How are you going to get the money you need and explain your ideas to the influential people who can make it happen? The best way is to master the art of writing a proposal.
If you are replying to an RFP (Request for Proposal) or applying for a specific grant, you need to follow any instructions specified in the RFP or grant application as precisely as possible. An RFP response typically requires combining government agency forms with topics you need to write from scratch - based on what the RFP asks you talk about.
All proposals follow a basic structure: introduction, the recipient/client-oriented section, the description of proposed goods and/or services, and then the proposal writer/supplier-oriented section. The content of each section will vary from one proposal to the next, but this sequence of sections should stay the same.
Let's break down those sections further. The introduction section is the shortest. The very first thing you'll want for your proposal is a Cover Letter. A Cover Letter should be brief, and it should contain the following four elements: a brief explanation of who you are, a statement about why you are submitting this proposal at this time, a statement of what you want the reader to do after reading your proposal--call for a meeting, sign the contract, etc., and all your contact information so the reader can easily call you with questions or to accept your proposal.
The very first page of your proposal package should be a Title Page--just name your proposal something appropriate, like 'Advanced Science Seminars Offered for the Jacobi School Gifted Program' or 'Proposal to Create a New Charter School in the West Valley School District.' Next, if your proposal is long and detailed, you may want an Executive Summary or Client Summary Page, which is a summation of the most important points you want to make, and a Table of Contents to help readers easily see the contents and navigate through the proposal. That's all for the introduction section.
The next section should be focused on the proposal recipient or client. Depending on what you are proposing, the readers you want to target might be members of a grant committee, potential students, parents of students, teachers, school administrators, a loan committee, or a governmental organization. It's important to consider them carefully, and tailor your information to them. What do they want to know? What concerns might they have? Are there scheduling or budget restrictions? At the very least, this client-oriented section should have a Requirements page that summarizes what they have asked for, or what you believe they need. You may also want pages like Schedule, Deadlines, Limitations, Budget, Goals, Considerations, Special Needs, and so forth, to describe in detail your understanding of what the client needs. This is not yet the time to brag about your proposed program or your organization. Keep this section focused on information about what the client wants or needs.
The next section is a description of your ideas. Be sure to match them up with the previous section, explaining how you can address the client's needs, how the client will benefit from your proposed program, and what your proposal will cost to implement. Don't use generic sales jargon. Instead, be as specific as possible about what you plan to do. This section could contain a wide variety of topic pages, like Classes, Equipment, Schedule, Staff, Venues, Tutoring, Testing, Mentoring, Evaluation, and so forth--you'll include whatever you need to thoroughly describe your proposal. At a bare minimum, you'll want a Services Offered, Benefits, and a Cost Summary page in this section.
After you have thoroughly described what you want to do and how much it will cost, it's time to tell the proposal readers all about you in the final section. What makes you or your organization qualified to take on this job? It's not enough to simply say 'I can do it' or boast about how smart you are. Keep in mind that it's always best to provide evidence or testimonials from other parties than to do your own bragging. Do you have special Training, Certifications, or Education? Do you have an extensive Company History, a long list of Clients, or years of Experience in the field? Have you won Awards? Do you have Testimonials or Case Studies to offer to show how you have been successful in the past? Include any information that helps persuade the clients that you have the knowledge and professionalism to carry out your proposal promises.
At this point, you will have completed the first draft of your proposal. Congratulations! Now for the finishing touches. Have a qualified proofreader or editor read through your draft and fix any grammatical or spelling errors. It's always best to enlist someone who is not familiar with your ideas to do this. That person is much more likely to catch errors and ask important questions than someone who knows your proposal well. It would be especially embarrassing to submit an error-ridden proposal for an education project, wouldn't it?
After the words are perfect, make sure each page looks good, too. You might want to use visual details like splashes of color in titles or special bullet points to add interest, but keep the overall look professional.
That's it! Print out your proposal or package it into a PDF file, and deliver it to the client or committee. Be sure to use whichever delivery method was specified by the client, or deliver it in the way you believe will most impress the recipients (email, upload to a web server, print and mail, etc.). Remember, you want your proposal to succeed, not end up in the heap with a hundred others, so it might be worthwhile to hand-deliver it or use another special method. Then, after a reasonable period of time, follow up with a phone call to make sure your proposal was received and give the clients a chance to ask questions.
After you have written one proposal, you'll find that the next one is easier and faster to write, and that you can re-use a lot of the same information in multiple proposals. But it's important to customize each one to the specific recipient; that's the difference between proposal writing and mass marketing.
Proposal writing packages can make your proposal writing and formatting easier. A pre-designed proposal kit will include hundreds of templates, including all the ones mentioned above. You can find a page for almost any topic. The writing and details to include are up to you, but each template in a kit includes examples and instructions that remind you of typical information for that topic, so you'll feel like you have a guide throughout the writing process.
Use a professionally designed proposal kit, so your proposal will look great, too. You can find kits with design themes or insert your own company logo. Make sure to use a kit that includes a large collection of sample proposals, too, including some education-oriented ones. Sample proposals give you ideas of contents and looks for finished proposals. You'll find that a pre-designed proposal kit gives you a big head start on your first proposal.
Ian Lauder has been helping small businesses and freelancers write their proposals and contracts since 1997. => For more tips and best practices when writing your business proposals and legal contracts visit http://www.proposalkit.com