Examples of Written Proposals by B_Gjas

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                James H. Young, Ed.D., Resource Development Specialist

                    (Reprinted: The National Council for Resource Development,
                               Resource Paper No. 19, March, 1979)

        The principal instrument with which outside funds are solicited is the proposal. A
grant proposal, in its most basic form, is simply a written justification for resources
requested. Proposals may vary widely in length, format, and quality; however, all
proposals must contain a constant “core” of elements and characteristics.

        The importance of the proposal cannot be over-emphasized. All grant programs
(federal, state, or private) are highly competitive. The key to success in making
application is just as likely to be the quality of a proposal as the soundness of the idea or
the institution’s need.

        It should be emphasized at the outset that the proposal has one, and only one,
central purpose: to communicate clearly an idea or set of ideas from your institution to
the funding agency. Regardless of what other assumptions one may have heard voiced, it
is never the purpose of a proposal to confuse, inspire, entertain, or deceive its reader.
Therefore, governing principles of proposal writing should always be the “3-Cs: Clarity,
Conciseness, and Completeness.”

       Clarity: Educators are infamously noted for their abilities to masquerade the
English language under a wide array of euphemism, hyperbole, rhetoric, and jargon.
Masters of the synonym, they often destroy the funding potential of a good idea by
attempting to embellish it with semantic extravagance.

       An extreme but illustrative example comes from a letter written by a Houston
principal to the parents of his students:

               “Our school’s cross-graded, multi-ethnic individualized learning program
               is designed to enhance the concept of an open-ended learning program
               with emphasis on a continuum of multi-ethnic, academically enriched
               learning using the identified intellectually-gifted child as the agent or
               director of his own learning."
        Had such a statement appeared in a grant proposal (and many have) the reaction
of the reader would have been very similar to that of one Houston parent who replied to
the above letter:

               “I have a college degree, speak two foreign languages and four Indian
               dialects, have been to a number of county fairs and three goat ropings, but
               I haven’t the faintest idea as to what the heck you are talking about. Do

      So, in your proposal, get straight to the point and “tell it like it is.” Avoid
ambiguous words and phrases. Write in short sentences and paragraphs. Avoid
compound-complex sentences and always write in the active voice. Use concrete
examples to illustrate your points.

        Conciseness: Proposals (especially federal grants) are usually read by a group of
readers who are given stacks of documents to evaluate in short periods of time. There is
nothing that can, under these conditions, more easily generate negative feelings in a
reader than a proposal that rambles for thirty pages to say what it could have said in ten.
Thus, specificity is more than an admirable quality in a proposal—it is a survival skill.

       Conciseness is achieved more by what you don’t write than by what you do write.
As enthusiastic as you may be about your institution or your idea, this enthusiasm must
be tempered by restraint.

        For example, one must always avoid the “Chamber of Commerce” approach when
describing your institution. Readers do not care to hear that: “XYZ Community College
is nestled in a scenic pastoral valley, overlooked by snow-capped peaks from whence a
crystal brook flows through the picturesque campus.”

       There are also less dramatic examples of how you might improve conciseness in
your proposals. Do not use a phrase when a single word will suffice. Some common
examples of this practice include:

                       Using                                  To Mean

               an excessive amount                            too much
               in the area of                                 in
               in close proximity to                          near
               has the capacity to                            can
               in the majority of cases                       usually
               serves the function of being                   is
               in view of the fact that                       since
               due to the fact that                           because
        Other barriers to concise proposals include unnecessary repetition (once is
generally sufficient to say something); use of cliches or meaningless phrases (“tried and
true,” “solid as a dollar,” “The community college is a unique institution,” “first and
foremost,” “last but not least”); and excessive use of modifiers--adjectives and adverbs
(especially avoid the use of superlatives; i.e., “greatest,” “only,” “fastest growing”).

      Your best bet in communicating your idea is a simple sentence of monosyllable
words written in the active voice and free of jargon, cliches, and descriptive modifiers.

       Completeness: Although your proposal must be clear, concise, and to the point,
you must make sure it is complete. Remember, the only thing a reader will know about
your institution or your idea is what you tell him in your proposal.

        We who write proposals tend to make assumptions about what readers do or
should know. Very often, those things that we consider “obvious” about our proposed
programs are much less than common knowledge. Even if a reader is a student of a
particular concept or practice you intend to employ, he cannot in good conscience
evaluate your proposal on any basis except what is actually there.

        This is one reason it is always good to have your proposal drafts ready by
someone who is totally unfamiliar with your ideas. You and your close associates are
likely to “read between the lines” if you are directly associated with the proposed

       Make sure you explain thoroughly and specifically the procedures you will
implement and the steps you will follow. Flow charts, PERT diagrams and timetables are
of valuable assistance here.

        Even where you are restricted by guidelines in the number of pages your narrative
may encompass, there are numerous ways of making sure all essential information is
available to the reader. Perhaps the best means is the use of appendices. In this manner,
you do not force a reader to wade through minute details if he doesn’t want to. At the
same time, however, you provide such information for those readers who might be
interested in detailed analysis.

       Another approach is the use of parenthetical insertions in your narrative. For
example, instead of speaking of “steadily increasing enrollments,” you might offer a
statement like, “curriculum enrollment has increased significantly (34.6% N= +472 FTE
students) over last year’s level.”

        If a reader has unanswered questions after reviewing your proposal, it is likely
that he will consider your idea incomplete or your procedures inadequate. Remember,
you will not have an opportunity to answer questions you create in your proposal.
       Clarity, Conciseness, and Completeness—these are the qualities your proposal
must possess. Now let’s look at the content it must contain.

