The Inner Secrets of Successful Proposals
An excerpt from “Foundation News and Commentary”
By Linda A. Long, freelance writer
Let’s face it; proposal writing can be one tough game. Do you long for guidance, maybe a little encouragement or at least some constructive criticism? Look no further; we talked to your critics. Tapping our membership database, we chatted (via phone) with program-officer types at foundations of all descriptions-big, little, medium-sized-from all points on the United States compass.
The advice we heard most often had an eerily familiar tone, most of it echoing a ghost-voice from the distant past-that of your high school English teacher. So some results of this query (we can’t call it a survey; there was no science involved) may sound a bit elementary. Please, we’re not condescending to you-virtually every respondent mentioned these nine nuggets that follow. In fact, many took pains to stress that, if a proposal simply reflected the top three or four pieces of advice, then it would enjoy a huge advantage over the vast majority of its brethren in the grantseeking pile.
Top Tips for Writing Successful Proposals
- Do Your Homework
Make sure that your program concept advances the mission of the foundation from which you are requesting funds.
- Follow Directions
Read the guidelines, e.g., if they ask for stapled photocopies, don’t three-hole punch it, put it in a binder and use beautiful Italian paper.
- Be Concise-More Is Not Better
If you can’t explain your program concept, goals and funding needs in a clear, one-page, 250-word summary, then it’s not ready for submission.
- Clarity Counts-Avoid High-Brow Language and Concepts
Stop with the quotes from Tolstoy, already!
- Pass It Through an Editor, a Proofreader or at Least an Objective Pair of Eyes
A passionate voice is wonderful, but passion doesn’t excuse typos and bad grammar, which give the impression that you don’t care enough to work hard for the grant.
- Demonstrate Collaborative Efforts
Seek out and identify like-minded organizations to partner with; foundations don’t like to see duplication of efforts, i.e., wasted money.
- Practice “Truth in Asking”
Don’t inflate your figures, hoping to get half of what you ask for; savvy foundation minds see right through all the budgetary tricks.
- Think “Blueprint”
Accountability is key. Communicate program goals, a strategy for implementation and benchmarks for success.
- Show Potential for Future Sustainability
Portray the foundation as a catalyst rather than as a perpetual benefactor.
Don�t send the proposal via overnight mail. It is a waste of money.
Don�t say �we are the only ones who do this.� It sounds arrogant, and it�s probably wrong.
Don�t use tiny type on the application or anywhere in the proposal. Make it readable to a 40-year-old-plus pair of eyes.
Don�t use too many acronyms and jargon that are unique to your world.
Don�t strive for an artificial connection with the foundation. It�s much better to be honest, as in, �We�re not connected to Foundation X, but we are working to advance the same goals.�
Don�t forget your manners. If you get the grant, go out of your way to say thank you.