The process of writing a grant proposal or a business proposal can feel like “flying the airplane while building it”, especially if there is a looming deadline. In truth, there is no single best method for writing these proposals; rather, there are many ways to get started and there are many paths that can be followed to the end. In the language of systems theory, this situation is known as “equipotentiality” — many different paths have an equal potential of leading to the same end. And yet, generally, there is a limited set of activities that must be coordinated, some which must be done sequentially while others can be done simultaneously. In the following discussion, we highlight the most common activities that GrantProse Associates typically undertake when we begin helping a new client prepare a proposal.
Meeting in person or virtually (i.e., Skype, teleconference, GoToMeeting, etc.), GrantProse Associates take the time to learn about your organization. What clients or consumers do you serve? What problem concerns are you working with? What are your needs for funding? What goals are you trying to achieve? What objectives do you hope to accomplish? What prior successes have you had? What partnerships do you have with other organizations? And many more such questions. Whether Federal, state, foundation, corporate or other, most funding agencies will expect you to describe a problem and/or a set of needs that you seek to address in your grant project. If yours is a business proposal, rather than problem, the funding agency might want you to identify the business opportunity. In our early meetings and discussions, we explore and clarify these and other dimensions of your organization and interests. Return to top of page.
[NOTE: If you have not identified a specific funding agency, then you may be interested in GrantProse Funding Research.] In the case where you have identified a particular funding opportunity that you wish to pursue, GrantProse Associates will conduct a thorough review of that funding agency and the guidance, sometimes called a Request For Proposal (RFP), which the funding agency provides about their grant program. RFPs released by Federal agencies can sometimes be 30-50 pages long, while an RFP released by a foundation is typically much shorter and sometimes found only on the foundation’s website. Whatever the funding source, GrantProse will produce an outline of the RFP, usually three to four pages in length, which outline the important requirements of preparing and submitting a proposal. This outline guides our work and the RFP remains the source for detailed guidance. Also, GrantProse may directly contact the program officer at the funding agency to clarify additional details about the funding opportunity and/or submission requirements. Return to top of page.
Most proposals will have a number of narrative sections, all which could be grouped under a general title of project design. For instance, you may be required to describe the strategies and activities you will employ in your project, discuss how you will manage and evaluate the project, indicate what resources you have to add to the project, explain how you will sustain the project after funding ceases, and assorted other narrative sections. Many of these ideas you will have in mind, but may not have put on paper; other ideas may not be well developed; and some ideas may not be well matched to the funder’s interests. GrantProse Associates work closely with you and those in your organizations to fill in the details about your project design. It is an ideal, usually unobtainable, that all aspects of the project design should be worked out in advance of starting the narrative or budgeting the project. Actually, this is seldom the case, if only because proposal development is usually on a short deadline. Most typically, work on these varied aspects of the project design occurs simultaneous with work on developing the narrative, building the budget, and organizing the many other components that may be required for the completed proposal. Return to top of page.
Many funding agencies will require you to provide data to substantiate the nature and magnitude of your needs. These data can come from many different sources and GrantProse maintains a Data Sources Guide which we update every time we find a new resource. Proposals to some agencies such as the National Science Foundation may require a thorough review of the literature, and other proposals will require that you show your strategies are “research-based” or “evidence-based”. Recognizing that you are the expert in your field, we will help with this research to find the data that substantiate your needs or best advance your arguments, or find the research that supports your strategy (or, sometimes, advise you of even better strategies), or expand your review of the literature. Return to top of page.
Typically, GrantProse takes the first pass at writing the narrative, developing some sections ourselves while collecting bits and pieces from you to fill out other sections or to add to the general narrative. At some point, GrantProse will produce an early draft of the narrative, maybe only 50% complete, and the writing process will continue will each subsequent draft becoming more complete. The writing process is an iterative process…write and edit, write and edit, write and edit, and so forth. It is not unusual for GrantProse to produce 10 or more drafts before finalizing the narrative. At all steps along the way, you have input into how the narrative is developing. Conceptualizing the project design and crafting the narrative can be two of the most time consuming and expensive activities. An option to reduce your costs is for your organization to take a greater role in the writing process and GrantProse a lesser role, for instance, editing your text for clarity and responsiveness to the funding agency’s request for proposal. See our article on the Compelling Story for ideas on how to craft a strong narrative. Return to top of page.
In comparison to developing the narrative, creating the budget for your project is generally a much easier task, although this is not to say that budgets can be carelessly put together. Unless the funding agency specifies a particular format for its budget, the GrantProse approach is to adopt budget categories that are commonly used by Federal agencies: Personnel, Fringe Benefits, Travel, Materials/Supplies, Equipment, Contractual, Construction, Other, and Indirect Cost. Using categories like these, GrantProse Associates work closely with your ogranization to itemize line items that fall under each category. It is not unusual to produce a first draft of a budget in a one- or two-hour meeting, and this is often done early in the proposal development process so as to get a ball-park understanding of the cost items you are seeking the funding agency to support. Work on the budget continues apace with work on the narrative, with an objective being that major costs in the budget are referenced in the narrative and activities in the narrative with costs are demonstrated in the budget. When the budget is finalized, the Budget Narrative is produced. Return to top of page.
It is very common for the funding agency to require you to submit a variety of attachments in addition to the proposal narrative and the budget. Some of the most common attachments are letters of support, resumes, and literature citations. Occasionally, the funding agency may allow you to submit additional material in one or two appendices that further explains or expands upon your narrative, such as a sample of a curriculum you will use in the project or a description of how you will measure a particular outcome. GrantProse Associates often take the lead in drafting the letters of support which you in turn will seek to secure from other agencies which may be partners in your project; we will provide you with templates for how to develop a resume when there is a required format such as NSF or NIH expect; and we will assist you to put your references into an approved style such as that defined by the American Psychological Association, among other forms of support. Return to top of page.
Ultimately, there comes a time when you must finish your proposal and submit it to the funding agency. Whether a grant proposal or a business proposal, the submission process can be the most nervous time. After spending weeks developing the proposal, you do not want anything to go wrong at the end or miss the deadline. GrantProse will encourage you to set a deadline that is two or tree days in advance of the deadline set by the funding agency, and will be at hand on the day when you are ready to submit, helping to ensure that all documents are in final form and properly packaged for submission. Increasingly, most proposals are submitted via online portals that the Federal agency, foundation or other funding source require you to use. Return to top of page.
As we explain earlier on this page, there are many different ways to write a grant or business proposal and any given way may result in the same high quality product at the end. The writing activities that we have described are some of the common activities that we help clients with; some clients are very experienced with writing proposals and will need only a limited set of consulting services from GrantProse, maybe as little as 10 to 20 hours of consultation, Other clients who are inexperienced or too busy to commit the time to developing a proposal may need extensive support, possibly between 40 to 80 hours of GrantProse consulting services. The amount of support clients need is mostly a factor of their experience level, rather than the type of proposal being developed. What might appear to be a “small” proposal, not requiring a lot of narrative or permitting a big budget, can take as much time to develop as a large, multi-million dollar proposal.