How to Write a Successful Proposal - Guide + Template


How to Write a Successful Proposal - Guide + Template

You may find yourself needing to write a proposal in order to gain support. Maybe you’re a businessman or woman looking to solve a problem at work, or a vendor hoping to add a client. Or, maybe you’re a teacher hoping to receive a grant to purchase much-needed supplies for your classroom. Whatever the case may be, knowing how to write a proposal will help you write engaging copy, and help you get the results you want. 

But, before you get down to writing one - we do recommend to ask yourself a complex question - 

Should I Be Writing a Proposal?

But before we get into what a great proposal looks like, we want to point out that there are a few circumstances where proposals aren’t necessary or even appropriate. Ask yourself the following sub-questions before you start writing:

  • Is the client serious about moving forward with the project? - Only serious prospects should get sales proposals. If you’ve got a tire kicker or someone in the early stages of their exploration, save your effort until they’re further down the pipeline.
  • Do I have a realistic shot at winning the business? - Is your prospect actually looking for a solution like yours? Do they really have the budget? Time saved not writing proposals for poor-fit prospects is the time that can be spent seeking out better buyers.
  • Have I talked to the prospect about their budget and the intended scope of work? - Plenty of salespeople are afraid to talk specifics too early on, fearing it’ll kill the excitement of the deal. But why would you put energy into writing a proposal if you aren’t sure the scope and budget you’d include would match your client’s expectations? Have the hard conversations first.
  • Am I required to submit a proposal to be considered? - Sometimes, you can’t get around submitting a proposal - even if the criteria above haven’t been met. In these cases, there’s not much you can do besides getting to work.
  • Can I repurpose an old proposal, or do I need to start from scratch? - Finally, don’t assume you have to reinvent the wheel each time. While your proposal should be customized to the specific prospect you’re pitching, you can still develop a base template you translate to each prospect’s needs. 

If all the asked above have received the answer "Yes" - get down to writing your piece following the steps below and don't forget to take advantage of a Proposal Template we added at the end of this article!

Writing a Successful Proposal

Proposals aim to be approved by the people involved. Writing a proposal, you have to ensure that all is well thought of. It is important for a proposal to be organized, structured, complete, and clear. You can make proposals in a way you see best and most understandable and successful. To do this, here are the 6 steps you should follow.

STEP 1. Executive Summary

At the beginning of your proposal, or on a cover sheet, write a two- or three-sentence summary of the proposal. This summary helps the reader follow your argument in the proposal itself. 

For example: "ABC insurance is keeping its digital records on a computer database system last upgraded in 1985. This legacy system is becoming increasingly unreliable and expensive to maintain. Digital Database Inc. is a company dedicated to providing quality database storage and access; they offer their services in transferring ABC’s records to Digital Database’s state-of-the-art and regularly updated database. Once the records transfer is completed, ABC will have remote access to their data without the need for expensive and troublesome legacy hardware upkeep. The estimated budget is $10k, and Digital Database will require two dedicated database personnel."

STEP 2. Introduction - Organization Information

In two or three paragraphs, tell the funder about your organization and why it can be trusted to use funds effectively. Briefly summarize your organization’s history. State your mission, whom you serve and your track record of achievement. Clearly describe, or at least list, your programs. If your programs are many or complex, consider adding an organization chart or other attachments that explain them. Describe your budget size, where you are located and who runs the organization and does the work. Add other details that build the credibility of your group. If other groups in your region work on the same issues, explain how they are different and how you collaborate with them, if you do.

Even if you have received funds from this grantmaker before, your introduction should be complete. Funders sometimes hire outside reviewers who may not be familiar with your organization.

