WRITING A PROPOSAL
Be Logical and Clear
A funding proposal is never simple. In our era of heightened financial scrutiny, every dollar must be accounted for in the funder’s fiscal year. This means that any proposal you submit needs to be clear, forthright and easily understood. No prospective funder should need to guess at a proposal’s intent. Consider it from a funder’s perspective. An unclear proposal likely means it will not be approved.
While it may seem overwhelmingly obvious, this cannot be said enough: write the proposal in clear language. Now is not the time to use jargon and complex diagrams. Save any insider lingo and microscopic-detail spreadsheets for a different audience. Your goal is to submit a funding proposal that is clear, accurate and succinct. Proposal evaluators are tasked with making independent, sound decisions. Funders want to understand what you bring to the table, so make it easy for them. No reader wants to plow through a sea of technical terms and unclear project goals. Put yourself in the shoes of a funding evaluator. It’s quite likely they have a stack of paper proposals to review or a long list of e-submissions clamoring for attention. Submit the proposal that makes their job easier.
Gather relevant background information and craft a proposal with logic at its heart. A logical proposal is organized and centered around a theme. For example, if the organization is seeking research and development funding for a new production process, then ensure you constantly refer back to this main goal when discussing individual projects within the proposal. If you connect the dots for the funder, it’s easier to gain approval. Think of it as telling a story: have a linked beginning, middle and end, making for an easy read. The best funding proposals conclude with a recap of interwoven projects all contributing to an overarching set of goals.
Eliminate Everything Vague
Have you articulated a clear goal that explains why this particular program is a stellar one? If yes, then fantastic. If not, then you still have work to do. Next, proceed through the subsections and describe how each specific project meets both funder’s and recipient’s strategic goals. Sharing details does not imply overcomplicated explanations. Details do, however, mean putting your Subject Matter Experts’ knowledge into customer-facing documentation. Be aware that overly vague proposals are red flags to funders; vagueness is interpreted as either concealing something or the project is not worth funding as it lacks clear goals.
Adhere to Submission Guidelines
Funding proposal evaluators need consistency across submissions and there are reasons a specific format is requested. Number one, the needed information is obtained. Number two, the playing field is equalized. Yes, the format can often be cumbersome, but it’s how the system functions best. If you do have format or content questions, do reach out to the administrator. Legitimate, non-badgering questions are welcomed, especially if the funder has finicky software producing frequent error messages preventing advancement to the next screen. If statements of support are requested, then include them; funders typically ask for specific items when it’s important to the decision making process. Finally, ensure someone in a position of authority at your organization submits the final document; read the fine print to determine who is best qualified to sign and click ‘send’. Yes, this matters, even if you’ve outsourced the proposal writing to a contractor.
These two words of caution merit a section of their own. It’s critically important to beat the clock … by more than a few minutes. Think days, not minutes. Online systems will unexpectedly crash, form fields will freeze and software will shut down. Guess what? If you’re caught in the middle of submitting a proposal and the system goes down, don’t count on getting a deadline extension. Learn the software early on in the writing process. To protect your work, compose and save the submission offline using word processing software and then later copy/paste it into the funder’s software (this prevents potentially losing the entire proposal as you draft it). Figure out what internet browser is most compatible. Aim for early submission so yours isn’t part of the panic rush that comes on the day of submission.
MANAGING THE FUNDED PROGRAM
Coordinate Funding Announcements
Congratulations – you’ve made it this far and have secured funding. The job’s not over yet (sorry). Yes, it’s exciting and you want to share the news with your colleagues. However, keep in mind that it’s important to coordinate any public relations (“PR”) work with the funder. It’s quite likely the funding organization has PR plans of its own, so create an announcement that is acceptable to both parties. Spend time asking protocol about social media posts, platforms and traditional media (television, radio, print ad) presence.
Keep all team members informed as to expectations, duties and reporting requirements.
Communicate with Your Team
Successful funding projects can unite teams and give a real sense of accomplishment when goals are achieved. Keep all team members informed as to expectations, duties and reporting requirements. Many programs require the recipient to fund a portion of the total dollar commitment. Sharing this type of information with your team will earn valuable buy-in. Make sure all the paperwork/electronic reporting forms are available to team members as needed, especially for your field staff. A lot of reporting is based on in-territory results, and staff need the templates in hand to gather data when out in the field.
Report Correct Information
Funding reports always come due faster than expected. So often one gets caught up in running the project that the report itself becomes an afterthought. This is dangerous. Instead, block off calendar time prior to each report's due date. Review a blank report well ahead of deadline and call the funder to ask content and/or format questions. Expect to report on each individual project's status as well as on larger milestones for the entire funded program. From an accounting perspective, don’t entangle funding with regular operational expenses. Separate accounts are wisest and often required as a condition of funding. This relates back to communicating with your team so everyone knows correct protocol when dealing with precious funding dollars.
Report on Time
One last recommendation: always report on time. Late reports can lead to reduced future draws or even permanent funding loss. Every manager should understand that it wreaks havoc on budgets and plans when projects are ended halfway through their lifecycle. Funders should never need to hound recipients for reports. Keep detailed, accurate records and do not leave reporting to the last minute. Schedule time to write the report early and involve team members from the start.
In summary, obtaining a grant or funding is an achievement to celebrate. Success depends upon hard work, accurate reporting and clear, logical procedures. If you need help with your next funding proposal, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Part One of this blog post at www.northleowriting.com