Top Tips for Taking the Leap in Proposal Writing

This article give five top tips for getting ready to write a strong funding proposal for institutional donors from Rachel Haynes, Flamingo for NGOs

I love winter swimming.  That sense of plunging in, without hesitating or tentatively hanging around the edge, testing the water toe by toe.  Just having the faith that I can do this, I have everything I need to do it and believing that however cold it is the strokes will come.  And when it does work, when it is finished, I feel exuberant and alive.

What would you rather be doing?  Leaping into 10 degree water, or writing a proposal?  I know my preference.

Both can seem rather daunting at first – we can think of plenty of reasons not to get started, in fact it is hard to know why it seemed like a good idea in the first place.  But have faith, once you get into your stroke, it will all come good.

Here are 5 top tips for helping you on your way in proposal writing:

Tip 1:  Start by getting a really good understanding of the problem your project is trying to address, and invite as many different views as you can muster on the root causes and effects of that problem. You need to convince your donor that you really understand the context, and the complexity, that you are working in.  A problem tree is an excellent tool for doing this collaboratively, or even on your own if you need to, and once you have the problem tree mapped out, it forms a perfect guide for explaining to donors why your project is needed.  And don’t forget that being able to show your evidence will really help to strengthen your case – whether it is first hand research, or secondary sources.

Tip 2:  Understand where your donor is coming from. Before getting going on writing, make sure that you really understand what motivates your donor.  How would they understand the problem that you are working on?  What are their priorities, and in particular what are the policies and plans behind the funding programme that you are bidding into?  Do some research on this, and then look at where your problem analysis, and their priorities overlap – this is where you need to pitch your project.

Tip 3:   Be clear about the value that your organisation adds.  What is unique about your organisation – is it the way that you conduct partnerships?  Your expertise in a certain area? Your track record in running projects in this particular context?  Your ability to adapt and innovate?  Whatever it is, make sure that your project is planned to play to your strengths.  You don’t have to do everything.  Keeping things simple and knowing which part of the problem you are tackling, and ideally who is tackling the other parts, will ensure your project comes across as realistic and achievable.

Tip 4:  Start with a project framework tool. Love them or hate them, even if your donor is not asking for one, have a logical framework or similar that everyone involved in the project has contributed ideas to will almost write the proposal for you.  It summarises what you are going to achieve, how you will achieve it, how you will know if it has been achieved, and what the risks and assumptions are.  And you can use the activity plan from your framework to ensure that your budget also tells the story of your project.  If you donor is asking for a Theory of Change, then also make sure that you have a project plan that coincides with this.

Tip 5:  Mainstreaming cross cutting issues really does mean mainstreaming. Whether the issue is gender, leave no one behind, climate change and resilience, value for money, or any other priority issue, mainstreaming means ensuring that all aspects of project analysis, planning and management are looked at through the lens of that issue.  So your problem analysis, project framework, budget, M&E plan, Theory of Change all show how this particular issue is going to be addressed throughout the project. It is not enough to just refer to this in the section of the proposal form devoted to this area – that section is for summarising the many ways you have already demonstrated your mainstreaming approach.  Getting back to cold water swimming, think complete immersion!

Once all of these building blocks are in place, plunging in and starting to write your proposal is so much easier.  The hard work is done, the course is tracked and you have your buoyancy aids beside you!

If you are already on your proposal writing journey and would like to get some feedback to help guide you to improve it even more, please do contact me to find out more about how I can help with proposal reviews.  I also train in proposal writing for institutional donors, and will be running a training with SWIDN on the 12th November 2020.  

However, if you would prefer a winter dip – I’ll see you in the water!