Project Proposal Writing

Compiled by:
Leonellha Barreto Dillon (seecon international gmbh)

Executive Summary

A proposal is a request for financial assistance to implement a project. The proposal outlines the plan of the implementing organisation about the project, giving extensive information about the intention, for implementing it, the ways to manage it and the results to be delivered from it (FUNDS FOR NGOS 2010).The following guidelines are designed to help you prepare your full proposal. How well you plan the action is critical to the success of the project.

A project proposal is a detailed description of a series of activities aimed at solving a certain problem (NEBIU 2002).  In order to be successful, the document should (REPOA 2007):

 

  • provide a logical presentation of a research idea
  • illustrate the significance of the idea
  • show the idea's relationship to past actions
  • articulate the activities for the proposed project

 

Designing a project is a process consisting of two elements, which are equally important and thus essential to forming a solid project proposal:

 

  • project planning (formulation of project elements)
  • proposal writing (converting the plan into a project document)

 

The project proposal should be a detailed and directed manifestation of the project design. It is a means of presenting the project to the outside world in a format that is immediately recognised and accepted.

Getting Ready to Start a Project Proposal

  • From vision to proposal: The first step is to decide what the problem is and develop a rough idea (vision) of how this could be solved. This vision is then to be transformed into an idea for a specific project proposal. A logical framework may help you to structure this idea in a systematic way, and clearly define the aim, purpose, outputs, activities, means, costs and the methodologies for monitoring and evaluation, and will thus from the basis for the preparation of the narrative of the proposal. Remember that your idea may have to fit certain requirements if you are answering to a call for proposals, and that it must also fit local policies and frameworks.
  • Identify potential funding options: It is necessary to find out in advance what sources of funding are available, through governments, international cooperation agencies, some international NGOs or private foundations.
  • Build a project proposal team (adapted from PHILIP et al. 2008): a leader will be needed to manage the proposal development in an efficient way, and therefore it is advisable to assign the lead role to one specific person. This person is then responsible for the coordination of the overall proposal development, for communication with potential funders and for making sure that all different pieces of input are brought together in a consistent and coherent text. Experts with more detailed technical knowledge might be part of the team, or simply contribute to an initial brainstorming session. Furthermore, the budget should be compiled in close cooperation with staff from the financial department. Input from stakeholders or other specialists with different backgrounds helps bring in the necessary expertise to the project.
  • Hold a kick-off meeting: It is helpful to discuss and develop the proposal in a small team and share drafts with experts of all relevant disciplines not just from within the administration, but also from outside it. Input from stakeholders or other specialists with different backgrounds helps bring in the necessary expertise, but also a larger variety of ideas on how to solve a particular issue and achieve the previously agreed objectives.

Proposal Writing

 RICO (2005)

The proposal format might sometimes be of importance for the donor. Source: unknown

“The requirements of content and format of proposals differ noticeably from one sponsoring agency to another. While some may provide their own application forms to be filled, and others may request on-line submission of proposals, others will accept a proposal in any format as long as it features the necessary information, and does not contradict their conditions” (AUB 2010).

Proposed Format for a Full Project Proposal

(Adapted from NEBIU 2002)

A full proposal should have the following parts:

 

