Grant Proposal Writing
There are two general classifications of funding. The first is public funding, and the second is private funding.
Grants are usually publicly funded and are accessible on national and local levels. I am very familiar with public funding because of my experience as a grant proposal writer for the community college. On the national level, the US Office of Education in Washington, D.C., is a good place to research. The Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. is also an excellent source of information. State agencies are a wealth of public funding sources. I find that the California Community College Chancellor's office in Sacramento is a good funding source for community colleges.
I would not recommend writing your very first grant to a national agency, as you will need some experienced writing skills to be seriously competitive. The more local the funding source, the less competitive it is. When you write proposals to Washington, DC, there is much more work involved, and it is less likely that you will obtain funding. Although there is more glamour involved in landing a big grant for your institution, it is better to begin locally and focus your energy on smaller yet more attainable amounts.
There is a wealth of information on public funding sources. Directories, books, and web sites on the subject abound. Here are some to get you started.
California Community Colleges
PRIVATE MONEY OR FOUNDATIONS
Foundations offer funds that address needs in society and are likely to have very specific requirements. They are established within private corporations and public institutions. Foundation funds are privately held and have their own governing boards that determine the criteria and priorities for their funds. Large American corporations have tax incentives to put part of their profits into separately held foundations. this money is then made available to charitable organizations, public institutions, or individuals. Foundation funds are very individualistic, and why not? If you are a billionaire and want to give away your money, you would want to establish your specific guidelines for the recipients.
The more specific the criteria, the more diffficult it is to find a foundation that fits your specific needs. There is an impressive organization called The Foundation Center which has locations in many major cities. There will be a foundation out there that has been created by the desire to fill your particular funding need. All you have to do is find it. Their web site may help you.
CONTACTING THE SOURCE
Once you have located a potential source, now you need to contact them for pertinent information. Be sure to respect the idiosyncrasies of each prospective grantor. If they require a letter of inquiry on your organization's letterhead or demand that you communicate only via email, do as they ask. Write efficiently or speak succinctly. Here is a sample telephone "script."
Hello, this is Carole Bennett at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, California. I am calling to inquire about the funding that you may have available in the Fund for Instructional Improvement program. (pause) Yes, the college is a nonprofit organization. (pause) We are seeking funding for an innovative chemistry program that would allow our students to conduct online chemistry experiments in collaboration with students at a college in Wisconsin. (pause) Yes, I would like to read your upcoming RFP (Request for Proposal). How and when is it available? (pause) Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to reviewing the RFP."
If you must write for the RFP, use the concise format of the sample telephone call. Make your request in a couple of terse sentences (be sure to include your nonprofit status if applicable).
Here is a sample letter of inquiry similar to one that I sent to several foundations. Note that the letter reveals enough about my institution for the potential granting agency to determine whether or not our needs meet their criteria. Calculated brevity saves hours wasted on pursuing dead end resources.
This letter was sent to over 50 foundations and received responses from most of them. Several of the responses explained why our colelge did not fit their criteria. At this stage, do not consider these to be "rejection" letters, but timesaving suggestions from helpful people who want to guide you in the right direction.
RFP is the Request for Proposal, and RFA is the Request for Application. Both serve the same purposes, and in this workshop we will use the term RFP (Request for Proposal).
The RFP is a long and tedious document that details how your proposal is to be written. RFPs are about as exciting to read as a long form income tax instruction booklet. If you have the patience to wade through an income tax instruction booklet, reading an RFP will be a breeze.
Clear some time for yourself that will be free from distractions. Take a highlighter pen and begin reading. Read each word slowly and carefully this first time through. Highlight important points and pay particular attention to deadlines and to specifics on how to write the proposal. Here is a list of essential things to catch in this first slow reading:
* Priorities that the grantors will use for evaluating purposes;
* Any necessary matching funds that will be required;
* Due dates and postmark details;
* Number of final copies required;
* Number of words or pages allowed in the narrative portion;
* Any limitations such as special forms;
* Any restrictions such as margin widths, word counts, and font styles and sizes.
I am not joking about such trivial-sounding concerns as font style and size. Wouldn't you be upset if after hours of intense proposal writing, your work was rejected only because it is two pages over the page limit?
