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The Basics of Proposal Writing

The Basics of Proposal Writing

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The Basics of Proposal Writing

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  1. The Basics of Proposal Writing An Introduction to Writing a Successful Grant Application

  2. Introductory Comments: Is it about the money? Yes and No • Why write a grant proposal? • Can you afford to support the projects that interest you from your own or your organization’s resources? • Ultimately successful grant seeking must be driven by your professional goals and/or the goals of your organization, the quality of the project, the organization’s mission and the needs of the potential grantor, not simply the money.

  3. Introductory Comments: Traits of a Good Proposal Writer • Is clever • Plans well • Prepares extensively • Takes input and criticism in a positive manner to improve ideas and presentation

  4. Introductory Comments: Be Proactive not Reactive • Start the proposal preparation process early • Don’t be either too narrow or too general in your approach • Learn about your potential funding source(s) • Develop a quality assurance process • e.g. have a pre-submission review team read and comment on the proposal

  5. Introductory Comments: Innovation Counts • In submitting a proposal you are marketing your ideas and the capabilities of you and your organization (and possibly those of your partners) to get the proposed work done in an effective manner. • Grant seeking is an entrepreneurial activity and the competitive nature of grant funding encourages innovative ideas that will solve the problem in the most effective manner.

  6. Introductory Comments: You Must Have Goals • Identify long term goals • Your professional goals or your organization’s goals • Goals of the project • Get to know your field • The people • The funding sources • Begin networking • professionally and socially • Be prepared for rejection • Stick to your goals – but consider flexible solutions

  7. Identifying Sources of Funding: The Grants Marketplace

  8. The Grants Marketplace: Federal Government Funding • Federal and State funding accounts for more than 75% of all money granted (note that this is money granted, if contracts are included the percentage would increase to well over 90%). • Types of Federal Grants • Categorical Grants – address a specific area of programmatic concern • Block Grants – Pass categorical grant money to the state for administration following state rules. • Formula Grants – funds allocated according to set criteria such as number of individuals below the poverty level. Specific to a problem area or geographic region and must pass through an intermediary such as a city government. • Cooperative Agreement or Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) - An award similar to a grant, but in which the sponsor's staff may be actively involved in proposal preparation, and anticipates having substantial involvement in research activities once the award has been made.

  9. High Priority Projects • A.K.A “Earmarks” • “We’re a poor state and it’s only pork if it goes north of the Ohio River.” Trent Lott • Generally require a proposal which will be submitted through a Congressman’s or Senator’s office • Will be included in a congressional bill • If funded will be administered by the relevant federal agency • Execution of the project and expenditure of funds must follow that agency’s policies and procedures

  10. The Grants Marketplace: State Government Funding • In terms of dollars most of the state grants come from federal block and formula grants. • States can develop their own priorities for distribution of these federal funds. • States may add restrictions in addition to those imposed in the federal guidelines, use a peer review system, or use elected officials or political appointees to review applications. • States also create their own programs and review may or may not be by state-wide criteria.

  11. Types of Grant Opportunities • Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) - An announcement of a federal agency's general research interests that invites proposals and specifies the general terms and conditions under which an award may be made. • Investigator-Initiated Proposal - A proposal submitted to a sponsor that is not in response to an RFP, RFA, or a specific PA. • Program Announcement (PA) - Describes existence of a funding opportunity. It may describe new or expanded interest in a particular extramural program or be a reminder of a continuing interest in an extramural program. • Parent Announcements – A form of PA used by the NIH, span the breadth of the NIH mission in order to ensure it has a way to capture “unsolicited” applications that do not fall within the scope of targeted announcements. 

  12. Types of Grant Opportunities • Request for Applications (RFA) - Announcements that indicate the availability of funds for a topic of specific interest to a sponsor. Successful proposals submitted in response to RFAs generally result in the award of a grant. Specific grant announcements may be published in the Federal Register and/or specific sponsor publications. • Request for Proposal (RFP) - Announcements that specify a topic of research, methods to be used, product to be delivered, and appropriate applicants sought. Successful proposals submitted in response to RFPs generally result in the award of a contract. Notices of federal RFPs are published in the Commerce Business Daily.

  13. Contracts • Contract - A mechanism for procurement of a product or service with specific obligations for both sponsor and recipient. Typically, a project of interest to the funder and the methods for conducting the project are specified in detail by the sponsor, although some sponsors award contracts in response to unsolicited proposals.

