These tools and resources are designed to help you master the art of writing effective and concise funding proposals for free expression projects. While each funder has specific information requirements, this guide covers the elements that are commonly required by most donors. Always check with a donor to see if they have a particular application format, and use theirs if they have one. You should be able to adapt this format to any donor you are working with.
PROJECT PROPOSAL GUIDELINES
This section provides suggested guidelines for writing funding proposals for freedom of expression projects, based on the sample project proposal template, which includes the following elements:
- Cover Page Essentials
- Executive Summary
- Problem Statement
- Project Goal and Expected Outcomes
- Project Activities and Outputs
- Project Participants
- Project Beneficiaries
- Project Management
- Project Sustainability
- Gender Considerations
- Evaluation and Monitoring
Keep in mind that writing a project plan isn't necessarily a linear process. You may find it easiest to start with the sections that are most clear to you, and then come back to others that are more general, such as:
- Project activities
- Implementation plan
- Expected outputs
- Goal, etc.
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.
COVER PAGE ESSENTIALS
Keep it clean and simple with the key information a donor needs to find. You'll need the following:
Project title Create a name for your project. A common way of titling projects is to describe the project's result or effect, followed by the name of the activity. This format immediately gives the audience some information about your project mission.
Sample Project Titles
- Building Democracy in Central Asia: Filling the Gaps in Free-Expression Monitoring, Training and Advocacy
- Strengthening Freedom of Expression in Latin America and the Caribbean - Building Effective Networks for Improving Violations Reporting and Advocacy
Project duration Include the planned time frame for the project
Submitted to Specify the name and title of the person to whom you're sending the proposal
Contact person Which person at your organisation is primarily responsible for developing and managing the project, and will be the main keeper of information about it? Are there other people who should be referenced? Give name, title, phone number, and e-mail address for each key contact.
Mailing address Include your full postal address for correspondence.
Street address Include, if different than your postal address.
Email and website Include your organisation's website address and general email address
Length: 1/2 Page to 1 Page Maximum
This is the most important section of your proposal because donors rely on it to present the project to their colleagues. This should be the one-stop place where the prospective funder/partner can find:
- A brief but compelling explanation of why the project is necessary: what problem are you trying to address?
- Project goal
- Overview of project strategy
- Expected outcome or change that will result from your project being implemented successfully
- Specific $$ request of the donor (here you could reference any other donor or in-kind support you have already secured).
Prepare the executive summary after the rest of the project proposal is written, as it relies on information from all of the other sections.
PROBLEM STATEMENT AND PROJECT BACKGROUND/CONTEXT
Length: 1 Page Maximum
Whether combined or separate, these sections explain why you think your project is a logical and necessary response to a set of circumstances. What is the problem your project is aiming to solve?
The background should explain how you arrived at this proposal—who did you consult, what did they say—and why you believe your proposal is the answer to the problem that needs solving. Where and how did your project proposal originate? If you have done surveys or have quantitative proof that there is a demand for this project, reference that. Consider including any detailed documentation in the Appendices (e.g., survey results summary). As part of the background, you may need to describe the particular context of a country or region.
PROJECT GOAL AND EXPECTED OUTCOMES
Length: About 1/2 Page
The project goal should describe the main overall impact that you want the project to have. In one sentence, encapsulate the vision of the project by answering this question: What kind of meaningful change will result because of this project? Consider the following examples of concisely stated goals and outcomes:
This project aims to provide free expression organisations in Central Asia, which face serious free expression and human rights violations, with a vital networking mechanism to help them develop independent and responsible media that can play a leading role in the development of democracy.
Relevant advocacy and awareness-raising initiatives at national and regional levels implemented through regional collaboration.
This project aims to influence and achieve active participation and action on free expression issues by state parties, relevant intergovernmental agencies and civil society in Latin America and the Caribbean through strengthening tools for monitoring and reporting of violations and developments, generating mechanisms for effective state and intergovernmental dialogue and interlocution, and strengthening free expression networking at the national and regional level.
