10 Key Ingredients of Winning Proposals

There are numerous components that comprise a winning proposal, and there are many factors that ultimately lead to the donor’s decision to fund or not to fund a proposal. The key elements, however, begin with a solid idea, continue with a clear business plan and end with deliverables that are evidence-based. Specifically, winning proposals should be composed of the following elements:

  • An idea that is clearly defined and focused, is well researched, is needed, has a broad impact, and can be accomplished within the lifetime of the grant should be the main focus of your proposal.
  • A Statement of Need/Significance that makes a strong argument for funding is an integral component proposal component. You will need to specify how this need for was identified. If you are writing a research grant, your preliminary data should justify your argument for further research. If you are writing a project grant, utilize your literature review and experience to make the case for why you should be funded.
  • Examples of how your project will unfold and how your team will work together are of critical importance for the donor to understand the specific implications of your project. Also, describing real-life scenarios is an approach that gives emphasis and meaning to the project you are undertaking.
  • A Plan of Operation that presents the specifics of your proposal in a logical manner is your business plan. The donor must understand what you intend to do throughout the lifetime of the proposal. You should include a clear goal, measurable objectives, activities that can easily be budgeted, and outcomes that clearly parallel and are related to the objectives.
  • A narrative that is written in positive terms should be utilized throughout the proposal. Some writers believe that if they describe how bleak a situation is, someone will give them money to solve the problem. This is not true. Funders prefer backing proposals that describe worthwhile programs that will meet identified needs and match the criteria set forth by the granting agency.
  • Clearly written prose that does not overuse jargon or acronyms is a key ingredient for success. The use of language that is unknown to the reader is a distraction that could easily work against you. After all, you may use terminology that is specific to you on a daily basis, but that may not be the case for the reviewer.
  • A budget that matches each activity of the proposal will demonstrate that you paid close attention to detail. All bases must be covered. If you are going to purchase hardware, have you purchased software? If you plan to offer training, how long will it be, who will conduct it, how much will it cost?
  • Strong dissemination components signal that you will give back to your community what you learned throughout the lifespan your grant. This section is often extensive in some proposals that require broader impacts to address education, while in others it might be a presentation at a conference or a publication.
  • Directions that are followed precisely will ensure your stewardship. If a scoring rubric or evaluation checklist is given to you, read it and follow those directions. Also, ensure that the margins, font size, and formatting are exactly as requested in the Request for Proposal (RFP).
  • Professional presentation requires excellent grammar, concise sentences, a mixture of graphics and narrative and well constructed arguments for funding. It will translate into the impression you make on the reviewers.

Extensive preparation should take place before you begin writing a proposal. You need to determine exactly what you want to do, describe why your project is important, make the match with the donor’s interests, and then decide what should be included in your grant. This will be the conceptualization of your grant, and will initially involve the design of your project, not the writing. By carefully designing your project first and writing second, you will set in place the key elements that will make for a winning proposal.

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.

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