Writing the Proposal: The Hourglass Method

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Good news! You’ve submitted a Letter of Inquiry (LOI) and been invited to follow up with a full proposal. Now it’s time to actually write the thing. Here’s a system for making sure that your proposal is inclusive, accurate and compelling. It takes a little time but it’s worth it.

 

Start with a call for input from all the key people who should have something to say about your program. That means staff members who will do the work; clients who will benefit from the work; perhaps a board member who is knowledgeable about the particular subject; someone from the organization who manages finances.

 

Ask these people to give you their best thinking about the program you plan to submit to the funder. Gather data, comments, first-person experiences, anything and everything you might want to use when you write. Think of this stage as the top of the hourglass, big, wide and capacious.

 

When you’ve gathered all appropriate input, thank everybody and hunker down to write a draft. Committees are good for generating ideas, bad for writing documents; the writing phase is a one-person assignment, the narrow middle of the hourglass. You’re way ahead of the writer who has to “come up with the stuff” alone—you have the stuff.

 

When the draft is done, move to the “bottom” of the hourglass. Share what you’ve written with the people who contributed in the first phase. Circulate the draft and ask: did I get it right? . .any misquotes or critical omissions? . .does this draft reflect, accurately and persuasively, what we plan to do and how we will do it?

 

A good proposal opens a communications channel between your organization and a potential funder. The benefit of the funding is not a reward for a well-written essay; it is the good that will come to the community and its people. Involving people in the process before and after the writing is one way to secure those benefits.

 

 

Thomas Boyd is Chief Editorial Consultant for The Grantsmanship Center

and an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations.

 

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