Thursday – July 24, 2014

 

Twelve Tips for Proposal Writers

Detailed requirements for proposal content will vary among funding sources. Regardless of the source of funds, most proposals generally require the following components:

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  • Summary or Abstract
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    • Usually the applicant is asked to provide a one-page statement recapping all of the proposal elements in a very concise form that clearly summarizes the need and the amount of the request. This section may be referred to as an "executive summary" or a 200- word (or less) paragraph at the beginning of the proposal.
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  • Introduction/Institutional Background
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    • This section describes the institution, including location, organizational relationships, demographics, student data, basic mission and relationship to service area.
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    • This section also establishes the institution's credibility and qualifications, by answering to the question "Where?"
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    • This section must be complete and concise. It will probably never run more than two pages.
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  • Problem Statement or Needs Assessment
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    • Problems to be solved or needs to be met must be documented with hard data where possible and linked to national, regional and local information.
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    • This section answers two questions: "Why?" and "How?"
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    • On the one hand, emphasis on the description and support documentation about the problem and/or need to be addressed is often more desirable than stating a series of generic statements (such as "workplace literacy") or nebulous terms ("Dealing with the literacy problems of aging American industry workers" is too vague an idea for a fundable project.) Bring the problem home to the setting of the proposal.
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      • For example, detailing a need for "literacy courses for automotive mechanics whose reading requirements have suddenly jumped from fourth grade to 16th grade, based on the new automobile manuals, readability scales and auto industry information (cited)" is much closer to being funded, particularly if the need has been identified in 4 out of 5 dealerships in a 20 square-mile area in the college service area.
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    • On the other hand, the target population must be identified and described completely in number and defined characteristics, so that it is clear to the funding source who your project clients are.
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      • Be sure that your clients meet every required eligibility condition imposed by the funding source and that you provide the necessary documentation to comply with the requirements.
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      • Carefully read the funding source guideline requirements for client participation in your project, as well as your documentation to provide to the funding source, regarding these requirements.
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  • Objectives
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    • Identify the anticipated outcomes and benefits in measurable terms.
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      • Words to use include " to increase," "to decrease" and "to reduce."
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      • A common component is a projection of percentages of gain or improvement over past performance.
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      • The writer is to answer the question: "What is to be accomplished to what level of competency?"
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  • Methods/Procedures
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    • Whether called "proposal narrative," "activity description" or simply "methodology," methods and/or procedures constitute the core of your proposal.
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    • In this section, clear descriptions of the activities that will directly support and carry out the individual objectives will be made.
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      • Funding sources put a limit on the number of pages that you can submit for this part of your project description.
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      • Support documentation is often provided via attachments and/or appendices referenced in the main body of the narrative.
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    • Here the question to answer is "How?" Enough detail is provided as to convince the readers that the applicant knows about what the project requires and how to go about accomplishing the project expectations.
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    • Be careful of the clarity and appropriateness of the operational language used.
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      • For instance, a reference to "performance evolution measures" may indicate the use of data collection instruments focusing on outcomes assessment when you really were supposed to provide a narrative of how that concept fits within the implementation processes. The difference is apparent in language such as "convene advisory committee" (process) and "advisory committee completes project recommendations" (product). Also, methods often include how the project participants will be identified, recruited and certified as eligible.
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  • Time Frame
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    • Develop a schematic table or listing by month, quarters, benchmarks or critical events for tasks to be completed.
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      • This table sometimes is requested by the funding source in a timeline graphic format (called Gant's diagram in project management jargon) that, in its simplest form, consists of a two-dimensional array of tasks and human resources (rows) and dates (columns) that show, by means of horizontal bars and symbols, when the process's key outcomes will be accomplished or the primary and secondary steps that will lead to the outcomes will be implemented.
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      • Even if it is not requested, a grants chart is a succinct, understandable summary of key processes and outcomes related in time.
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      • The question to answer is "When?"
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    • While developing the timeline, task time projections must be realistic and checked against the agency allowance for start-up activities (some of which may have reduced funding levels). Optimistic and pessimistic completion times should be estimated for all important outcomes to be achieved. Contingency-driven adjustments can then be made as needed, based on unforeseen circumstances.
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  • Staffing
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    • Include job descriptions for each position where support is requested or where matching funds have been designated as a portion of the salary.
