The Development Source

What is the Key to a Great Grant Proposal? The Experts Speak.

At the end of a long day, when seasoned grant proposal professionals gather round a camp fire, or more likely a bar, they often discuss a perennial question:  What is the key to a great proposal?  Not surprisingly, there are many potential answers to this important and intriguing question. 

I have gathered together the answers they commonly give and will list them below in no particular order of importance.  Then I will provide a few pithy answers of my own.

The keys to a great proposal

  • Know your funder.
  • Engage – let your funder learn about you.
  • Understand the viewpoints of those who will make the decision about proposals.
  • Understand what pains the funder.
  • Develop a convincing solution (answer) to the funder’s major pain points.
  • Propose a realistic yet competitive budget.
  • Know when to bid and when to walk away from an opportunity.

Based on the proposals I have helped develop, I will give you the factors I think are most important in bidding and winning contracts:

1.  Develop and implement a marketing/campaign/capture plan months before you bid.

This will enable you to understand your funder and enable the funder to understand your company’s strengths.  This involves gathering information, learning, listening, and asking good questions.

2.  Make a thoughtful bid/no bid decision.

Step 1 should help you determine whether or not you are likely to win a grant.  Walk away from bids where you are not likely to be a top competitor.  This will save you money, time, and resources, and it will enable you to concentrate on the most promising opportunities. 

3.  Prepare to win.

Many grant proposals fail because they were not planned and developed properly.  Take the necessary steps to develop a complete, compliant, and persuasive proposal.  This means focusing on process as well as content.

4.  Be committed to win.

Developing a winning grant proposal involves using the right people and resources.  If you decide to bid, you must be committed to investing in success.

5.  Learn from your experience.

The best organizations find ways to improve their proposal development processes.  After the proposal is submitted, hold a lesson-learned meeting and document what you did well and where you can improve.

Know your funders, plan and execute a thorough and thoughtful plan to develop grant proposals, and always find ways to improve.  For a sound approach to proposal development, I strongly recommend that you read Larry Newman’s Shipley Business Development Lifecycle Guide 1.0 (2011).  It is designed for businesses, but most of it can be profitably applied to the nonprofit sector.



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