Tips & Tricks: How to write a winning proposal

Writing proposals for funding is one of the most crucial aspects for any NGO. Proposals are important for any organization, as they decide the success or failure of an organization. No matter how big or small your organization is you cannot get away from writing a project proposal. As an NGO staff you might be aware that the primary purpose of a project proposal is to convince the donor agency to fund your project. It is thus important for you to write a proposal that is innovative, practical, and methodological. Your proposal should look at solving an important socio-developmental issue and at the same time should be appealing to the donor.
To start with lets us first understand what is a project proposal? A project proposal is a document that presents a logical process of solving a problem. It provides a detailed description of the problem, the intended plan of action(s) towards tackling the problem and the budgetary requirement for implementing the same. This document is then submitted to the donor in anticipation of funds, so that you can continue your efforts. A funding proposal forms the basis of your relationship with the donor and therefore should be developed with utmost care and diligence.
A hastily written proposal will create an impression that you are not a serious contender and would reduce the possibility of getting funded. On the other hand if you plan the entire process of proposal development, not only your chances of getting the desired resources increase, you will lay down the foundation of a strong relation with the donor.

Proposal Writing
Depending on the size of your organization you can build a team for developing the proposal. The team members should possess good writing skills along with sound technical knowledge of the related subject.
Title Page: The title page typically contains the project title, along with contact details of the organization and the donor. Remember that the title of the project should be catchy and should capture the essence of the project proposal. The project title should provide a general idea of what the project is about and at the same time be simple and straightforward.
Executive summary: This section is the summary of the project and presents a snap shot of the project to the reader. The executive summary not only summarizes the project proposal but also analyses important points relating to the problem, the solution, the uniqueness of the proposal and the reason your organization is suitable to carry out such a project.
To set the right tone it is important that you are able to address to the Why, How, and what of the proposal, (Why- why do you want to start a particular project/why is the particular problem so important, How relates to the approach you will use to resolve the problem; and What refers to the goals you want to achieve at the end of the project.)
Even though executive summary is the first section in the proposal document, you can always draft this section once you have completed drafting the entire proposal. This way it will be easier for you to take important points from the proposal body and use it in the summary. Some points that you should keep in mind while summarizing the proposal are given below:
  • Why is the project important?
  • What is the problem that you are addressing?
  • How do you intend to resolve the problem?
  • What is the total budget and duration for the proposed project?
The ideal length of the executive summary usually is of around one page long which is approximately 300-500 words.

Project Rationale/Background: This is an important section of the proposal as it presents the argument of why your project needs funding. It describes the issues and problems that a particular community faces and how your organization would address the given problem.
Many organizations also refer to this section as the project background or context, as it provides the reader with all necessary information about the project area. While writing the rationale of the proposal it is critical that you quote facts and figures as evidence to your problem. These facts can be from data that your organization has collected or can be from research articles etc. Along with stating data to justify the project, you should also mention about why your organization is suitable to carry out the project (mention about similar projects that you have implemented). Some points that should be considered while drafting the project rationale are:
  • What is the problem?
  • What are some important facts related to the problem?
  • Why is your organization suited to carry out such a project?
  • What are the key actions that you will carry out as part of the project?
  • What are some expected results of the project?
There is no standard rule for writing the project rationale, but most experts consider that the following four elements should be covered by the rationale.
1.    Situation Analysis: this section should briefly explore the current situation of the area. You can quote facts about the problem in this particular section.
2.      Purpose: Here you should talk about why it is important to solve the particular problem and also what approach can be used to resolve the issue.
3.  Organization Strength: In this section focus on your organizations strength and your past experience in resolving similar issues.

Project Goal: Goal is a broad statement that defines what you plan to do in a project. Always remember that a well-written goal statement is a marketing tool that will help you in getting funded. The goal basically defines the purpose of the proposal by giving an idea to the reader of what problem your organization intends to addressAs the goal of the proposal shows the reader your intention towards solving a particular problem it should be linked with the problem statement. For instance, if the problem that you are addressing is related to widow rehabilitation and well-being your goal should state that you seek to empower widows in the area through the proposed project. You can use words like decrease, deliver, develop, establish, improve, increase, produce, and provide while writing the proposal.
Framing a quality Goal
  • Avoid vagueness: Goal should clearly indicate the purpose of your proposal and specify certain aspects of the project.
  • Link the Goal with the problem statement: Goal should be linked with the problem statement, so that reader knows of why you to implement a particular project.
  • Goal should be consistent with your organizations mission and vision statement: The project goal should also be consistent with the organization’s mission and vision. For example if your organization works for women related projects then make sure that your project also discusses about your primary stakeholders.
  • Use simple language to write a goal: Avoid use of jargons and technical words to write a goal. Use language that is easy to understand by people, not something for which people have to use a dictionary.
  • Keep only one goal for a proposal: It is a good practice to have a single goal for your project. As the goal is a broad statement it will surely encompass multiple things which would be addressed through the various objectives.
Example: To empower 100 widows and vulnerable women in Nairobi County, through Entrepreneurship Development and capacity development.
From the example above you will see that the goal statement is broad but at the same time also provides some specific details about your project and is not vague. The goal here clearly indicates the following:
  • The main purpose of the project is empowerment of widows and vulnerable women.
  • Target beneficiary of the project are 100 widows and vulnerable women.
  • Entrepreneurship Development and capacity development will be used to empower the women.
  • The project will be implemented in Nairobi County.
Objective: Objectives are detailed statements describing the ways through which you intend to achieve the goal. Use the S.M.A.R.T. method of writing your objectives which means writing Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound statements. All the objectives should contribute and supports in achieving the specified goal. While framing the objectives ensure that they provide answers to the 5Ws:
  • Why: are you proposing a particular thing?
  • What: approach will you adopt to reach the desired goal?
  • When: will you conduct the particular project?
  • Where: will you implement the project?
  • Who: will be the primary stakeholders/beneficiaries or who will be doing a particular thing in a project?
Your objectives should always be written using action verbs like create, identify, promote, enhance, increase, and develop etc. These verbs help in describing the course of action and give clarity to your object.

