Get comfortable, with a cup of delicious hot coffee, a quiet room…. the mandatory sublime creative atmosphere. Or maybe you work best with inspirational music and a beautiful view…. how do you start a proposal?
No matter your experience, it’s not easy to write the perfect proposal. Today it is really cool to brag about how easy it is to build a project, a company, a nonprofit, a school, get a grant….most people want to make it look like they have put no effort into anything to make it great. It’s as if hard work has gone out of fashion.
But lets get real. Hard work, research and deidication are keys to success in any industry. In our case – the nonprofit world – time is crucial too. Enough time to research and find appropriate matches, arrange to meet or interact with a donor, get to know her, understand her dreams, and figure out how to help her fulfill them. They say a huge number of grant proposals fail the test.
Karen Markin wrote in the chronical of Philanthropy that we need to be ‘street smart’ about grants – stuff we may not have learned in college or even graduate school. “You must establish your ability to carry it out on budget and on schedule, so the agency will trust you with thousands of dollars”, she continued.
“In addition to having a good idea…you must find an agency that needs what you will discover if you pursue your idea” (Markin 2005, C1). Markin supplies several tips which I would like to share with you, as I think they are invaluable for anyone planning to seek grant funding.
Have you ever thought about the process your grant goes through when it gets to where you sent it? After it is received and notated, it is usually reviewed by one or two professional reviewers to see if it even comes close to fitting in with your donor’s mission. And remember that in many cases these people read hundreds of grant proposals, so you have just a few seconds to grab the reader.
Write for the reviewer, write for the officers, and write for the committee or board who makes the final decision. And of course, write for the founder or the board.
Ask as many people as you can to read your proposal…friends, colleagues, and family. Ask them to look at the submittal requirements as well. Is there something you forgot?
Ask them for advice on how to spice it up or even tone it down. Make sure they understand it, and if they don’t re-write it until they do. The case statement must be clear. Ask them if it seems like a valuable request. Then read it out loud to see how smoothly it flows. It would be quite helpful to see where you might need emphasis – and then add it, while keeping it sharp and crisp.
Make sure your first page is a good letter that tells the entire story. Many times, readers never get past the first page…..so keep this in mind. Right up front you must state the issue, how much it will cost, why it is important, and how you will realistically apply the funding and research. And remember to remind the donor why you chose them…..why you are a good fit for them.
Please know that if they are curious and even a bit interested, they will ask you for the technical data later. Who will benefit form your project? Is it an important problem? Will you be able to judge if it was a success or not?
But listen, if you get a no…. and for the life of you, you can’t figure out why……get up the courage to write a thank you note and then give them a call and ask if you could go over the proposal and see if there is any way to improve it’s likelihood next year. Good luck friend.