Writing Successful Proposals

Writing Proposals

What’s Essential - The Proposal Process

After identifying a sponsor and confirming the funding opportunity, proposal development activities can begin in earnest. Taking the time to make a plan will make the process go more smoothly and increase your chances of success.

  • Read the Request For Proposal (aka RFP, FOA, etc.) CAREFULLY
    • Send the RFP to your local department financial administrator and OSP. They can help review for unusual or tricky requirements.
  • Develop a timeline of key activities and deadlines.
    • OSP has a five-day deadline - the complete and final proposal must be submitted to OSP five business days prior to the sponsor's deadline. Verify it using OSP’s five-day calculator.
    • Check your School or DLC's internal deadline - in order to make OSP's 5-day deadline, you may need to submit the proposal for internal review prior to OSP's deadline.
    • If the potential sponsor is a foreign entity, your proposal may need special review. See the ICC website for more details.
    • Set aside time every day for working on your application so that you can meet key deadlines.
  • Ask for feedback from
    • your colleagues and peers.
    • the sponsor. You don’t know until you ask.

Tips for Writing Successful Proposals

  • Have a clear plan for your project.
    • Know what you want to accomplish and describe the steps you will take to do it.
  • Read other grants.
    • If you can find grants that others have submitted, read them and get a feel for the writing. (Don't copy the grant.)
  • Call your program officer and review your plan.
    • Is this in line with what he/she wants to fund?
    • Does this fit this year’s current objectives? 
    • Does he/she have advice as to other relevant programs for you?
  • Make sure your goals are measurable and realistic.
    • Be careful what you ask for. You're going to win lots of grants; don’t over-promise.
  • Do not make your grant equipment-heavy.
    • Everyone wants new tools. Make sure it’s directly related to the work that you are doing and will be solely used by the project, unless it will be partially paid by others.
  • Include staff development.
    • Be sure to include the necessary staff development to make the project a success. Too many people skimp on that area.
  • Make sure the timeline of the grant matches the grantor's funding cycle.
    • If that's unknown, it's better to use phase 1 and phase 2 or month 1, 2, 3, etc. than specific dates.
  • Start the budget process early.
    • The budget is supposed to be “the financial expression of the project”. Spend some time early on with your DLC fiscal officer to walk through what you will need to accomplish the scope of work.
  • If possible, become a grant reviewer.
    • This is a great way to see the kinds of projects that are funded, and learn how the review process operates.
  • Don't give up because you're rejected.
    • Funding rates are more challenging than ever, and it takes time. Read the reviews carefully, seek more feedback from your department colleagues.

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