Standardised reporting mechanism for freedom of expression violations and developments in Latin America and the Caribbean.
You'll know if your goal is worded appropriately when it reads as a general statement about a change or achievement that naturally evokes the question, “How?”
- Goals are the major areas of work undertaken over five to seven years to fulfill an organisation’s mission.
- Outcomes are medium-term results that are likely to be achieved over a one- to three-year period. For example, “Ways identified to work more strategically within regions to leverage strengths and avoid duplication of efforts.”
- Outputs are shorter-term, more concrete achievements that will enable a result (outcome) to occur in the longer term (e.g., reports, training, handbooks, etc.).
As you articulate your project outcomes, it is crucial to link them directly to your planned project activities. For example, if one of the anticipated project outcomes is improved free expression violations reporting, then the specific related activities could be: training workshops for correspondents, skills exchanges between organisations, development of customised free expression reporting templates, building a broader network of correspondents, increased translation capacity, etc.
PROJECT ACTIVITIES AND OUTPUTS
Length: About 2 Pages
In this section you will outline your specific strategy (activities, expected outputs and timeline) to achieve your project outcomes. Make sure your activities directly correspond with your expected outcomes.
Describe concretely how you plan to achieve the project goal and expected outcomes. Sample activities may include:
- Training workshop
- Skills exchanges with other organisations
- Campaign website and downloadable 'take-action' toolkit
- Training activities on a specific theme or skill, or for a specific community or user group
- Radio programs on free expression issues
- A fact-finding mission in a country or a region, and subsequent report
- Online dialogue/consultation and a subsequent report or press release
- Public meeting, webinar/webcast and/or 'tweetup' on a particular issue
- Panel of experts at a public event
When describing activities, indicate when and where they will take place, and who will participate. Be realistic about the timelines — no point setting up your organisation to fail. It's better to under-promise and over-achieve!
These are the 'products' that will result from your activities, e.g., website, training curriculum, case study, research report, infographic or data visualisation, plan for future activities or a strategy document, how-to booklet, poster, a declaration, a certain number of people trained, a policy intervention, etc. Be as descriptive as possible:
- Quantify your outputs (e.g., specify the number of people trained or copies of a booklet produced)
- List the languages in which outputs will be available
- Identify specific communities of people or geographic locations that will be served or affected, and your expectations of audience reach.
Length: 1 Page
Check if the donor requires a specific format for presenting the budget (many organisations do). Make sure the budget relates to the activities and outputs you have presented, and organise it as much as possible according to the project outcomes, with estimated costs for each related activity listed under its corresponding outcome. Use these templates for sample itemised budgets.
Prepare the budget in the currency of the donor (e.g., $US, Euro, etc.). Make sure you know how the information you present in the project budget maps directly back to your organisation’s annual budget.
Over and above the time needed for staff directly involved in delivering the project, don't forget to include overhead costs such as senior and financial management time spent on the project, rent, utilities, communications, office equipment and technical support, etc. Some funders have specific limits on the percentage of the budget that can be used for overhead, so check this beforehand, if possible. About 20% generally covers most costs to manage and deliver a project adequately, but many funders don't support more than 10%, so you will need to include your overhead costs in the budget in other ways.
Even if you think a donor will not cover overhead costs, it is important to include them in the budget, as these are an essential component of actually being able to do the work (e.g., if you didn’t have an office, you couldn’t undertake the project).
If you expect to have to raise funds from multiple donors, indicate in the budget section of your proposal where you will be trying to raise the additional funds. Think about these questions:
- Is there anything in the budget that your organisation can actually contribute? e.g., a mailing list; a workshop/training venue; a resource person; etc. Make sure you show the value of any contributions that you are making as part of the income/expense.
- Is there any funding you already have, or that any of your project partners have, that can be leveraged towards the implementation of this project? e.g., If you are going to adapt materials that have been developed in another project to your own purposes (rather than produce them from scratch), you can show these materials as contribution/income in the budget, and only show as costs those expenditures that you’ll need to do the modifications.
