Jesse Lutabingwa, Associate Vice Chancellor of International Education and Development at Appalachian State University, has written over 300 international project proposals and has been awarded over $5 million in grants. He has developed tips to prepare a winning grant proposal that he recently share with a group of Mandela Washington Fellows. While his grant writing tips will not ensure easy money for your project, they may help you take the next step toward funding.
Develop a well-defined project idea
Begin by thinking about the need that exists in your community or area of work. Then, imagine what the world will look like once the need is met. Or, what would happen if nothing is done to address this need? This gives you a couple of ways to articulate this need.
Sketch out a plan
Be honest with yourself. Do you or your organization really have the capability to do what you say you want to do? Being honest doesn’t mean you have disqualified yourself. You are taking stock of what you do and do not have. Calibrate how you want to approach the proposal based on your available resources:
- Determine the scale of your approach. Will people be working on this project full time, or will volunteers be needed?
- Think about any additional resources you’ll need and include them in your proposal. If you need more resources, make sure you can sustain them once the grant is finished.
Know the terrain
Are there organizations that already exist in your community that are doing work similar to your project? If your solution is the same as the organization’s next door, why should the funder invest in your organization and not in the one already doing that work? It is important that you distinguish your solution from the others competing for funds. Do not go after funding for projects that are not focused on your organization’s expertise or mission.
Write a concept note
A concept note (also known as a concept paper) introduces your project to potential partners, funders and the community you hope to affect. It is a summary of your proposal that explains the need you are trying to address, your approach to addressing that need, and your credentials for doing so. Concept notes should always be placed at the beginning of your proposal, but they can also be used independently. You can take these with you to networking events or anywhere where you may be talking about your project and use it as an extended business card for your proposal. No longer than one page, a concept note should answer three questions a funder would have about your project:
- What is the need that your project is trying to address?
- What is your approach to address that particular need?
- What experience do you or your organization have in addressing such a need?
Do not include any financial figures here. You want to sell funders on your idea before they begin to think about its cost. Once funders or partners express interest in your concept note, you will submit a full proposal to them.
Grant Proposal Planning
By keeping these four pieces of advice in mind, you will be on your way to writing a competitive project proposal. The Grant Proposal Planning Template will help you take the first step: Use the strategic planning worksheets to think through writing your proposal. The worksheets will help you deconstruct your idea and document the details that funders and partners will need to know. Once you have completed the worksheets, you will be ready to draft a proposal which should include the following sections:
- Concept note
- Executive summary/abstract – Tip: Write this last to ensure you incorporate all other elements of your proposal
- Problem statement
- Methods/approach on meeting the need
- Evaluation plan
- Project sustainability
- Institution’s experience – Tip: Think of this as a résumé for your organization; it should show a proven record of success from other projects.
- Budget – here is a budget template to work from [XLSX].
Next, read Get your next grant through collaboration and learn how to develop professional relationships to advance your project. You can also find resources by reading Grant Writing: Proposal Tips and Best Practices.
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