Guide to Successful Proposal Preparation
Preparing a Successful Proposal
The development of successful proposals takes time. Begin the search for funding
early. Plan to spend more time planning, brainstorming and researching your idea
than actually writing the proposal. However, allow plenty of time for writing, review
Something to keep in mind - If it were your money, what would you want to know about
how it will be used?
Regardless of your discipline or the funding agency, certain rules of grantseeking
apply to all grant proposals.
If you are applying to federal government sources, certifications and regulations
will apply and you should be familiar with that division’s most current policies and
National Science Foundation
National Institutes of Health
It all starts with an idea! Every successful grant project began with someone’s idea.
Below are some general tips for turning your idea into a successful proposal.
Questions Your Proposal Must Answer
What do you want to do?
You should be able to summarize your proposal in a few sentences. Avoid jargon. Provide
a short project summary even if it's not required. Make it easy for reviewers to find
the answers to questions they might have.
Why do you want to do it?
Why is it important that this project be done? Convey your enthusiasm. There must
be a better reason than "it hasn't been done before."
How are you going to do it?
When and where? Provide a specific timeline. Demonstrate that you have the necessary
equipment and other resources.
How much will it cost?
In addition to a basic budget (or required budget forms) provide a "Budget Justification"
-- detailed information on each budget item. Show how you arrived at your figures.
Why are you the one to do it?
What special credentials do you have? How are we uniquely positioned to do the project
What good will come from it?
Your answer will depend in part on the goals of the funding source. Typically you
will need to describe the contribution to the discipline and to society in general.
You may also need to address the benefit your project will have for your career or
for Illinois Wesleyan University and/or its students.
How will you show that it's been done and evaluate its success?
This answer also depends on the goals and requirements of the funding source. At
a minimum, indicate how you plan to disseminate the results of the project. Assessment
is critical to the proposal as well as the project itself.
Steps for Proposal Development: See the
Start with a one paragraph abstract or one- or two-page concept draft, outlining your
goals and needs. Provide concise answers to the questions above. This can be a very
informal document or outline. It should outline the key aspects of the project and
to help you shape the case you’ll make.
Share your idea and concept draft with external and internal colleagues, the Grants
office, Department chair, Provost, Associate Provost, etc. Consider the context
of your project; in terms of your own professional path, your department/division’s
goals and plans, and the University’s goals and plans. Look at how your project fits
into these areas over the next 3-5 years.
Make revisions to your draft as needed, continue researching relevant data and research
that speaks to the need for your project and start listing the resources you will
need to complete the project.
Research your potential funding sources:
Databases – free and paid subscription. See
find grants portion
of the web page.
Closely read the guidelines and funding priorities of potential sources. Non-profit
organizations’ 990 IRS forms are available for free at
. The Grants office can check their financial status and what types of projects or
organizations they have funded in the past. Also check their website and those of
projects they have funded for clues about their priorities.
Meet with Grants office staff to identify other potential sources.
Keep up to date on opportunities that may be shared within your field. You are the
expert in your field. As you read about funders’ priorities and programs, you may
see possibilities and connections that others less familiar with your research goals
A note about funding sources: You may have more funding options if you can be flexible
about aspects of your project that could be attractive to private foundations or government
agencies. For example, perhaps some work that you planned to do on campus can be partially
accomplished in the City of Bloomington, which may create an opportunity to work with
a local foundation or government body. That being said, don’t change the core aspects
of your project to fit the guidelines of a foundation or government opportunity; don’t
“chase the money”.
Identify funding source and appropriate deadlines. Does your project fit with their
priorities? Is the deadline realistic? Read the guidelines. Read them again. Draft
a timeline/action plan for both the project and the proposal preparation process.
Meet with the GFR office to assist in creating or to share your action plans and to
Forms and documents: Complete an IWU
Grant Proposal Review Form
and get signatures. Read over funder guidelines again for other documents that
are necessary: letters of support from collaborators, tax-exempt status proof, Certificate
of Good Standing, etc. Include these documents in your timeline for proposal preparation.
Prepare proposal budget. Make sure to use any forms or templates the funder provides,
exactly the way they instruct. If they do not provide a format for the budget, use
Creating a Budget for Your Proposal
instructions. Contact the Grants office for assistance in creating a proposal budget.
8. Prepare a first draft of entire proposal, following all instructions. Read
the guidelines carefully and follow them exactly to be sure you answer all the questions.
Proposals may be rejected for failure to observe page limitations, type sizes, deadlines,
CV formats and other requirements. Share with at least one colleague who will provide
constructive feedback and the Grants office. If the funder does not provide an outline
or headings, make sure to give careful attention to the organization of your proposal.
Use subheads, transitions, summaries and other tools to help the reader. A listing
typical proposal component headings
are available on the grants web page. Remember, your proposal will be one of dozens
or hundreds of proposals under review at the same time
a. Know your audience and write accordingly. Will your proposal be reviewed
by peers or by other professionals who may not know your field? For many private foundations,
a good rule of thumb is to write clearly for the non-expert.
Anticipate reviewers’ questions and address them in your narrative. Don’t make reviewers
guess about anything.
Show rather than tell. Use data to support claims. Write with nouns rather than adjectives.
Use concrete language.
Address assessment and evaluation (if not in application format). What will success
look like? How will it be measured? How will you disseminate results?
Address context of project within own research, department or division plans, University’s
goals, strategies, larger community. Will the project go forward or continue if grant
funding is not received?
Address the larger impact on the discipline, students, teaching. Can this project
be replicated? Organizations may want to know how they will benefit from the study
or how society in general will benefit.
Review the funder’s guidelines, feedback from first draft, your professional development
plan, and make revisions to the proposal.
Send the revised draft to a trusted reviewer who will offer clarity and suggestions.
Remember to have thick skin!
Make any revisions from trusted reviewer(s) and have your final draft proofread for
typos or errors.
Submit the proposal! Whew! Relax and take a short break!
Outline your next steps; waiting can be frustrating, so think about what you will
do if you get the funding. Go back over the project timeline. What if the answer
is “no”? Get access to the reviewer comments if possible and get ready to revise
and submit the proposal elsewhere.