Key Elements of Effective Proposals

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Definition of the Issues/Needs
  • Objective/Desired Results
  • Methods
  • Evaluation Plan
  • Qualifications
  • Timetable
  • Budget
  • Appendices

Executive Summary: Most people consider the executive summary as the most important section of the proposal because it is the first section that the proposal reviewer sees. The summary should be written last but presented first because it is a summary of the entire proposal. It includes a concise description of the project, stating the overall vision of your project, covering objectives, need, and methodology. It should identify the expected outcomes of the project, stress why your initiatives will affect your target audience, and briefly mention your organization’s track record. The executive summary should be no longer than two pages and preferably one.

Introduction: Use this section to establish your organization’s credibility. Describe the organization’s goals, mission, products and services and provide supporting documentation that supports your stated accomplishments. This section is written second-to-last.

Definition of the Issues/Needs: In this section, describe the issues and problems to be addressed and why it is important to do so. Specify how your organization plans to resolve the issues and problems. Also describe the significance, timeliness, and importance of the project. This is the opportunity to make a compelling case why you should win the bid or secure funding. Provide statistics and other supporting documents to substantiate your claims.

Objectives/Desired Results: Clearly indicate the expected outcomes of the project in the short and long term. You may have more than one outcome, and each should be stated in one sentence. Each expected outcome should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

Methods: This is the most critical section of the proposal and is awarded the most points. It is a plan of action and states how your organization will achieve its objectives. This section is where you talk about your overall approach to the project, your specific methodology, its innovativeness, relevance and effectiveness. Mention anticipated problems and how you will address them, and specify your target audiences.

Evaluation Plan: The evaluation phase is an important step because it lets your client, grantee, or funding agency know if the project has achieved its objectives. In this section, you will describe how your organization plans to assess the project. Describe how evaluation data will be collected, stored, analyzed and the results reported. The evaluation may also describe plans for collecting additional information to improve the project.

Qualifications: The intent of this section is to demonstrate that the organization has the capacity and capability to complete the project. Describe similar projects that your organization has worked on. List key personnel who will work on the project, and include their resumes. Also mention any consultants who will work on the project, and give evidence that they have agreed to participate. If applicable for the project, describe facilities, resources and equipment you have available to ensure completion of the project.

Timetable: In this section, describe how long specific tasks or components of the project will take and who will complete them. If possible, include a milestone chart.

Budget: The budget section demonstrates to the client, or funding agency that your organization possesses the ability to manage money. Show the annual and overall cost of the project. A detailed budget should be divided into categories such as salaries, contract payments, travel and lodging, supplies, equipment, miscellaneous expenses and so on. Indirect costs should also be shown. Sub-categories should provide a line item detailed breakdown of the funds requested. This should be accompanied with a budget narrative to clarify and justify the figures. Make sure that all your calculations are accurate and that the budget balances. For peace of mind, indicate that you intend to follow generally accepted accounting principles.

Appendices: All important information should be included in the body of the proposal. However, there are times when you have to include supplemental information like testimonials, letters of support, references, financial documents, legal documents, media clippings, brochures, newsletters, and so on. This is the section where you list all the documents that you are including with the proposal.

This is a generic template for proposal writing, is for guidance only, and should be used with discretion. You have to adjust the proposal template depending on the type of proposal you are writing. And remember, if the process appears too daunting, we are here to help you!

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