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    • Describe relationships in the administrative structure and indicate the amount of time any position and/or individual will spend on the project.
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      • Usually resumes are condensed in the proposal, and full resumes are included as reference in the appendices.
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      • Condensed resumes should direct the readers' attention to the qualifications of the individuals for the proposed project.
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    • This section should assure the funding agency that appropriate personnel to complete the project are identified by answering the question "Who?"
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  • Evaluation
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    • Present a plan for determining the success of the project at interim points and at the end.
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      • Whenever appropriate, the measures should be of programs/activities in progress (formative) and of the completed outcomes (summative), internal and/or external, qualitative and/or quantitative or any combination of the above.
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      • Identify measures for both the products and the process used to implement the project in order determine "How well?" or "To what extent?"
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    • Include a paragraph regarding the extent to which you are committed to find out what will be the impact of the project implementation on your institution, on the participants and on the community at large, even though the funding source may not require that you describe an outcomes follow-up activity.
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  • Budgeting
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    • In order to answer the question "How much?", spell out the cost to be met using the requested funding source funds and the method used to determine those costs in the following categories:
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      • Staff salaries
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      • Fringe benefits
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      • Supplies
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      • Travel
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      • Equipment
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      • Consultants and other (postage, printing, etc. depending on the agency).
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      • Indirect costs may or may not be allowed.
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    • Always add to your project narrative references regarding the cost items that would generate direct expense during project implementation.
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      • Note how the agency has indicated that special charges such as consulting and travel for consultants are to be handled.
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  • Letters of Support
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    • Any cooperating agency or institution whose contribution is critical to the project should be cited in the proposal narrative as a contributing member along with the extent of their involvement (financial resources, human resources, facilities, equipment, etc.) and must be represented by a current letter detailing the commitment of that agency or institution to the project.
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    • When unsolicited by the funding source, generic "feel good" testimonials and "to whom it may concern" letters are both inappropriate and irrelevant. However, if you do have to attach such letters of support, where possible try to quote them in appropriate passages of the proposal narrative along with suitable reference to the page and heading of each of them. Letters of support may enhance the supporting institution's prestige and the applicant's credibility, if their writers are attesting to the success of a similar program, particularly if the project for which funding is being requesting is not a whole new venture.
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  • Appendices
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    • Appendices are rarely read unless the funding source requested that some information be presented this way. Important information needs to be in the body of the proposal.
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    • Appendices are useful for listing of curriculum, area businesses or industries that might be contacted or other data too lengthy to be included in the body. Like letters of support, it is wise to quote within the proposal the most salient points and then refer the reader to the appropriate document if further detail is required.
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  • Other Points to Consider
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    • Where to invest time, energy and pages:
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      • Somewhere in the application package there is usually a proposal evaluation form which will be used by the proposal readers. Often with federal grants the Federal Register announcement contains the evaluation criteria. Look carefully at the points assigned to each section of the proposal. The point ratio clearly indicates where the agency is placing its emphasis. If, for example, the needs statement is worth 30 of a possible 100 points and evaluation only counts for 5 points, it is fairly obvious that time and energy need to be spent on a well-researched and documented needs statement. If the methods count heavily, the agency is looking for the ability of the organization to carry out the project successfully-- more detail planning will then be called for than might appear first necessary.
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    • Language and Appearance:
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      • Write in plain English and in varied but not complex sentences.
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      • Define meanings for jargon and keep explanations brief but complete.
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      • Use action verbs. Create a vivid picture of the activities and outcomes of the project in the mind of the readers.
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      • Type and carefully proofread the proposal.
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      • Double spacing is standard.
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      • Staple and not bound the proposals unless specifically required by the agency.
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    • Completeness:
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      • Allow time to obtain appropriate signatures (it may be necessary to have multiple original signatures).
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      • Assemble a complete package in the order requested by the funder.
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      • Make duplicates for the application submission process and for all contributing parties mentioned in the proposal.
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