  14. The Grants Marketplace: Private Foundations

  15. Types of Private Foundations • National General Purpose Foundations • These foundations have interests in several areas and fund projects that will have a broad impact. • Special Purpose Foundations • Define their area of interest specifically • Community Foundations • Want to make a difference in the communities in which they are based • Family Foundations

  16. Scholarship and Leadership Training Program No region can have a bright future without strong leaders. The goal of our scholarship and leadership training program is to identify and equip a talented network of young people for future service in Northeast Tennessee. Scholarships are currently offered in the following seventeen school districts: Bristol, Elizabethton, Greeneville, Johnson City, Kingsport, Carter County, Cocke County, Greene County, Hamblen County, Hancock County, Hawkins County, Jefferson County, Johnson County, Sevier County, Sullivan County, Unicoi County and Washington County. There are currently 36 Scholars and 8 Alumni. Partnership Program The Partnership Program provides schools with the resources and expertise they need to become successful. The focus is on schools facing economic challenges, leadership needs or low student performance. Services include consulting, performance audits, strategic planning, staff development, program implementation, assessment and follow-up. By helping schools develop and maintain strong academic programs, the Foundation seeks to enhance the educational opportunities of all children.

  17. Patterns of Foundation Funding • Education is the largest recipient of foundation funds (25%) followed by human services (17%), health (16%), and the arts (12%) • Higher education receives more support than any other aspect of education (15% compared to 6% for K-12)

  18. Identifying Potential Foundation Funding • Define your project, its goals and the specific actions you will take to achieve those goals • The Foundation Directory is the source for information on sources of 92% of all foundation funding. • The Foundation Directory may often be found in your public library and may be accessed on-line in the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Administration at ETSU.

  19. The Corporate Marketplace

  20. The Corporate Marketplace: Education & Health & Human Services • Corporate giving comes in two forms – directly from the corporation and from corporate foundations • The guiding principle of corporate giving is self-interest – “this-for-that” – corporations do not usually give away money, they invest it. • The latest IRS rule allows up to 10% of their pre-tax gifts and grants to not-for-profits as a tax deduction • Education and health and human services are the two biggest recipients of corporate contributions

  21. The Corporate Marketplace: Culture & the Arts • Can you demonstrate that employees of the corporation come to performances or sites • Do employees of the corporation volunteer at the performances or sites • Do you interact with local agencies involved in the same activities • Do you offer activities such as family and school activities that will assist the corporation in recruiting employees

  22. Entering the Proposal Writing Process

  23. Maximize Lead Time • Having time to write a compelling proposal is essential • This begins with a proactive and early search for funding opportunities • You must create the quality time to produce the proposal from generation of the idea through gap analysis to submission of the proposal

  24. You Do Not Want to Get This Review “The problems with this grant are legion, but if I go on to detail them I will have spent more time on the review than it appears the applicant did in his preparation of the proposal.”

  25. General Guidelines for a Proposal • Nothing beats a good idea • Be realistic – You’re probably not going to solve the problem of world hunger with your proposed project • Make the presentation clear and simple • Make the presentation easy to read • Present yourself and/or your organization and partners, as the one group who can solve the problem of interest to the funding entity • Prepare a realistic budget and thoroughly justify it

  26. Nothing Beats a Good Idea • Articulate a worthwhile, single, focused objective • Articulate specific approaches to achieving the objective that are clearly related to one another and logically fit under the umbrella of the overall objective • Present and document gaps that need to be filled • Plant the seed for achieving each specific approach by presenting the questions to be asked which will fill the gaps

  27. Develop Your Idea • Define the problem that you want to address • Collect and critically analyze background information related to the problem • Develop, don’t force, the preliminary idea • Assess the potential for success in solving the problem based on your idea • Seek constructive input/criticism from knowledgeable colleagues • Refine the idea to maximize its potential for impact on your field

  28. Assess Your Idea • Critically asses whether or not you have the necessary expertise, resources, personnel and preliminary data to be competitive • Find the agency that fits your idea • Know what an agency can fund • Funding your proposal should be compatible with meeting the goals of the agency • Contact the program officer and listen closely and carefully

  29. Sell Your Idea: The Successful Sell • Make a good first impression • Be well-prepared • Be credible • Deliver a clear message • Provide supporting documentation • Include appropriate endorsements • Have something special to offer • Be persistent

  30. Needs or Gap Analysis • You must convincingly establish the need for the solution to the problem you are interested in. • Just because it is obvious to you doesn’t mean it’s obvious to a potential grantor. • What is the problem that requires a solution? • What will happen if this problem is not solved? • What is the gap between what exists now and what ought to be or would be if the knowledge existed to solve the problem? • Why should grant funds be used now to solve the problem and reduce the gap? • What will be the return on the grantor’s investment?

