How to Develop a Successful Proposal

  1. Proposal development is an iterative process. At the beginning, plan to spend more time planning and thinking than writing.
  2. You can have more funding options if you are flexible about your project. For example, if some work you planned to do on the St. Olaf campus can be partially accomplished or presented in the Twin Cities, you may create opportunities to work with a Twin Cities foundation.
  3. However, don’t change core aspects of your project to fit the guidelines of a foundation or government opportunity.
  4. Start with a 1-2 page concept draft. This can be a very informal outline or unpolished prose. Set forth key aspects of the project and shape the case you’ll make for it:
    • Key Questions:
      • What is the opportunity or problem you want to address?
      • Why is it important? To whom?
      • What prepare St. Olaf and/or you to address it?
      • Why now?
      • Over what period of time?
      • What knowledge will result that we don’t currently know?
      • How does this project advance your professional goals and/or St. Olaf priorities?
      • What resources are needed to complete the project (time, money, access, collaborators, library materials, software, space)?
      • What activities/outcomes/products will be accomplished?
      • What else has been tried?
      • Why do you think this project will succeed?
      • What will success look like?
      • How will success be measured?
      • How will you disseminate results?
      • Can this project be replicated?
      • Will the project continue once grant funding ends?
  5. Circulate your concept draft to colleagues who know the work and those who will help by asking you good questions, including staff in GFCR. Consult with your chair, and others at St. Olaf who can help your project succeed.
  6. Begin the search for funding at least eighteen months prior to the start date of your project.
  7. In conjunction with GFCR staff, make inquiries of funders to gauge interest/alignment of your project.
  8. Read the guidelines. Read them again. Follow them. Proposals may be rejected for failure to observe page limitations, type sizes, deadlines, CV formats and other requirements.
  9. Give careful attention to the organization of your proposal. Use subheads, transitions, summaries and other tools to help the reader. Remember, yours will be one of dozens or even hundreds of proposals under review.
  10. Know your audience and write accordingly. Will your proposal be reviewed by peers or by other professionals who may not know your field? Clarity is generally preferable to complexity.
  11. Anticipate reviewers’ questions and address them in your narrative. Don’t make reviewers guess why you are asking for a research assistant or whether your language skills are good enough to do research abroad or why you require this software.
  12. Show rather than tell. Use data to support claims. Draw clear conclusions from paragraphs that describe context background or controversy.
  13. In most cases, you can request support for your project from more than one foundation or agency. Be sure to tailor your proposal to each organization to which you apply. Foundations and agencies have distinct missions and goals. Be sure the proposal reflects the funder’s imperatives as well as your own.
  14. Start the Proposal Clearance process early.
  15. Be careful of what you ask for, because you may get it.