plan

Write Your Proposal like a Business Plan

Knowing how to write a business plan can help your grant proposal stand out and increase your chances of acquiring funding. A business plan is a written document that describes in detail how a new business is going to achieve its goals. Similarly, a grant proposal describes in detail how a project’s goal and objectives will be achieved. Grant proposals include many of the same elements as business plans and serve nearly the same purpose. The success of either depends on the information presented, the way they are written, and the brilliance of their approach or methodology. Above all, deliverables are what they have in common. To demonstrate the results, both plans should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound.

Certain important qualities in a business plan make it far more likely to find financial backing. Here are some of those qualities which are equally important for grant proposals as well.

1. It fits the business need

You have to start with whether or not the plan is going to achieve its business purpose. Some plans will sell an idea and a team, others will sell a research plan, and yet others will sell a service that will be undertaken for constituents. A good business plan fits the business need. Equally, your grant proposal should parallel the institutional mission. It should achieve the objectives or the goal in systematic and measurable increments.

2. It’s realistic and can be implemented  

You do not get points for ideas that cannot be implemented. You may have a brilliantly written and excellently researched business plan for a grant. However, if it does not have a management plan or team to manage implementation, it will not get funded. This proposal will not fare well with the donor, and the lack of feasibility may be the fatal flaw that will get it rejected.

3. It’s specific – you can track results against the plan

Measurable objectives are driven by outcomes and can be tracked against your goal. They will keep you on track to achieve your tasks, deadlines, budgets, and evaluation. Good planning requires specifics about who, what, when, and how much. Your plan of operation will include activities, timelines, personnel, outcomes, evaluation, and budgets. In other words, it will be specific and all the pieces will fit together like a puzzle.

4. It clearly defines responsibilities for implementation

You have to be able to identify a single person who will be responsible for every significant task and function. A task that doesn’t have an owner isn’t likely to be implemented. In a good business plan or a grant proposal, you can distinguish a specific person responsible for implementation at every point.

5. It clearly identifies assumptions

Since a proposal and a business plan are both guessing the future, they must clearly show assumptions and discuss alternative plans. Not thinking about the unexpected may lead to failed plans along the way. You will need to identify assumptions and outline alternative paths, in case the original plan does not unfold as initially envisioned. This demonstrates that you have projected into the future and developed plans that will lead to your ultimate goal, which is the effective completion of the project.

6. It’s kept alive by a regular review and follow-up

The evaluation process must be ongoing and measure the effectiveness of the activities at various stages. It has to bring the planning process with it, meaning regular review and course correction. This demonstrates that accountability will take place during all stages of the proposed plan. A large percentage of your success depends on regular review.

A plan that is simple, easy to read, and reflects the above qualities can sell even the most complex research grant ideas. The common denominator for both grant requests and business plans is that they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. At the end of your proposal, you should ask the following questions: Is the plan realistic? Is the budget reasonable? Are the milestone dates feasible? If the answers are yes, then you have created a proposal with a sound and cost effective business plan.

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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