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Writing Effective Funding Proposals

At a recent breakfast meeting of the Sustainability Network, Laidlaw Foundation environmental program director Bruce Lourie expressed his concerns about the need for better proposal writing. He commented that, although all program applicants receive the foundation's program description, guidelines, advice on how to apply, and have numerous discussions with staff before any proposal is received - there is a tendency for many writers to ignore all of the advice, guidelines and consultation provided ahead of time

Submitting a single proposal to a wide variety of funders, without having researched those funders, made contact with them, and most importantly listened to what they have asked for - is certain to lead to disappointment and rejection. Instead, we strongly recommend that an organization looking for 'funding', look first to

* building the case,

* understanding the resources you have and need,

* developing a diverse and comprehensive strategy and then

* develop an effective proposal based on a connection with a funder.

These steps are very similar to multiple other guides, workshops, publications and seminars given on fund-raising and sustainability. In times of cutbacks, tight resources, limited funds and ever-increasing demands - you may be thinking 'just give me the money [or the proposal]' and not the lecture. This feature is not a "lecture" - it is a basic guide and series of questions that can be used as a checklist for writing proposals. A collection of references and resources are included in this message and in the following Resources message.

Developed by Alison Stirling, OPC health promotion consultant - with Lorraine Telford, THCU consultant

B. ARE YOU READY? Can You Build Your Case for Support?

Wanting the money is not enough. You have to figure out who you are, where you want to be (in terms of your project or activity), who is with you, and what you want to do. To do this, you have to ask yourself a few hard questions and work through a checklist. The following is a compilation from a workshop offered by the Community Social Planning Council of Toronto, and materials from OPC. Related questions taken from a community grant application guide from the Ontario Trillium Foundation are included marked with TF in front. The key to getting resources is basic - development of relationships with supporters and funders and confidence in your ability to achieve change.

A Readiness Checklist to Create a Compelling Case

[For each Item - is it In Place? Do you Need to get it? If so by When?]


What is your mission, vision, values and how are you unique?

What community and target group do you serve and who are they?

How do you deliver your services, and who is involved?

TF (a) When was your group established? (b) What is your purpose or mission statement?

TF Briefly describe your current programs or activities

B. WHO? (show resources and connections for leverage)

Who is on your Board of Directors or steering committee, staff (paid and volunteers)

Who are your major partners [or strategic alliances] and what do they contribute?

Who are your supporters? Can you demonstrate community demand/support for your activities?

TF How does your organization work with others in your community? Please list the members and purpose of any partnerships, collaborations or efforts you are currently involved in

C. WHAT? (establish credibility, stability)

What is your financial and resource situation currently?

What are your major successes, supported by what evidence?

TF What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to your community?

TF Please identify the key challenges and opportunities your organization has faced in the past few years, and how you have addressed them.

D. HOW? (show long-range planning)

What are the activities that are intended to meet your goals and objectives?

What is your service record?

Do you have a strategic plan or planning processes in place?

TF How do you know that this is an important initiative for your community?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


If you have been able to assess your organization's readiness and make a compelling case for a new initiative, then presenting your proposal will be an effective undertaking. All proposals have the same basic components, as described below:

1) Summary (can also be a Letter of Intent)

This is a brief, clear, concise overview that makes the reader want to know more. It should include the following items (maximum 2 pages):

* Identifies your organization and includes at least 1 sentence establishing credibility

* The Issue, problem or need is stated in 2-3 sentences

* Objectives are briefly stated, with Methods and activities listed in at least 1 sentence

* Overall costs are described (funds already obtained and amount requested)

* Describes the path forward from here.

2) Introduction

This section is about a half-page in length. It is a description of the applicant and its qualifications for funding, summarizing accomplishments, positioning, and supports. Write this introduction last, and tailor-make it to the funders, ensuring that there is nothing extraneous, that it is concise, and that the proposed actions are a logical next step.

3) Problem statement or needs assessment

This section is not about you - it is about the external problems or challenges (e.g. the community). The statement of need will enable the reader to learn more about the issues. You want the need section to be succinct, yet persuasive.

* Decide which facts or statistics best support the project.

* Show the gaps in existing service, OR demonstrate that your program addresses the need differently or better than other projects that preceded it.

* Your role is obvious and the task is reasonable/achievable

* Clearly defined, without jargon; avoiding circular reasoning.

* Is brief and interesting to read

4) Project Description

This section of your proposal should have 3 inter-linked subsections: objectives, methods, and evaluation. Together, objectives and methods become the focus of the evaluation to assess the results of the project. The budget, staffing and administrative requirements should come out of the project description.


The objectives and goals are possibly the most difficult part of any proposal to get right. They are the essential part that describes the outcome of the funding in measurable terms. They should relate to the issue or problem described above, signifies change and NOT describe the activities or means.

* Consider: SMART Objectives - Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely

* At least one objective for each problem or need committed to in the problem statement

* Describes the population that will benefit

* States the time by which objectives will be accomplished


The methods describe the activities to be used to achieve the desired results. The methods section enables the reader to visualize the implementation of the project. It should convince the reader that your agency knows what it is doing, and that

* these are logical next steps from issues and objectives

* states reasons for the selection of activities

* describes the sequence of activities, staffing and clients

* presents reasonable scope of activities within the time (a workplan is useful here)


Evaluation is not an event, it is a process of determining how objectives are met and methods are followed. A variety of tools may be used. Be sure to describe:

* Who does evaluation (internal or external)

* How? What methods for gathering data

* Criteria and indicators for success

* How learnings will be produced, shared and used

5) Budget and Future Funding/ Resources Leverage

You might have thought that the budget was one of the first things that you would want to present - but in fact, it will be the last item in the proposal. It will highlight the quality of your planning to show feasibility, commitment and sustainability. Are you ready to be able to do that?

