Last week, we looked at how to identify an appropriate funding opportunity. Now, we will learn how to read, understand, and respond to funding opportunities.


When donors review proposals, the two most important qualities they look for are: compliance, or how well the applicant follows the requirements; and responsiveness, or how well the applicant understands what the donor wants and how to effectively address the problem. Given this, it is critical to understand what all the requirements and details of the funding opportunity are and, in writing the proposal, completely meet them. 


Once you have identified your funding opportunity, the first step is to read the document thoroughly and highlight all of the requirements. Different types of funding opportunities have different documents: grants usually have requests for applications (RFAs), and contracts usually have requests for proposals (RFPs).Their requirements are often indicated by command words, such as “must, will, shall, and should.” In addition to content requirements, make note of any formatting requirements such as font size, length, or margins. Other examples of common requirements include technical specifications, program management qualifications, or commitments from any partners.


Once you have marked all the requirements, the second step is to look through the donor’s scope of work, objectives, and evaluation criteria for the proposal. The evaluation criteria will vary by donor, but scoring is typically done by section and may be numerical (e.g. out of 100) or descriptive (e.g. good or excellent). Use these requirements and the evaluation criteria to build your outline and shape your proposal. Indeed, it is recommended to have your proposal mirror the structure of the evaluation criteria.


The third step is to tackle each section of your proposal in turn. It is helpful to first write the scope of work, which can double as a work plan. In this section, it is important to include your timeframe, staff, scheduling, resources, and objectives. Then, you can build your budget based on your scope of work/work plan.


Be very careful when writing a budget, as you will be stuck with the budget that you propose. If you low-ball or try to tackle too much without accounting for it financially, you could end up in trouble in the long-run. Also keep in mind that donors generally look for the best value proposal, not necessarily the cheapest.


Throughout the proposal writing process, be sure that you are completely following the evaluation criteria and meeting all the requirements. Go through the original document and mark which requirements you have met. Writing proposals is not the time for creativity; if your donor specifically requests size 12 font and one inch margins, then your proposal should be in size 12 font with one inch margins. Make the proposal as clear and easy to follow as possible by using headers, sub headers, and the donor’s language, although also avoid jargon when possible. Finally, be timely, as most donors will not consider an application once the deadline has passed.


Next week, we will be exploring how doing additional research and outreach can boost the strength of your proposal and open up new opportunities.