Use the following practical tips to write a more complete and effective project proposal.
- Include a friendly and professional cover letter on letterhead very briefly summarising your request.
- Have someone proofread the proposal, especially if the language of your proposal is not your first language.
- Research potential funders carefully, and adapt your proposal to match their specific funding guidelines. If your proposal is already written, and preparing it for a different funders’ guidelines is going to take a lot of rewriting, consider sending them a brief project overview or concept note (1-2 pages) to test their interest, before going to all of the effort of reorienting your project to their requirements. If the donor has an application format, make sure you follow it! They will be annoyed if they have to hunt for their format in yours.
- Make sure your proposal demonstrates your experience in the area, as well as involvement of key stakeholders in the planning process. Include links or hyperlinks to online references for further information or examples.
- Ensure a direct link between project outcomes, activities and the budget so the donor can “follow the money.”
- Be as concrete and specific as possible and give real-life examples where appropriate.
- Include quotations from key stakeholders that encapsulate the value of your project.
- If your project proposes creating a new product (e.g., a news service, a handbook, etc.), demonstrate the demand for this product, and explain your plan to ensure it will be used by your intended audience.
- If there are examples of successful implementations of projects similar to the one you are proposing, reference those and indicate if you will be directly linking with those projects as part of your learning process.
- Donors are wary of projects that over-reach. If you are proposing something that will take place in multiple locations or be repeated a number of times, expect that the donor might be interested in funding only a small portion to see how it goes in the first instance. So go ahead and present a larger project, but be ready to scale back to a pilot version - and to tell the donor the implications of that scale-back.
- Donors will often ask about your whole organisation’s budget, if you are fundraising for a project. Many will want to know how you make up the balance of the funds you need to operate annually. Be ready to show them your annual budget, as well as your most recent audited financial statements.
- Make sure to show what your organisation can contribute to the overall cost of the project, volunteer or otherwise. Be realistic - don’t promise things you can’t realistically do.
- If they are interested, expect the donor to ask you specifically:
- Who will staff the project? (sometimes CVs are required as part of an application)
- What will you do if you can’t raise all the funds?
- Who else are you approaching for funding?
- Ask the donor if they have any suggestions for other funders you could apply to. Get a specific contact name, and ask if you can reference the donor in your approach.
- Be as succinct as possible. Limit proposals to 5-10 pages unless otherwise specified.
- Make your proposal easy to read by using a large enough font, leaving sufficient white space and using bullets wherever possible.
- Present background information (in appendices) on how your organisation is currently staffed, funded and governed.
Make sure you leave enough time to gather and compile detailed information about your project plan. The more concrete, specific and logical you can be, the stronger your presentation to the donor - and the better your chances of getting funding.