STEP 3. Problem/Need/Situation Description and Background

This is where you convince the funder that the issue you want to tackle is important and show that your organization is an expert on the issue. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t assume the funder knows much about your subject area. Most grantmaking staff people are generalists. If your topic is complex, you might add an informative article or suggest some background reading.
  • Why is this situation important? To whom did your organization talk, or what research did you do to learn about the issue and decide how to tackle it?
  • Describe the situation in both factual and human interest terms, if possible. Providing good data demonstrates that your organization is an expert in the field. If there are no good data on your issue, consider doing your own research study, even if it is simple.
  • Describe your issue in as local context as possible. Tell the funder about the issue under consideration in your county - not in the United States as a whole.
  • Describe a problem that is about the same size as your solution. Don’t draw a dark picture of nuclear war, teen suicide and lethal air pollution if you are planning a modest neighborhood arts program for children.
  • Don’t describe the problem as the absence of your project. "We don’t have enough beds in our battered women’s shelter" is not the problem. The problem is - the increased levels of domestic violence. More shelter beds - is a solution.

STEP 4. Work Objectives / Goals, Plan and Scope

Explain what your organization plans to do about the problem. What are your overall goals? Then go on to give details, including:
  • Who is the target audience, and how will you involve them in the activity? How many people do you intend to serve? Some projects have two audiences: the direct participants and the indirect beneficiaries. If so, describe both. How will you ensure that people actually participate in the program? 
  • What are you going to do? Describe the activities. Tell the funder about the project’s "output," or how many "units of service" you intend to deliver over a specific time period. Be sure you don’t promise an unrealistic level of service.
  • What project planning has already taken place? If you have already done research, secured the commitment of participants or done other initial work, describe it so the funder can see that you are well-prepared.
  • Who is going to do the work and what are their credentials? (Attach resumes of key people.) Some funders ask for the name of a project director, the person most responsible for the project, whether volunteer or paid. Demonstrate that the staff or volunteers have the expertise to do a good job.
  • When will the project take place? Some funders ask for the project start date and project end date. In general, a project can be said to start when you start spending money on it. If the project is long, consider including a TIMELINE.
  • Where will the project take place?

You may not know the answers to all these questions when you submit your proposal. But the more you know, the better the proposal will look. Apply the "mind's eye test" to your description. After reading it, could the reader close his eyes and imagine what he would see if he came into the room where your project is happening? Many project descriptions are too vague.

STEP 5. Project Budget and Personnel

How much will the project cost? Attach a one- or two-page budget showing expected expenses and income for the project.
On every phase / stage of your project you will have a rough division of expenses into 

Direct Project Expenses and Personnel Expenses.

Direct Project Expenses are non-personnel expenses you would not incur if you did not do the project. They can be almost anything: travel costs, printing, space or equipment rental, supplies, insurance, or meeting expenses such as food. Remember that you will have to live with this budget; you can’t go back to the funder and ask for more money because you forgot something. Think carefully about all the expenses you will have. Also take the time to get accurate estimates. 

Personnel Expenses include the expenses for all the people who will work on the project. They may be employees of your organization or independent contractors. If they are employees, list the title, the annual pay rate and, if the person will be working less than full-time or less than 12 months on the project, the portion of time to be dedicated to the project. 

Pricing information should be easy to digest, so keep it high level. Make sure the fee description is directly tied to the recommended solution. Think in "fee packages" instead of individual fee items.

STEP 6. Monitoring and Evaluation

Describe here how progress will be evaluated throughout and at the end of the project. You will have to answer the main following question - How will you know whether you achieved the desired impacts? If you have done a good job of defining them, all you need to do here is describe the information you will gather to tell you how close you came. 

To Sum It Up

Landing more business by improving your sales proposals isn’t rocket science, but it does require some effort. Review the guidelines described above against every proposal you send, and look for cues that suggest prospects are responding well to your proposals.

 

Proposal Template

 

  Executive Summary  

[For those who need working knowledge of the project but won’t read the entire proposal. Should be on a separate page and not exceed one page.]

  • Brief identification and purpose of your organization
  • Purpose and the anticipated end result of a proposal
  • Type and amount of support requested
  • Anticipated total budget
  • Any other information necessary for a broad understanding of the project

Example: ABC insurance is keeping its digital records on a computer database system last upgraded in 1985.  This legacy system is becoming increasingly unreliable and expensive to maintain. Digital Database Inc. is a company dedicated to providing quality database storage and access; they offer their services in transferring ABC’s records to Digital Database’s state-of-the-art and regularly updated database.  Once the records transfer is completed, ABC will have remote access to their data without the need for expensive and troublesome legacy hardware upkeep. The estimated budget is $10k, and Digital Database will require two dedicated database personnel.

