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Tips for Writing A Winning Proposal

by Judith Lindenberger

This article by Judith G. Lindenberger was prepared for the November 21, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

So how do you or your organization get up to $600,000 in state funds to underwrite the mission of your choice? Well, you have to ask for it, as any well meaning friend or relative will tell you. But how you ask is critical.

Grant proposals have to sing — and gain the attention of the funding source as surely as a mezzo-soprano reaches the upper balcony. Lots of frugal nonprofits have concluded that money spent on a professional grant-writer is money well spent. Herewith 10 tips from Judith Lindenberger, a veteran nonprofit professional, who has written proposals for both non-profits and for-profits:

IN MY FORMER LIFE, I was a corporate businesswoman, grappling my way up to the glass ceiling. For the past two years, I stuffed my business degrees in a drawer and got paid for my passion — working as the administrative director of a nonprofit organization that helps kids with learning differences.

In my job, I wrote lots of grants. Early on it dawned on me that I had been very successful in the business world when I wrote business proposals. In my corporate life, I developed a training program for business executives who wrote business proposals.

The result of that program was that the business executives wrote clearer, more effective proposals and their audience made clearer, more effective decisions.

So, using what I learned in both my business career and my nonprofit career, here are my 10 steps for writing winning proposals even in a down economy:

Know your audience. Create a mental picture of a typical reader. Think — how will the reader react to my ideas? What information does the reader need to be able to follow and accept my message? Learn your audience’s points of view and goals. Learn their attitudes and values.

State your purpose up front. Every proposal needs a solid foundation and an idea or product the audience needs. State your purpose up front. Many first-time presenters mistakenly believe you should save your punch line until the end. Wrong. This is not the time for suspense.

Outline your proposal. After determining that there is a match between your purpose and the audience’s point of view and goals, follow these three steps to write your proposal:

  1. Determine what’s in the middle — what is your core message?
  2. Figure out the ending — how will you close? What is your call to action?
  3. Figure out the beginning — how should you open? Start off with answering the question, what is the issue? and telling your audience what you want them to do.

Focus. Keep your proposal clear and succinct by answering the following questions: What is the issue? What is the recommendation and how much will it cost? How did we get here and what is the evidence? What are the outcomes and how can the results be measured?

Use visual aids. Your audience is 43 percent more likely to be persuaded by what you’re saying when you use pie charts, bar graphs, pictures, etc. Simplify, simplify, simplify. A good visual aid looks like a billboard on an interstate that drivers can read while going 65 mph.

Anticipate and answer questions. Do a bit of detective work. Find out the subjects of greatest concern. Address how you will manage those concerns in your proposal.

Schedule time for rewrites. Show your proposal to friends or colleagues. They can observe what you can’t see — how you will sound to your audience. Ask for specific comments. Ask them to point out any possible weaknesses in your material.

Know your subject completely. Know every angle, every possible concern.

Be realistic. What are the key issues of your proposal likely to be? Give the bottom line. Include a realistic and complete budget. What’s the worst-case scenario? What are the next steps?

Be passionate. Let your convictions show. And, remember, everyone has the same goal — a successful business decision.

Copyright © 2015 by The Lindenberger Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

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