Proposal writing

by Anne Maertz, CVT Manager of Institutional Relations
Through good research, you’ve found a funder whose interests match the work of your organization. You invited them to visit your program, they liked what they saw, and they’ve invited a proposal.  That’s great!  
There are many different proposal formats.  The two most common are: 1) a cover letter and narrative; and 2) an online form.  Briefly, the key elements of most general operating proposals are:
  • Organizational background (mission, history, programs, accomplishments and awards)
  • Needs statement (not your organization’s needs: torture survivors’ needs)
  • Organizational capability (qualifications of board, leadership, and staff; financial stability, experience managing grants, which other funders support you—will they be one of the “cool kids” named in your annual report donor list?)  
  • Monitoring and evaluation (what are your goals and objectives, how do you measure success, and what are your results?)
  • Attachments (typically your 501(c)3, audited financial statements, annual report, board roster, and annual budget)
Even general operating proposals should be tailored for each funder.  One foundation may be interested in your local program, another in your national or international work. One may care passionately about direct services and the next one will “get” the need for advocacy or training. Finally, writing proposals takes focus, which can be challenging, so consider how best to create time and space to zero in on it.  It may seem obvious, but make sure you get every proposal submitted on time if there’s a deadline, complete, and with no typos.  If any of your board members have connections with a foundation, send them a copy of the proposal and ask them to put in a good word for it if appropriate.  Then move on to the next proposal!     


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