10.doc

A. Cover sheet: Many foundations have their own. It usually requests basic information. Be accurate; some funders read everything!

B. Summary: Some foundations ask for an “Executive Summary” – that is 1-2 paragraphs that summarize the proposal. Write this after you have written the proposal; it will be much easier.

C. History/Mission: Be brief – 1-2 paragraphs; stress important points including:

  • How long have you been in existence?
  • Mission statement – clear & strong – it is permissible to paraphrase.
  • General work of the organization including programs.
  • Do you excel at anything?
  • Have you won any awards or built new buildings?
  • Can you add anything to enhance your organization’s credibility such as credentials of staff; board; "leaders in ..... "?

D. Need: make a case for why your program needs to happen. The absence of the program is not a case (unless it's an obvious, generally accepted valuable thing such as: an area without a hospital, hospital without basic equipment, etc.) think about what you can't do because you have this need.

State what you COULD do if you had it met and remember that your organization doesn’t have the need – the community has the need.

WHO will benefit in human terms – not the organization's benefit. For example:

BAD: we can do 15 more training programs;

GOOD: 200 people will learn how to help their children with homework (and you've cited statistics about how important that is, etc.).

Where you can, cite research and statistics to back you up.

How will you meet this need: goals and activities; or objectives and methods?

Describe how you'll meet the need:

  • Maintenance program
  • Scholarships
  • New equipment
  • Program, or
  • Renovation

Be specific:

Who will do it? (qualified contractors, experts in the field, etc)

Timelines – how long will it take; when will it start lets funder know you have thought this out and you have a well developed project – you've considered all angles.

Tip: Program development is sometimes a part of this.

Sometimes you'll need to help the program people develop the program, especially in a small organization.

Help them to think about goals and objectives and how to reach them.

What is required; staff, materials, curriculum, consultants, travel, etc. – include everything, even if you are only asking for partial funding.

Be specific with outcomes.

E. Outcomes relate back to the need:

What needs will be met as a result of your project? – if you are clear about the need, this will be easy

Measurable – quantifiable – number of people served, workshops delivered,

Dollars saved due to improving your buildings, etc.

Subjective issues such as people will be more comfortable, quality of life better, life is safer, healthier

You will be reporting on whether or not you reached these outcomes, so think of that as you write them.

F. Evaluation:

Closely related to outcomes – how will you determine whether you reached your outcomes or not?

A priority of many foundations now – they want to know whether their funds were well spent; this is accountability.

Think of this as you design your program – (will you do pre-and post questionnaires? hire an evaluator? other kind of evaluation tool?)

department, committee, board – everyone ultimately reports back to the board – describe how this group is qualified to evaluate the program (professionals on a committee; consumers, etc.)

G. Budget

Most foundations accept a simple income/expense budget for the project.

Foundations will also request the operating budget for the whole organization.

Include everything you can think of in the project budget:

10% A & G if you can do it, think broadly – question the people involved to MAKE SURE you have all the costs or else you'll be fundraising over and over again!

There is no need to be overly complicated – simple is good here!

Income: show the funds you already have raised & funds anticipated and be sure the numbers add up correctly.

H. Attachments

Usually the guidelines are specific about this – do what they say.

Include material that will help you sell your case – newspaper articles, selected photos (sometimes) – don't send videos, or expensive publications unless the foundation has asked for them.


Number the pages.

I. Cover letter – Write this after the proposal is done – it’s much easier!

Many smaller (2-4 page) proposals can be done as a letter.

When you are using a more formal proposal format – you can include information in a cover letter that won't fit into the proposal – personal connections, thanks for a visit, refer to a conversation, invite to make a site visit, etc.

Introductory paragraph – Includes: the requested amount, links missions and interests if you can and anything significant you can say about your organization

Second paragraph – Includes: a brief explanation of need, project and outcomes (1 sentence each).

Third paragraph – Includes something inspirational (people will read this).

Close – give name and telephone number to call for questions or more information.

Using your network to strengthen proposals: If anyone within your organization knows anyone involved with the foundation, send them a copy of the proposal and ask them to advocate for you with whoever they know – phone call, letter, meeting, bring for a site visit – this is a critical part of the process and will help SO MUCH! BUT…make sure you let your program officer know that a member of your organization will be reaching out to a foundation representative. No good can ever come from needlessly surprising your program officer.