10 Common Elements of Winning Proposals

Ten universal aspects that make winning proposals are:

  • 1. clearly defined needs and describing how those needs were identified

This section of your proposal is probably the most important. It is your convincing argument on why you should be funded. Research, preliminary data, surveys, and planning grants help you identify the problem you want to solve. The idea for which you will request funding will be determined once you have a solid foundation based on need.

  • 2. describing what will be done

Your plan of operation – which contains your goal, objectives and activities – will need to clearly define the steps you are going to take to achieve your goal. This is the reason your objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

  • 3. presenting the material in a logical manner

A good plan of operation should, by its very nature, be easy to present in a logical manner. The plan of operation and its precise and logical presentation is your business plan. In addition, clearly identified sections and a parallel structure should be maintained throughout your proposal.

  • 4. writing in positive terms

Some writers believe that if you describe how bleak a situation is, someone will give you money to solve the problem. This is not true. Funders prefer to back proposals that describe worthwhile programs presented in a positive light.

  • 5. using clear and plain language

Remember that your audience – the reviewers – may not all be experts in your field. Even for scientific peer reviews, you should assume that some of the panel is composed of professionals outside your specific area. Regardless, jargon should be avoided at all costs. Have a naïve reader go over your application to let you know what is not immediately understandable. His or her input will be useful in determining which sections your reviewers may have trouble understanding.

  • 6. presenting detailed budgets that match your proposed program

Your plan of operation will lead you directly from the measurable objectives to the activities of your project. A cost should be linked to each activity. For example, if you plan to offer training, how much will both the personnel and non-personnel costs be? Each budget item should have a detailed budget justification and explanation.

  • 7. giving something back

It is expected that you will have a plan to disseminate your results to others who can learn from your work. This could be done via website information, training, conference presentations, or publications.

  • 8. following the guidelines specified in the RFP

You must always follow the guidelines to be successful. The request for proposal (RFP) will give you specific directions on how to present, write, and budget your proposal. Follow them to the T! If the RFP mandates a page limit, DO NOT exceed that number. It is important to note that 50% of all proposals are returned without review because applicants have not followed directions.

  • 9. looking professional

A professional-looking proposal is one that is easy to read, uses graphs and timelines to describe key areas, and is grammatically correct. Most of all, your proposal absolutely must be presented according to the guidelines of the RFP.

  • 10. being the right length

Your application should be only as long as stated in the RFP. If your application has the scoring guidelines, use those to determine the length for various sections. For example, let’s say the granting agency wants the finished proposal to be no longer than ten pages and the guidelines weigh the evaluation section as 20 percent of the final score. That means 20 percent, or two pages, should be allotted for the evaluation.

In a competitive environment where less than 20% of the submitted grants are funded, your success will depend on all of the above elements. Crucial to this formula is your expertise, credibility, politics, and strategic planning. It takes a team to achieve the ultimate goal of being funded. The ten elements for success will take you and your team to the finish line where preparation and opportunity meet.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

2 comments on “10 Common Elements of Winning Proposals

  1. I am thinking about item 7 and think it is so important to consider, not only how results will be published, but how will they be helpful to others in the field. I wonder how important this part is to reviewers.

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