HOW TO DEVELOP A SUCCESSFUL PROPOSAL
WHERE DO I START? TWO POSSIBILITIES:
- Start with an idea for research or a project. If your project involves partners in other departments or organizations, begin planning and talking with partners early. Contact Foundation and Corporate Relations (FCR) for help researching foundation and government agencies whose priorities match your research or project.
- Start with a Request for Proposals (RFP) from a foundation or government agency that you think is addressing topics or issues related to your area of interest.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THE FUNDER IS A GOOD MATCH FOR MY RESEARCH OR PROJECT?
- Go to the funder’s website and read their grant-making philosophy. Review the projects/proposals they have recently funded. Notice the deadline for proposals. Download or request the proposal guidelines from the funder.
- Read (and reread) the guidelines carefully, highlighting key words and phrases. Notice whether the initial submission is a letter of intent (LOI), pre-proposal, application, or full proposal.
WHEN I THINK THE FOUNDATION OR AGENCY IS A GOOD MATCH FOR MY RESEARCH OR PROJECT, WHAT DO I DO NEXT?
- After reading the guidelines, develop a checklist for all the proposal components you will need to assemble. Be sure to include whatever forms the grantmaker requests.
- Develop a 1-2 page concept paper. This can be an informal document or outline that answers the basic questions that will be fleshed out in your proposal. You will want to answer most if not all of the following questions in your concept paper:
- What is the idea or problem I want to examine/address?
- Why is it important? To whom? What related research/project has been done before and why is mine different/needed?
- Why am I the ideal person to address this topic or do this project?
- Why now?
- How long will it take?
- What will be known/understood as a result of this research/project?
- What resources do I need to do this project (time, money, access, collaborators, travel, materials, equipment, space, etc)?
- What activities will take place?
- Why will this project succeed?
- What will success look like and how will it be measured?
- How will you disseminate results?
- Can this project/research be replicated or furthered?
- Will the project/research continue once grant funding ends?
- Contact the Dean of the Faculty Office to let them know of your intentions to submit a proposal and to discuss the matching requirement of the grant when applicable.
- Contact FCR to discuss your ideas and decide whether it makes sense to contact a program officer at the foundation or agency.
- Call the program officer at the foundation or agency to discuss your idea. Often s/he will ask you to send your concept paper in advance of the conversation. FCR can help you prepare for the call and, when appropriate, participate in the call.
- Develop a timeline backing up from the deadline for proposal preparation and submission.
- If letters of support or commitment are needed, contact appropriate colleagues to make arrangements. You may want to send them your concept paper as well.
- Begin to create a budget for your research/project. FCR has developed a budget template and guidelines that automatically calculates fringe benefits, cost of living increases for multiple year grants, and indirect costs. The foundation or agency may have a required budget form but you can use the Amherst template to draft your budget. FCR can help with this process.
- Notify Joanne Thornton (foundation proposals) or Mary Bryskiewicz (federal proposals) in the Comptroller’s Office of your plan to submit a proposal and the deadline. Plan to send your final proposal and budget and the College’s Grant and Contract Proposal Routing Sheet to Joanne or Mary B. for approval five work days before it is due.
WHAT SHOULD I KEEP IN MIND AS I BEGIN TO WRITE MY PROPOSAL?
- Consider your audience. The guidelines will usually tell you who will be reviewing your proposal. A review panel can range from experts to educated generalists/non-experts. Avoid jargon.
- You want to get the reader’s attention right at the beginning and convey your enthusiasm for your research/project. Think of your proposal not just as a vehicle for telling but also as a means of inspiring someone to action, i.e. funding your research/project.
- Follow the specifications in the guidelines for font size, margins, length and/or word count, and sequence and organization of sections. Use subheadings to differentiate sections and include white space when you can.
- Include a discussion of the broader issues/problem so reviewers see you are aware of previous work in the field and how your work expands upon what has already been done. If you have conducted a pilot project or research, discuss lessons learned leading to your current work.
- Be as clear as possible about the details of your project/research, what will take place when, etc.
- When appropriate, create a compelling title for your proposal.
- Decide upon and prepare any attachments that are permitted.
- If allowed for, write a cover letter.
IF THERE ARE NO SUBMISSION GUIDELINES, WHAT FORMAT SHOULD I USE?
See proposal elements (below) for more detailed information on proposal preparation. Most proposals include:
- Executive summary
- Background of institution and project
- Discussion of why the project is important
- Methodology – what activities and steps you will undertake to address the issue or need
- Description of what will be done and who will do it
- Expectations and how they will be evaluated
- Dissemination of results
- Sustainability after the grant
- Timeline and budget
WHAT SHOULD I DO ONCE I COMPLETE A DRAFT OF MY PROPOSAL?
- Ask a colleague or two to read your proposal. A FCR staff member can serve as a lay reader and provide feedback, given lead time.
- Make sure that everything in the proposal narrative is reflected in the budget and everything in the budget is discussed in the proposal narrative.
- Make revisions and finalize the proposal.
- Prepare the Grant and Contract Proposal Routing Sheet, include draft of proposal and budget, and circulate. The form should be signed by the project director, department chair, dean of the faculty, and finally the comptroller.
- Submit proposal or have proposal submitted by Joanne or Mary B. Be sure all submission requirements are met – number of copies, page limits, required forms, mode of submission (mail or electronic), etc. Send a copy to FCR.