Project Strategy: Project Strategy refers to the methods that will be used in achieving project goals and objectives. These are broad approaches and provide direction in project implementation. The strategy will align your project activities with the project goals and objectives.
  • Awareness Generation
  • Capacity Building 
  • Market Linkages
  • Enterprise Development
Project Activities: These refer to the smallest identifiable and measurable pieces of work planned for completion throughout a project. Defining the activities help the project staff to understand what actions to do and at what time. Every activity is associated with a definite interim goal or objective.
  • Identification of widows in the village
  • Conducting counseling sessions.
  • Conducting Motivational sessions
  • Meetings with families and guardians
  • Awareness session on widow rights
Project Management/Personnel: This section talks about project management aspects. Here, you mention about the implementation staff, the implementation schedule and other related stuff. You can describe the people who will be hired as part of the project along with their respective roles. Example:   The Project team will comprise of the following staff members:
  • Project Director, who will be responsible for the overall administration and management of the project. He/she will develop proposals for future funding and manage the other staff.
  • Social worker: responsible for mobilization and conducting initial level village meetings and orientation sessions.
  • Counselors: Will conduct emotional and motivational sessions for the women
  • Trainers: A total of three trainers for conducting training on soft skills, tailoring and jewelry designing.
Similarly you can also mention about the implementation schedule of various activities.

Monitoring & Evaluation: This section discusses about the proposed mechanisms and procedures for monitoring the project activities so that one can ensure that all activities occur as planned. You should have a well-defined plan to monitor your project activities and also to evaluate the success of the project. Monitoring allows the project team to keep a check on the progress, while evaluation helps the team to appraise data and improve project implementation in future.
  • Having a system of monthly, quarterly and annual progress reports
  • Multi-level review systems
  • Participatory appraisal methods
  • Questionnaire survey
Project Results: Project proposals should explain all the expected results that will be achieved by the
project. Project results can be divided into three types:
  • Outputs: These are immediate results obtained after implementing an activity.
  • Outcomes: Outcomes are the mid-term results which are not observed immediately but are felt after some time.
  • Impact: Impact is usually a long-term result and is usually not achieved during the life cycle of the project.
This section generally describes the overall results that the project is expected to accomplish.
  • Awareness of 200 women on issues of legal issues, widow rights and mental health issues enhanced.
  • 200 women imparted life skill training for their overall development.
  • Sustainable enterprise established by formation of 2 cooperatives will help in easy access to markets and will considerably enhance the family incomes.
  • Increased income and confidence will have multi – generational impact as it will help in securing a better future for the entire family of 200 women.

Performance Indicator: Performance indicators form an important part of the proposal as they indicate whether the objectives have achieved meaningful results. Performance indicators help the project team in identifying the quality and level of the result that has been achieved. Performance indicators have been categorized into qualitative; quantitative, process and result indicators. Quantitative indicators are numerical in nature while qualitative indicators require subjective evaluation. Similarly process indicators are used to define a process or an activity, while results indicators refer to the indicators that indicate the result achieved from the implementing the activity. While identifying the performance indicators keep the following in mind:
  • Should be realistic
  • Should be simple to use
  • Have few meaningful indicators that can be used regularly to assess the project
  • Can be used for analysis
  • Gives clear indication of the success of the result.
  • Number of women trained in specific skill
  • Number of women entrepreneurs who started their own enterprise.
  • Number of users of various technologies (communication technology, agricultural technology
  • Number of trainings held
  • Attendance of women in various training sessions
  • Number of self-help groups Formed
  • House hold income change

Sustainability: To sustain the impacts of any community based project it is essential that suitable linkages are developed with the local community, government department and all relevant stakeholders. You should clearly spell out the sustainability measures in your project.
Example: Some ways through which you can ensure sustainability.
  • Community Participation: We ensure that the local people actively participate in the entire project so that they own the project rather than considering it as some sort of charity.
  • Multi- stakeholder engagement/partnerships: We involve stakeholders which include local CSOs, NGOs and government line departments and develop synergies with them. This helps in enhancing the visibility of the project and also reduces duplication of activities.
  • Expanding resource and donor base: We always engage new donors and stakeholders in our programs and we have multiple funding sources, which includes membership fees and funding from individuals and institutional grants from donors.

Review and Editing: Read the proposal again and again so that you can reduce occurrence of mistakes. Be sure that the proposal is clear and easy to understand. Have your proposal read by two-three to eliminate all sorts of errors in the text. Many organizations also get their proposals reviewed by a cold reader (a person who was not involved in the project writing). This sort of a review helps you in improving the quality of the proposal. Once all the necessary changes have been incorporated you can submit the proposal to the identified donor agency.

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