      Content: Although various grant programs and numerous foundations have their
own particular formats for grant proposals, all proposals will ask that you answer five
fundamental questions:

       1.      Why are you going to do it? (Needs)
       2.      What are the anticipated outcomes? (Objectives)
       3.      How are you going to do it? (Procedures)
       4.      How much will it cost to do it? (Budget)
       5.      How will you know when and to what extent you have done it?

       Let’s briefly review the component parts of a grant proposal that address these

        Needs: Every fundable proposal must be based on tangible and identifiable needs
which exist and which the institution can legally address. Needs may be institutional
needs (more facilities, the reduction of dropouts, etc.) or individual needs (to learn to
read, to gain marketable skills, etc.). In either case, needs must be documented to
demonstrate their existence and their intensity.

        Interest and needs surveys, internal needs assessment inventories, and needs
identification committees are some vehicles that might be used in needs assessment for
proposal writing.

         Remember, no matter how attractive a grant possibility may appear, if your
institution does not require the resources to satisfy a real and existing need, do not apply
for it.

        Objectives: Proposal objectives are perhaps best defined as “explicit statements
of anticipated outcomes.” That is, objectives must specify the particular results to be
achieved by the proposed project or activity. They are not concerned with how such
results are to be attained.

        For example, “To expose students to the writings of Shakespeare,” is a procedure
to be carried out; it is not an objective. Yet, “To increase the reading level of each
student by 2.0 grade levels” specifies an outcome and is (in its most basic form) an

       The most common deficiency of grant proposals is the inability of authors to write
proper objectives. As objectives determine the remainder of your proposal (procedures,
evaluation, budget), they will make or break your effort. For unless you know and can
communicate precisely what you intend to accomplish, you cannot present a defensible
request for support for it.

       A few examples from actual proposals will perhaps help illustrate differences
between “good” and “bad” objectives. First, let’s look at some ambiguous, non-
defensible objectives:

       1.      That students develop positive self-concepts. (Ambiguous)
       2.      From this project XYZ Community College plans to develop a broad
               consortium in future years. (No definition of purpose)
       3.      To employ an additional counselor to work with low-income
               disadvantaged students. (This is a procedure)

       On the other hand, let’s look at some examples of specific, measurable, and
defensible proposal objectives.

       1.      To reduce attrition among first-year students by 10% below the 1975-76

       2.      To increase by 25% the total number of second-year students transferring
               to four-year academic institutions as compared with 1977-78.

       There are numerous excellent resources on writing measurable objectives.
Proposal writers must develop the ability to recognize and write such objectives if their
proposals are to be fundable.

        Procedures: These are the activities and actions one establishes for reaching the
stated objectives. Care must be taken to ensure that each proposed procedure can and
will contribute to meeting the objectives. For example, if your objective is to increase
reading levels, a procedure which calls for establishing a “career placement center”
would appear non-germane to your proposal.

        Secondly, always make sure that proposed procedures are realistic and are within
the range of possibility for the project participants. Often, we let our imaginations
overrule our rationality and prescribe program procedures that cannot possibly be carried
out within the time or resources framework of our proposed project or within the
reasonable capabilities of our target population.

        Evaluation: No proposal is sound unless it provides some tangible means for
demonstrating the extent to which it accomplished its purposes. Therefore, a strong and
definitive evaluation component is essential.
       In its most basic form, evaluation consists of making judgements about programs
based on established criteria and known observable evidence. Thus, your evaluation
components in a proposal must consist of a set of benchmarks or specified expectations,
which can be demonstrated by the collection or observation of certain tangible outcomes.

        You must specify what kinds of results will indicate accomplishment of your
objectives, how such results will be evident, and what levels of performance will be
considered acceptable in deciding the success or failure in reaching your objectives.

       Unless proposal evaluation components contain, at the minimum, these basic
elements, the effectiveness of activities in the proposal will be impossible to ascertain and
the proposal itself will become very difficult to defend.

       Budget: Proposal budgets may vary greatly depending upon the scope of the
proposed project, the cost of its activities, and the restraints or guidelines specified by the
agency to which the proposal is to be submitted.

         Most sets of directions for writing any proposal will specify clearly those items or
activities that are eligible for funding. The first rule of proposal budgeting (though often
violated) is to refrain from requesting funding for non-eligible items. Be sure you know
what these are—do not make assumptions.

        Another frequent mistake made in proposal budget preparation is inflation of
requests. Some writers operate on the theory of “reciprocal expectations” (i.e., that you
must “pad” budgets because agencies expect you to “pad” budgets. Thus, the only way
to get what you really need is to ask for more than you need.). This theory may sound
logical, but its utilization can kill an otherwise decent proposal. Proposal readers are
acutely aware of what programs and personnel should cost. Excesses in requests are
easily spotted and viewed negatively. So ask for what you need, but don’t view your
proposal as a potential “gravy train.”

       Also, make sure that every item in your budget is mentioned and justified in your
proposal narrative. It is always a god idea to take your final budget and, for each line
item, go back to your narrative and make sure you have explained why the item is needed
and how it contributes to accomplishing your objectives.

       Thus, proposal budgets must be line-itemized, financially realistic, and directly
supported by the proposal narrative. And by all means—accurate. Make sure your
addition is correct.

         These elements: needs, objectives, procedures, evaluations, budget, represent the
essential and basic components of all grant proposals. Although there are numerous other
details that a knowledgeable professional grantsperson can give a proposal beyond these,
no one can write a fundable proposal without initial mastery of these.
        As educational resources become continually more competitive, the need for all
educational personnel to become involved in proposal preparation will intensify. Those
individuals who understand the proposal fundamentals outlined here will be valuable
assets to their institutions, and institutions that share proposal preparation responsibilities
throughout their ranks will be at the forefront when scarce resources are allocated.

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