Scris de Rupert Wolfe Murray
This case study describes the process of writing proposals for grant funds (or tenders). We look at how to write a proposal, offer some useful tips, and share our experience of working on specific proposals (in which we have removed the name of the client). There is also an FAQ section.
The purpose of this case study is to help our clients understand the process of proposal writing, to throw some light into the darkness. Too many people see proposal writing as complicated, bureaucratic and corrupted, and many give up before even starting. And if click this section called 4 stages that a project must go through you will realise that over 90% of project ideas get killed even before they reach the proposal writing stage. In Romania this proportion is probably higher because there is a tendency to belittle new ideas and initiatives which have not been done before. But the reality is that the donors want new ideas and innovative projects that can tackle the social and economic problems they try to grapple with and, every project, however vast it may be, started off as a simple idea in someone’s head.
However, once you engage in the process you will realise that proposals are, in fact, very logical. The purpose of a proposal is simply to describe what you want to do, and you must back up that description with lots of detail of how you are going to do it, with whom, and exactly how much money is needed. The clearer you are about the project (in your own head) the easier writing the proposal will be. The worst case scenario is that you want to apply for a grant but don’t have a clear idea of a project — beyond wanting money — and you make it up as you fill in the application form.
The problem with proposals is that you have to fit your project idea into the donor’s format: often the donor’s impeccable logic comes across as bureaucratic; and it is easy to make your project seem a lot more complex and irrelevant than it is.
It is really important to understand how the donor thinks before you start, and we have written an article on this issue, which you can see on our blog (your feedback would be most welcome). It is encouraging to realise that donors too are faced with challenges — in particular, how to attract the right kind of proposal — and it is interesting to contemplate that spending a huge amount of money can be a problem in itself. The donor organisations are made up of people much like me and you and if you speak to them, which you should try and do in each instance, you will realise that their challenges are probably very similar to yours. It is important to realise that donors are often very approachable, and usually willing to explain things and give useful advice about the application process.
Practical Advice about writing a proposal
Writing a good proposal can be both uplifting and very depressing. Even the best of proposals get rejected for any number of reasons: bad timing, lack of funding, opposing views on the same topic, bad luck. It can be very hard to cope with rejection, after you’ve invested time, energy and hope into the creative process of writing a good proposal.
But what makes a proposal good? We think a combination of the following:
• clear understanding of the topic you’re writing on;
• solid research;
• creative planning (brainstorming);
• inspiring vision;
• empathy for your reader (the person / organization that will approve your proposal);
• clear, concise and eloquent writing;
• previous experience;
• patience and determination.
Our specialty is the communication strategy proposal. We have written proposals to get funds for a project, to win a new client for the company, or paid by a third party (mostly consultancy companies in need of a proposal for an EU tender they were bidding for). No matter the type, we always go through three major phases: research, planning and writing.
• understand your topic;
• find out about the target audience you’re communicating with (try and think through how they would see it);
• find out what other previous activities were done on the same topic;
• advise on the team who will implement your proposal if chosen (this isn’t usually part of the proposal writing job, but an experienced proposal writer will usually know people who are good for the roles involved);
• asses risks and feasibility.
• share, discuss and debate ideas with your team (including the consortium members, some of whom may be in other countries. You do this by sharing the drafts of the proposal);
• the key to a coherent project is an action plan, which you make by simply listing the activities that need to be carried out (in Gantt chart format), state who will be responsible, estimate how many days might be required, and how many months will be needed. This should then be adapted by the consortium. The rest of the proposal should back up and explain this plan;
• build the backbone of your proposal by defining the following: context or background, objectives and activities, target audience, project description, budget and any other information required by the donor;
• make a check list of mandatory things that need to be found in your proposal;
• flash of genius: find the one idea that will set your proposal apart from the others (a new insight into your target audience, a catchy message, a special mix of communication activities, a creative budget).
• clear you schedule, turn off the phone, switch the Internet off;
• give yourself a deadline and try to stick to it;
• share what you’ve written with others, for a fresh perspective;
• remember your check list;
• give it time to breath, let it aside for a day and then get back to it for a final edit;
• always proofread.
Once you’re happy with it, turn it in, hope for the best and if the worst happens, consider it useful experience and move on.