PROJECT PARTICIPANTS, BENEFICIARIES AND MANAGEMENT
Length: About 1 Page
Give an overview of everyone who will be involved in project activities, either as an implementation partner or as a direct participant in project activities (e.g., journalists at workshops, etc.). Direct participants are also referred to by some donors as “target groups.” In this section you can consider how the project links to other related activities underway in the community or in the field. Are you involving other strategic partners in some way?
Describe who will directly and indirectly benefit from the project, and how will they be affected by your project activities.
Identify who will be coordinating the project on a day-to-day basis, as well as who is responsible for financial management and governance. Will you have any advisory groups involved in implementation? If so, identify them and explain their roles.
Usually one organisation must be the project contractor (e.g., the organisation that signs the project contract with a funder or project sponsor). However, relationships between the project contractor and other organisations directly involved in project implementation should be explained in detail. While it is useful to do this for the sake of the funder or sponsor, it is even more important to do this for the sake of project success. Working out contractual and implementation issues between project partners before seeking funding is essential, to avoid confusion and misunderstandings later.
PROJECT PARTICIPANTS OPTIONAL PROPOSAL SECTIONS
You could omit the following four sections in a first presentation to a donor, though most donors that go ahead with funding will want to see your thinking on these topics at some stage. So consider including them, or be prepared to elaborate on them later. Many donors do not consider these elements optional, and require them in any application.
Identify the risks that could conceivably interfere with your ability to implement the project successfully. While it may seem counterintuitive to tell a potential donor that there is a possibility the project may not succeed, it is better to identify potential problems before you start. Donors often have suggestions for mitigating risks.
For example, perhaps you aren't sure how quickly you can find the best, qualified staff person to implement the project. Or maybe there is impending civil unrest around an election in the country that could prevent certain activities from taking place. Perhaps you are relying on unreliable communications systems to advance the work, and you should anticipate some delays in implementation.
Thinking through the project risks on paper helps you to develop contingency plans, which you can also present in this section.
2) PROJECT SUSTAINABILITY
Donors want to know what will happen to the project after their funding contribution is used up. What mechanisms are built into the project, or will be produced by it, to ensure lasting results? Consider the following:
Project context: Is this project part of a larger undertaking, or is it a distinct activity? Are subsequent phases expected?
Follow-up: Are there any follow-up activities/programs that will benefit from the results of this project?
Support: To what extent does the initiative have the ongoing support (including financial) of key domestic and international stakeholders beyond the end date presented to the donor?
3) GENDER CONSIDERATIONS
Many donors—especially, but not only, government donors—require that projects address gender issues. (Governments often also require other special issue interests such as poverty, HIV/AIDs, environmental considerations, etc. to be taken into account, so find out what these are and include them in your application.)
For gender accountability, identify what measures will ensure that the interests/needs of women, men, girls and boys will be addressed:
- Planning: What gender inequalities need to be recognised within the context of the project and what strategies will be developed to address them within the project design?
- Implementing: What concrete actions will be taken to ensure the needs/interests of women, men, girls and boys are incorporated into project activities?
- Evaluating: How will women, men, girls and boys benefit from the intended advantages/gains of project activities, and how will this be measured?
4) EVALUATION AND MONITORING
How will you know if you have achieved your objectives? Funders will ask you to identify ways to measure success. Most importantly, you should set indicators for success at the beginning of the project that you can review midway through and/or at the end.
Training sessions: Ask participants to state their expectations at the beginning of the session; at the end, ask them to fill out an evaluation telling how they will use the skills they have gained; follow up a few weeks or months later to see if they have used these skills. Document the results.
Websites and online information products: Show that there will be stakeholder involvement in the building of your communication vehicles, and also that you can measure how they are used, by whom, by how many, and where they are from.
Reports: If you are producing materials or a report, invite people to review outlines and drafts and comment on them.
Project resources: Survey the users and report on the findings.
As the project is being developed, it can be very useful to convene project advisory groups that you can consult.
Evaluations cost money, so make sure to budget for any you plan to undertake.