  • Title page: A title page should appear on proposals longer than three to four pages. The title page should indicate the project title, the name of the lead organisation (and potential partners, if any), the place and date of project preparation and the name of the donor agency to whom the proposal is addressed.
  • Project title: The project title should be short, concise, and preferably refer to a certain key project result or the leading project activity. Project titles that are too long or too general fail to give the reader an effective snapshot of what is inside.
  • Abstract/Executive Summary: Many readers lack the time needed to read the whole project proposal. It is therefore useful to insert a short project summary, an abstract or executive summary. The abstract should include: the problem statement, the project’s objectives, implementing organisations; key project activities; and potentially the total project budget. Theoretically, the abstract should be compiled after the relevant items already exist in their long form. For a small project the abstract may not be longer than 10 lines. Bigger projects often provide abstracts as long as two pages.
  • Context: This part of the project describes the social, economic, political and cultural background from which the project is initiated. It should contain relevant data from research carried out in the project planning phase or collected from other sources.
  • Project justification: A rationale should be provided for the project. Due to its importance, this section is sometimes divided into four or more sub-sections:
    • Problem statement: The problem statement provides a description of the specific problem(s) the project is trying to solve, in order to “make a case” for the project. Furthermore, the project proposal should point out why a certain issue is a problem for the community or society as a whole, i.e. what negative implications affect the target group. There should also be an explanation of the needs of the target group that appear as a direct consequence of the described problem.
    • Priority needs: The needs of the target group that have arisen as a direct negative impact of the problem should be prioritised. An explanation as to how this decision was reached must also be included.
    • The proposed approach (type of intervention): The project proposal should describe the strategy chosen for solving the problem and precisely how it will lead to improvement.
    • The implementing organisation: This section should describe the capabilities of your organisation by referring to its capacity and previous project record. Describe why exactly your organisation is the most appropriate to run the project, its connexion to the local community, the constituency behind the organisation and what kind of expertise the organisation can provide. If other partners are involved in implementation provide some information on their capacity as well.
    • Project aims: This information should be obtained from the Logframe Matrix, including the project goal (a general aim that should explain what the core problem is and why the project is important, i.e. what the long-term benefits to the target group are), project purpose (that should address the core problem in terms of the benefits to be received by the project beneficiaries or target group as a direct result of the project) and the outputs (i.e. results describe the services or products to be delivered to the intended beneficiaries).
  • Target group: define the target group and show how it will benefit from the project. The project should provide a detailed description of the size and characteristics of the target groups, and especially of direct project beneficiaries.
  • Project implementation: The implementation plan should describe activities and resource allocation in as much detail as possible. It is exceptionally important to provide a good overview of who is going to implement the project’s activities, as well as when and where. The implementation plan may be divided into two key elements: the activity plan and the resource plan. The activity plan should include specific information and explanations of each of the planned project activities. The duration of the project should be clearly stated, with considerable detail on the beginning and the end of the project. In general, two main formats are used to express the activity plan: a simple table (a simple table with columns for activities, sub-activities, tasks, timing and responsibility in  a clear and readily understandable format) and the Gantt chart (a universal format for presenting activities in certain times frames, shows the dependence and sequence for each activity, see project management for more info. The resource plan should provide information on the means necessary to undertake the project. Cost categories are established at this stage in order to aggregate and summarise the cost information for budgeting.
  • Budget: An itemised summary of an organisation’s expected income and expenses over a specified period of time.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: The basis for monitoring is set when the indicators for results are set. The project proposal should indicate: how and when the project management team will conduct activities to monitor the project’s progress; which methods will be used to monitor and evaluate; and who will do the evaluation.
  • Reporting: The schedule of project progress and financial report could be set in the project proposal. Often these obligations are determined by the standard requirements of the donor agency. The project report may be compiled in different versions, with regard to the audience they are targeting.
  • Management and personnel: A brief description should be given of the project personnel, the individual roles each one has assumed, and the communication mechanisms that exist between them. All the additional information (such as CVs) should be attached to the annexes.

 

More Tips to Write a Successful Proposal

(Adapted from AMERICAN RED CROSS 2006)

 

  • Plan ahead. Allow plenty of time for those involved to meet, discuss, and review progress in the grant writing process. Also, allow enough time to get the required signatures and to get the proposal to the funder.
  • Make it a team effort. Assign specific roles and responsibilities to people in terms of developing the proposal.
  • Be realistic in what you are proposing. What can reasonably be accomplished in the scope time and resources of this grant?
  • Be a learning organisation. Learn from your own and others experiences with the same donor! Read the reviews of other proposals that have been submitted to the same donor if is possible.
  • Be factual and specific. Don't talk in generalities or in emotional terms. Be sure to substantiate all statements in your proposal, otherwise don't make them.
  • Limit technical and organisational jargon. Use language anyone will understand — no abbreviations, initials, or jargon. Don't assume the reader will understand your acronyms or abbreviations, and also make sure to include an acronyms page.
  • Call the donor if you have questions. Realise that many others will be calling as well and don't wait until the last minute.
  • Consider collaborating with other organisations. At a minimum, find out what other proposals are being submitted to the same donor at the same time.
  • Clarify partner’s roles and responsibilities. When collaborating with partners, be sure you have determined who will be responsible for what. After the project is funded, it is not the time to discover there were differing opinions.
  • Choose a format that is clear and easy to read. Readers are overloaded with proposals and appreciate legible, attractive proposals. Make sure tables are legible and easy to figure out.
  • Keep within page limits. Stick to the specified number of pages. Extra pages or attachments may either be removed before the proposal is read, or may disqualify your entire proposal from the reading process.
  • Be aware of donor priorities. Carefully match your project with an appropriate funding source. The primary difference between successful grant writing and inefficient proposal submission is the amount of time invested in the strategic identification of appropriate funders.
  • Use action words when writing your proposal, such as achieve, engage, begin, compare, evaluate, exhibit, offer, lead, involve, organise, prepare, research, restore, reveal, support, demonstrate, define, implement, instruct, produce, validate, verify, test, recognise, use, etc.

Applicability

Proposals are prepared to apply for external funds for the implementation of a project. Most grant applications ask for the same information, but they often have different formats. Some will have a list of questions. Others will ask for a “narrative” — the story of your project.

