Proposal as the Tip of the Iceberg

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There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved in creating a compelling, persuasive and fundable proposal. No wonder nonprofits put a lot of eggs in that basket. At the risk of a ticket from the metaphor police, maybe we need to spend more time caring for the chickens and ensuring that those eggs are well-nourished.


A lot of work needs to be done before, and in preparation for, a terrific proposal. These are some of the important elements of the iceberg which lie below the surface.


Is this program something your nonprofit is really prepared to do? Too many organizations submit proposals, and get grants, only to discover that they’re not prepared to do the work they’re being funded to do. They have the wrong staff, or not enough staff, or an inadequate understanding of the problem, or too many distractions from ongoing programs. A grant obligates your organization to perform certain tasks in a certain way with certain outcomes, so it’s important to review whether and how you’ll meet those obligations.


Could you do the job better with a collaborator? Nonprofits are sometimes guilty of assuming that they alone can “fix it.” There might be rewarding opportunities to partner with other organizations that share your commitment to solving a community problem or providing an essential service.


Funders will want to know how you’ll continue the program after their grant ends. It’s a good internal question to discuss before you submit the proposal. This is another reason proposal writing and grant funding are essential and organic parts of the overall organizational development plan, not episodic or opportunistic.


Finally, preparing for proposal submission is an excellent time to take stock of your organization’s profile in the community. Who knows about you? Who knows what you do and what difference it makes to your constituents? If the foundation program officer calls the mayor’s office, or the county department responsible for your area of service, or a few leading citizens in town, what will they say about you? It’s a good idea to take a fresh look at how others see your organization.


This kind of work before submitting a proposal makes the process profitable whether or not you get funded by your immediate target. You’ll be better positioned to create more impact and get future funding.


Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center
and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

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