The budget will:

* show cost-effectiveness - be realistic - detailed and simple to understand

* based on sound research - accurate - categorized

* use budget notes and narrative separately - have dates & time-frames

* clearly outline expenses, income and leverage of other resources

Before the actual budget is attached - you need to address future funding and other resources. The funder will want to see:

* a listing of other funds received with sources;

* an outline of your fundraising strategies; long-range plans and budget projections,

* describes how other funds will be obtained (see letters of support) and

* a detailed breakdown of your current income and expenses (attach the current operating budget, the project/program budget, and an audit or year-end fiscal statement for the most recent available year).

6) Conclusion and Appendices

An important part of the proposal, often overlooked - the conclusion should be 2 or 3 sentences, summarizing the intent of the proposal, stressing leverage and alliances and express confidence!

Appendices are not for important information that belongs in the proposal - they are for strategic information that adds to the information in the proposal. Generally the appendices include:

* list of Board of Directors and/or supporting organizations or collaborations

* legal documents such as incorporation or charitable status

* financial documents (mentioned above as audited or fiscal statement)

* annual reports, brochures, publications

* endorsements and letters of support **specifically for the project**

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


Find two or three people to read through your proposal to provide an Objective and Critical Appraisal. Ask them to rate the proposal and make suggestions for improvement on:

* Writing - diction, grammar, spelling, flow

* Tone and Title - does it grab and keep the reader

* Summary - succinct & motivating?

* Issues identification

* Credibility

* Objectives (are they SMART?) Activities (clear, related, timely?) and Evaluation

* Budget and Leverage/Resources

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~


* Value - What was proposed probably wasn't worth doing

* Feasibility - what was proposed couldn't likely be done

* Capability - those making the proposal couldn't likely do it

From the National Institute for Mental Health in the U.S. - other reasons for rejection:

20% of proposals did not have page numbers (things get out of order very easily!)

66% of proposals had no evaluation component

73% had no table of contents

81% had no summary or abstract

92% failed to provide information on who does the work

And most often - the applicant did not take into consideration what the funder was looking for and had not asked for and made their proposal fit with the funder's priorities. Take a moment to read through and think about the following 10 tips for successful proposals, as seen from a funder's perspective.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

F. 10 tips to successful project grantwriting

by Lorna Ryan, Trillium Foundation [edited for use in OHPE]

1) Know what you want to do.

Be really clear on what you want to accomplish, how it furthers your mandate or goals. Be able to describe it in simple terms with some clear outcomes

2) Know your funder's mandate.

You want to ensure that your proposed initiative and its outcomes are explained in terms that make sense to that funder. Learn the budget situation - look like you have done your homework.

3) Know your funder's representative.

Talk to them first and ask for any program particularities. There may be regional, sectoral or time sensitive priorities which they are looking to fill.

4) Listen to the funder's representative

If the funder says to keep the proposal to 4 pages - do it. If there is a deadline find out if it means that the application can be postmarked by the deadline or must it be physically in their office by the deadline.

5) KISS Principle

Keep it simple (silly!). Project funders receive applications from all sectors of the community and do not know the language of each sector, they do not know acronyms, and terms. If funding staff can't understand what you are trying to do, it won't move.

6) KISS Principle (AGAIN!)

Keep it short (silly!). UNLESS you have been told otherwise (see #3 and #4), the staff person is likely assessing more than your proposal and does not need to know everything about your group.

7) Use the application form

If the organization created forms for you to use, please use them. Do not create another document that you attach to their questions, use the form. If the representative has suggested that you attach further material then attach Appendix A after you have answered the question.

8) References

Some types of proposals require you to give some names of people not directly related to your organization who will speak to the value of the initiative. Advise your references that they will be called and either give them a copy of the application or let them know what you are applying for.

9) What went wrong

Should you not get funded, it is your right (nae, your duty) to find out what the reason was. You want to know this (even if it hurts).

10) Try again

You most likely can remedy something in the application and try, try again. It is frustrating but think of it as learning a skill - grantwriting. A good investment is to find an organization or person with those skills in your community, and make use of them.


**Program Planning & Proposal Writing; Norton J. Kiritz, for The Grantsmanship Center, 1980 (4$). The Grantsmanship Center, 1125 W. Sixth Street, Fifth Floor PO Box 17220 Los Angeles, CA 90017 Phone: (213) 482-9860 Fax: (213) 482-9863 E-mail:

**A Proposal Writing Short Course - by the Foundation Center

excerpted from The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing, rev.ed. (New York: The Foundation Center, 1997), by Jane C. Geever and Patricia McNeill Feb 1997 / ISBN 0-87954-703-0 / 191 pp. / $34.95 / from The Foundation Center; 79 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10003 Fax 212-807-3677

**Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant Application Forms & Guide

**"Writing Effective Funding Proposals" - workshop given by the Community Social Planning Council - Toronto in November 1999

For more information - contact CSPC-T at 2 Carlton Street Suite 1001, Toronto, ON M5B 1J3

Tel: 416-351-0095 Fax: 416-351-0107

Email: Internet:

**"Resource Networking" - workshop given by OPC-COIP and Innovaction

For more information - contact OPC at 180 Dundas Street West, Suite 1900, Toronto, ON M5G 1Z8. Tel: (800) 263-2846 or (416) 408-2121 Fax (416) 408-2122 e-mail:

"This workshop will help you close the gap between your needs and your available resources by teaching you the principles of resource networking, and how to apply them in your organization. You will learn how to 'discover' the total resources of your community, and begin to develop strategies to access these resources"