Advantages

  • A proposal is an essential marketing document that helps cultivate an initial professional relationship between an organisation and a donor over a project to be implemented
  • A proposal facilitates appropriate words for the conception of an idea
  • The proposal has a framework that establishes ideas formally for a clear understanding of the project for the donor
  • Successful proposals mean financial aid for the organisation to grow for the replication of project and ideas

Disadvantages

  • Planning problems: Although a good idea exists, yet when we try to plan it out extensively, we face many unexpected challenges
  • There are often tight deadlines, and proposals may be rejected

References Library

AMERICAN RED CROSS (Editor); INTERNATIONAL SERVICES (Editor) (2006): Integrated Planning Process, Project Design & Proposal Writing Guide. Washington: Red Cross. URL [Accessed: 22.04.2012]. PDF

AUB – AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT (Editor); OFFICE FOR GRANT (Editor); CONTRACTS (Editor) (2010): Proposal and Budget Preparation. URL [Accessed: 28.04.2010].

FUNDS FOR NGOS (Editor) (2010): How to write a proposal. URL [Accessed: 07.08.2010].

NEBIU, B. (2002): Developing Skills of NGOs, Project Proposal Writing. Szentendre: The Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe. URL [Accessed: 07.08.2010]. PDF

PHILIP, R.; ANTON, B.; BONJEAN, M.; BROMLEY, J.; COX, D.; SMITS, S.; SULLIVAN, C. A.; NIEKERK, K. van; CHONGUICA, E.; MONGGAE, F.; NYAGWAMBO, L.; PULE, R.; BERRAONDO LOEPEZ, M. (2008): Local Government and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Part III: Engaging in IWRM – Practical Steps and Tools for Local Governments. Freiburg: ICLEI European Secretariat GmbH. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012]. PDF

REPOA (Editor) (2007): Guidelines for Preparing Concept Notes and Proposals for Research on Pro-Poor Growth and Poverty in Tanzania. Special Paper 07.23. Dar Es Salaam: REPOA – RESEARCH ON POVERTY ALLEVIATION. PDF

Further Readings Library

Reference icon

AMERICAN RED CROSS (Editor); INTERNATIONAL SERVICES (Editor) (2006): Integrated Planning Process, Project Design & Proposal Writing Guide. Washington: Red Cross. URL [Accessed: 22.04.2012]. PDF

The document provides detailed instruction and tools in producing sound project design and as well as guidance on ways to excel in proposal writing. It also clarifies the logical framework used by ARC and others and compares it to the results framework of USAID.


Reference icon

NEBIU, B. (2002): Developing Skills of NGOs, Project Proposal Writing. Szentendre: The Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe. URL [Accessed: 07.08.2010]. PDF

This guide will lead trainers through project proposal writing sessions and exercises. It enables the user to: improve participants’ skills in developing quality project proposals, show them how to manage projects within an organisation; and help them to understand a project’s value as a tool to achieve and further the organisation’s mission.


Reference icon

PHILIP, R.; ANTON, B.; BONJEAN, M.; BROMLEY, J.; COX, D.; SMITS, S.; SULLIVAN, C. A.; NIEKERK, K. van; CHONGUICA, E.; MONGGAE, F.; NYAGWAMBO, L.; PULE, R.; BERRAONDO LOEPEZ, M. (2008): Local Government and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) Part III: Engaging in IWRM – Practical Steps and Tools for Local Governments. Freiburg: ICLEI European Secretariat GmbH. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012]. PDF

The set of materials entitled “Local Government and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)” aims to assist Local Governments with active participation in IWRM. The materials are primarily targeted at local government officials, but are considered equally useful for individuals and organisations that work with local governments in the management of water resources.


Reference icon

REPOA (Editor) (2007): Guidelines for Preparing Concept Notes and Proposals for Research on Pro-Poor Growth and Poverty in Tanzania. Special Paper 07.23. Dar Es Salaam: REPOA – RESEARCH ON POVERTY ALLEVIATION. PDF

This is the third in a series of guidelines prepared by REPOA in order to help researchers prepare improved proposals for research.


Case Studies Library

Reference icon

SEAGA (Editor) (2001): Manual Project Cycle, Technical Guide. Viale delle Terme di Caracalla: FAO. URL [Accessed: 08.08.2010]. PDF

The purpose of this manual is to create a new synergy by bringing together project management practices and socio-economic and gender issues within the conceptual framework of SEAGA. The manual is principally written for practitioners at the operational level in government, NGOs, Civil Society Organisations and the private sector. It presents a set of case studies for the planning of a project.


Important Weblinks

http://foundationcenter.org/ [Accessed: 16.02.2011]

The subject of this short course is proposal writing. It is available in French, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

http://www.un.org/ [Accessed: 19.05.2010]

This site contains a list of links related to the strategic planning and writing of project proposals and concept notes.

http://www.fundsforngos.org [Accessed: 19.05.2010]

Funds forNGOs.org is an online initiative, working for the sustainability of NGOs by increasing their access to donors, resources and skills.

http://www.scn.org/ [Accessed: 07.08.2010]

This website contains a collection of training material intended to assist practitioners in helping low-income communities to overcome poverty, emphasizing methods and principles, not theory. One of the modules deals with the community project resources, including project proposals.