  31. Does Needs Analysis Apply to the Basic Research Grant • Yes – You must know the literature in your field in depth such that you can generate hypotheses which are based on what is not now known, but must be known to advance the field. • You must be on the “cutting edge”. • You do not want to have your idea labeled as “old science”

  32. Writing the Proposal: General Points

  33. The Four Most Important Elements of Grant-Writing • Read the Instructions, understand the Instructions, Follow the Instructions • Read the Instructions, understand the Instructions, Follow the Instructions • Read the Instructions, understand the Instructions, Follow the Instructions

  34. The Four Most Important Elements of Grant-Writing • AND THEN REALLY READ THE INSTRUCTIONS • Read the correct instructions • Read all of the instructions • Read the current instructions • Read the RFA, RFP and/or PA especially well as these are supplied to the reviewers

  35. You Must Present the Proposal So That It Answers These Questions • What positively singles out this grant application from all others under consideration? • Why is this grant application special and, therefore, deserving of support? • In some state and federal service program grants the instructions include specific areas where points may be earned. • This is especially the case of categorical and formula grants and grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

  36. Make The Presentation Clear And Simple • Assume total ignorance on the part of the reviewer • Provide just enough background information so the reviewer appreciates what you are proposing • Extraneous information is distracting • No abbreviations or acronyms without definition • Use formatting for emphasis • It’s ok to be somewhat redundant to call attention to important points

  37. Make The Presentation Clear And Simple • Compartmentalize information with bold headings, key words & sentences • Make use of diagrams and cartoons to describe processes and concepts • Use a terminal sentence pointing to your goal at the end of each compartment • Never exceed the specified page limits

  38. Make The Presentation Easy To Read • Do not be wordy – write like Hemingway, not Faulkner • Use simple declarative sentences • Avoid complicated words, unusual abbreviations (always define an abbreviation that is not common to the area), and tortuous syntax • Tell the reviewer what he is supposed to think about the proposal and write in its review

  39. Make The Presentation Easy To Read • Do not force the reviewer to hunt through the application for information • Avoid “weak” words that may introduce doubt into the mind of the reviewer about your ability to do the work • Example “We will try to establish conditions for achieving better food choice behavior with the following –” vs. “The following approaches will be assessed in order to establish conditions for ---”

  40. Order of Preparation • Write the Goals and Proposed Methods to achieve the goals first, then the Narrative, then the Justification and Background and finally the Title and Summary or Abstract

  41. Present Yourself As The Greatest Expert In The Field • Know the background supporting the proposal in depth and breadth • Do not make statements without attribution or preliminary data • Do not be reluctant to admit shortcomings • Seek collaborators or mentors when your expertise cannot be documented

  42. Present Yourself As The Greatest Expert In The Field This is an important project, which can be accomplished in timely fashion because the basic support infrastructure required for the successful completion of the project is already in place. The project director is well qualified to accomplish the goals of this application. She is a registered dietician and has extensive experience in managing school food programs as evidenced by the experience presented in her attached résumé. She has also developed a novel approach to food-choice management in school children which has been presented at a national meeting. The project director will be responsible for the organization of the project project and for the overall administration of the program.

  43. Be Realistic • Ask questions which are answerable • Provide tantalizing preliminary data as evidence that the questions are worth asking and answerable • Propose technical approaches which are within the realm of your demonstrable expertise • The volume of work proposed should be proportional to the time of support requested and your other obligations

  44. The Goals and Methods • What do you propose to do • How you propose to do it • What results you expect and what they will mean in terms of the overall project • What might go wrong • What alternative approaches will be used to cope with potential problems

  45. Narrative: Justification • Significance • Make it easy for the reviewers to identify the importance of the impact the project or research will have • Include direct sentence regarding the significance • Significance projected must by pertinent to the interests of the reviewers and the mission of the agency • Background • The purpose is not to be comprehensive – this is not the introduction to your dissertation – be selective • The purpose is to present a solid foundation for your proposal

  46. Narrative: Expectations and Impact • Key section for developing advocacy • Expectations must be realistic • Each statement of expectation must be followed by a statement as to why that outcome is important • e.g. “This project is innovative and important because to date no effective program has been implemented to change student food choices in Appalachia. Poor food choice has been related to childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease in later life.” • Collective impact – Summary of how will all of the outcomes advance the field

  47. The Resources Section • Should be a separate section • Must be well written • List key available facilities and equipment (if appropriate) including larger pieces of standard equipment, but do not include equipment or facilities requested in your budget • Include reference to people such as webpage designers who may be consulted but are not listed as key personnel

  48. Background • Describe what is known • Describe what is not known (the gaps) • Describe what needs to be done (what will fill the gaps) • Emphasize how achieving your goals will meet the need, i.e., solve the problem that you have highlighted

  49. The Title • Reviewers’ first impression • Should be informative • Must engender enthusiasm • Can influence assignment for review • Can be misunderstood and used out of context – this is why you write it after the body of the proposal is finished • Know whether or not there are restrictions on length • If so, know whether the restriction pertains to characters or characters and spaces • List words that convey what you want to do and why it is important • Arrange words into a compelling, informative title that fits the space

  50. The Title • Train Nurse Mentors in Research Skills vs. • Teach and Sustain Research Skills in Nurses