 Introduction  

[Introduce your organization. Material might include your purpose, mission statement, description of activities, and credentials.]

Example: Digital Database Inc. has been helping companies with remote and on-site data solutions for over 20 years.  We are dedicated to providing unfailing database services to your business and technical specifications.]

Problem Description and Background

[Explain why the project is being undertaken.  What issue or opportunity is being addressed? Detail the history of the issue.]

  • How long has the problem existed?
  • Has the problem been addressed in the past?  How? In what ways might these past efforts help or hinder the project?
  • What is the impact of the problem on target and surrounding populations?

Example: ABC’s database hardware was last updated in 1985. Costs of maintenance and recognition of data vulnerability to mechanical errors became apparent in April 2005.  In November 2010, a plan was drawn up to migrate ABC’s data to a new in-house server, but the attempt was abandoned due to cost issues with the hardware supplier.  The migration plan from the 2010 proposal should help streamline the planning process.

Objectives / Goals

[Describe the project.  Establish clear, specific, measurable goals.  Also note deliverables, if applicable.]

  • [specific & measurable objective 1]
  • [specific & measurable objective 2]
  • [specific & measurable objective 3]

Example:  Goal: Transmission of all ABC records to the Digital Database remote solution by May 2018, with less than a .01% error rate.

Scope

[What is the end result of the project?  Describe what phases of work will be undertaken.]

Example:  The data migration will take place in four steps: 1) the identification of all data to migrate, 2) the transfer of identified data to the Digital Database remote solution, 3) verification of successful migration, and 4) training of ABC personnel on remote access tools.

Requirements

[What resources will be needed to undertake the project?]

Example:  Digital Database Inc. will require access to two ABC database administrator personnel, full access to the ABC database system, and a $2,000 monthly retainer.

 T imeline 

[Detailed information on the expected timetable for the project.  Break the project down into discrete phases, and unpack the scheduling for each phase.]

Description of Work

Start and End Dates

Phase One

...

...

Phase Two

...

...

Phase Three

...

...


Project Budget

[Proposed costs and budget, plus intended efforts to manage the budget.]

Description of Work

Start and End Dates

Phase One

...

...

Phase Two

...

...

Phase Three

...

...

Total

$  0.00


Key Stakeholders / Personnel

Client

[name]

Sponsor

[name]

Project Manager

[name]

Team

[name], [name], [name], [name]


Monitoring and Evaluation

[Describe how progress will be evaluated throughout and at the end of the project.]

  • [Formulate clear indicators for each objective and result]
  • [Establish procedures (who, how, when) for monitoring and evaluating indicators]

Example:  The Digital Database and ABC tech leads will conduct weekly conferences during the migration to ascertain the % volume of records transferred, and the % accuracy of the records successfully migrated.

Risks of undertaking project

[Does the project have potentially negative implications?]

Example:  With any migration, there is a chance of data corruption.  ABC estimates that significant data loss could have as much as a $1 million impact.  Digital Database Inc. recognizes this risk and has a competitive recompense package. 

Success Criteria

[Establish criteria that must be met for the project to be considered a success.]

  • Success Criterion 1
  • Success Criterion 2
  • Success Criterion 3

Example:  1) 100% of ABC records migrated to Digital Database remote solution.  2) Data transferred with a corruption margin of .01% or less. 3) Data fully transferred to Digital Database servers by May 15, 2020.

Endorsements / Authorizations

[names and addresses of individuals who support and endorse the project]

Example:  Missy Rose
                1010 Melrose Ave.,
                Los Angeles, CA

Next Steps

[Call To Action]

Example: To formalize this proposal into a contract, call Digital Database Inc.’s Technical Supervisor, Bob Gee, at (999)999-9999.

Appendix

[any applicable supporting materials]

  • Research materials
  • Statistics
  • External quotes
  • Detailed cost/benefit spreadsheets
  • Other relevant data

Approval Signatures

[Name], Project Client

[Name], Project Sponsor

[Name], Project Manager