Writing a good business or grant proposal is a critical skill in many occupations, from school to business management to church. The goal of a business or grant proposal is to gain support for your plan by informing the appropriate people. It is your opportunity to pitch your idea for change (oftentimes an improvement) within an organization.
Proposals often demonstrate that a problem exists that needs attention and address a very specific audience with the authority to move your suggestions forward. To begin planning a proposal, remember the basic definition: a proposal is an offer or bid to complete a project for someone.
Proposals may contain other elements—technical background, recommendations, results of surveys, information about feasibility, and so on. But what makes a proposal a proposal is that it asks the audience to approve, fund, or grant permission to do the proposed project.
A proposal should contain information that would enable the audience of that proposal to decide whether to approve the project, to approve or hire you to do the work or both. To write a successful proposal, put yourself in the place of your audience—the recipient of the proposal—and think about what sorts of information that person would need in order to feel confident having you complete the project.
The 4 Categories Of Proposal
Internal: A proposal to someone within your organization (a business, a government agency, etc.) is an internal proposal. With internal proposals, you may not have to include certain sections (such as qualifications) or as much information in them.
An external proposal is one written from one separate, independent organization or individual to another such entity. A typical example is an independent consultant proposing to do a project for another firm. This kind of proposal may be solicited or unsolicited, as explained below.
Solicited: A solicited proposal is one in which the recipient has requested the proposal. Typically, a company will send out requests for proposals through email or publish them in some news source. But proposals can be solicited on a very local level: for example, you could be explaining to your boss what a great thing it would be to install new technology in the office; your boss might get interested and ask you to write up a proposal that offered to do a formal study of the idea.
Unsolicited proposals are those in which the recipient has not requested proposals. With unsolicited proposals, you sometimes must convince the recipient that a problem or need exists before you can begin the main part of the proposal.
Sections of a Business or Grant Proposal
Introduction. Plan the introduction to your proposal carefully. Make sure it does all of the following things (but not necessarily in this order) that apply to your particular proposal:
- Indicate that the content of the memo is a proposal for a specific project.
- Develop at least one brief motivating statement that will encourage the recipient to read on and to consider approving the project (especially if it is an unsolicited or competitive proposal).
- Give an overview of the contents of the proposal.
Background on the problem, opportunity, or situation. Often occurring just after the introduction, the background section discusses what has brought about the need for the project—what problem, what opportunity exists for improving things, what the basic situation is. For example, the owner of pine timberland in eastern Oregon may want to get the land producing saleable timber without destroying the environment.
While the named audience of the proposal may know the problem very well, writing the background section is useful in demonstrating your particular view of the problem. Also, if the proposal is unsolicited, a background section is almost a requirement—you will probably need to convince the audience that the problem or opportunity exists and that it should be addressed.
Benefits and feasibility of the proposed project. Most proposals briefly discuss the advantages or benefits of completing the proposed project. This acts as a type of argument in favour of approving the project. Also, some proposals discuss the likelihood of the project’s success. In an unsolicited proposal, this section is especially important—you are trying to “sell” the audience on the project.
Description of the proposed work (results of the project). Most proposals must describe the finished product of the proposed project. In a technical writing course, that means describing the written document you propose to write, its audience and purpose; providing an outline; and discussing such things as its length, graphics, binding, and so forth.
In the scenario you define, there may be other work such as conducting training seminars or providing an ongoing service. At this early stage, you might not know all that it will take to complete your project, but you should at least have an idea of some of the steps required.
Method, procedure, theory. In some proposals, you will need to explain how you will go about completing the proposed work. This acts as an additional persuasive element; it shows the audience you have a sound, thoughtful approach to the project. Also, it serves to demonstrate that you have the knowledge of the field to complete the project.
Schedule. Most proposals contain a section that shows not only the projected completion date but also key milestones for the project. If you are doing a large project spreading over many months, the timeline would also show dates on which you would deliver progress reports. If you cannot cite specific dates, cite amounts of time for each phase of the project.
Costs, resources required. Most proposals also contain a section detailing the costs of the project, whether internal or external. With external projects, you may need to list your hourly rates, projected hours, costs of equipment and supplies, and so forth, and then calculate the total cost of the complete project.
Internal projects, of course, are not free, so you should still list the project costs: hours you will need to complete the project, equipment and supplies you will be using, assistance from other people in the organization, and so on.
Conclusions. The final paragraph or section of the proposal should bring readers back to a focus on the positive aspects of the project. In the final section, you can urge them to contact you to work out the details of the project, remind them of the benefits of doing the project, and maybe make one last argument for you or your organization as the right choice for the project.
Basic guidelines for writing a proposal
Your ideas or suggestions are more likely to be approved if you can communicate them in a clear, concise, engaging manner. Knowing how to write a persuasive, captivating business/grant proposal is essential for success in many fields. There are several types of proposals, such as research proposals and book proposals, but each following the same basic guidelines.
Define your audience. You need to make sure that you think about your audience and what they might already know or not know about your topic before you begin writing. This will help you focus your ideas and present them in the most effective way.
It’s a good idea to assume that your readers will be busy, reading (or even skimming) in a rush, and not predisposed to grant your ideas any special consideration. Efficiency and persuasiveness will be key.
Define your issue. It is clear to you what the issue is, but is that also clear to your reader? Also, does your reader believe you really know what you are talking about? You can support your ethos, or writing persona, by using evidence and explanations throughout the business/grant proposal to back up your assertions.
By setting your issue properly, you start convincing the reader that you are the right person to take care of it. Think about the following when you plan this part:
- Has anyone ever tried to deal with this issue before?
- If yes: has it worked? Why?
- If no: why not?
Define your solution. This should be straightforward and easy to understand. Once you set the issue you’re addressing, how would you like to solve it? Get it as narrow (and doable) as possible.
- Is the solution you’re offering logical and feasible? What’s the timeline for your implementation?
Include a schedule and budget. Your business/grant proposal represents an investment. In order to convince your readers that you’re a good investment, provide as much detailed, concrete information about your timeline and budget as possible.
- When do you envision the project starting? At what pace will it progress? How does each step build on the other? Can certain things be done simultaneously? Being as meticulous as possible will give your readers confidence that you’ve done your homework and won’t waste their money.
- Make sure your proposal makes sense financially. If you’re proposing an idea to a company or a person, consider their budget. If they can’t afford your proposal, it’s not an adequate one. If it does fit their budget, be sure to include why it’s worth their time and money.
Get creative but make a good-faith effort to propose something that you might actually like to see happen. At the minimum, use the typical structure of a proposal to outline a redesign you think would benefit students.