Note that the second item in the list above mentions "matching funding." Before you proceed, you should probably look long and hard at this issue. There are ways to get around required matching funding, and these will be discussed later in the budget section. Ask yourself some questions now. Is there a commitment to support your program with matching funds? Is there a commitment to continue the program after the year of grant funding? Talk to the financial person at your agency before you start writing.
Foundations have requested preliminary proposals for years, adn now more government granting agencies are also asking for them. Actually, the preliminary proposal is a practical and efficient way for the grantor to evaluate your idea before you write a longer proposal. A preliminary proposal is a two- to five-page "starter" proposal. If you clear this preliminary hurdle, you can then rewrite your proposal and go for the big time competition!
A WORD OF CAUTION
Recently I helped a fellow faculty member write a five-page preliminary proposal. I always ask for the RFP before reviewing a final draft of someone else's proposal, so she gave me her preliminary proposal for review. I proofread her proposal and found that although her document met the five-page limit, it did not meet the grantor's requirements that the proposal be double-spaced and contain no more than 1,250 words.
I obtained a copy of her proposal on disk and used my word processing program to count words, cut words, and count words again. Finally, the proposal was cut to fit the maximum word allowance, and we mailed it. This process would have been much less time consuming if my co-worker had read EVERY word of the RFP prior to writing her proposal. Most of the current word processing programs have word counts. In Microsoft Word, look for it in the Menu Bar by clicking on TOOLS.
From the highlighted items in the RFP, the next step is to begin a skeleton outline. The grantor frequently requires that you follow a specific outline, but if not, this one will get you started:
General notes to remember
Eligibility for program
Problem being addressed
Objectives and activities
Annual work plan
You can copy these directly from this site and paste them into a word processing page. This will be YOUR first step toward writing a proposal. Now I will share a method of working that has proven itself to work well for me.
TIPS FOR GETTING STARTED
With this previous list of headings as the beginning of a skeleton outline, go back to the RFP which you have previously highlighted. Examine every single highlighted item and decide under which heading it would fit, then type it in that location. Type anthing that is only a note to yourself in a special manner such as in italics. Later, this will trigger you to erase all the italicized items. Here is an example:
Under the heading "General notes to remember" area, I may have the following comments WRITTEN IN ITALICS: (1) to be written in double-spaced format; (2) to be written in font size of 12; (3) to be 1,250 words maximum. When I complete the document, I use this first section for a last-minute check. When I am sure each of these items has been addressed, I delete it. In fact, the entire section, "General notes to remember," will be deleted prior to the final draft of the proposal.
Under the heading "Abstract," I may have the following comments WRITTEN IN ITALICS: (1) summarize in 250 words or less; (2) be sure to address the Board of Governor's Basic Agenda; (3) do last. Yes, the Abstract IS the last thing you write, and you don't want to overlook these reminders. Although you may not be clear about the significance of the Abstract at this point, write down the note for future reference.
Continue to develop your outline by making notes to yourself as you review the RFP. Write these miscellaneous comments in italics so that you will remember to delete them later. Any observations that come to mind are worth writing down, especially anything that may be a cause for later evaluation. Often the biggest challenge is to make sense of an unorganized RFP, and this system seems to bring clarity to the worst of them. Sometimes I find something on the last page of the RFP that gives me insight on how to write the abstract. I then find an important item buried in the middle of the RFP that relates to the budget. These RFP documents can be maddening, but I think that you will find my method of developing an outline is very helpful because it forces your highlighted comments from the RFP to fit into your skeleton outline.
On the last page of the RFP you might find information on the criteria that the judges use to evaluate the proposals. This is critical information. Again, this information is out of sequence with your outline. Take any information you gather from this part and force it into your outline. For example, you could take the comment "20 points are allocated to the goals" to the Objectives & Activities section. You can insert the phrase "Is the project fesible within the project time?" to the Annual Work Plan section.
Take a break from this workshop and spend some time browsing various web sites. Do searches using any combination of words that occur to you. Look for sites that provide you with specific information on grants or available funding opportunities. Particularly valuable are sites that invite you to "customize" your request so that it will search for you.
If you have an old RFP or can use a new one, attempt to highlight the important clauses with a marking pen. Force each of the highlighted items into a section of your skeleton outline. Of course, if you are ready to do an actual grant proposal, there is no harm in using this process right now. Go for it!
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Distance Education office at Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA USA
Last updated: 19:00 on 1 March 2005
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