Many Types of Proposals

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The proposal is an appropriate way to submit a request for funding, but it’s important to make the right kind of request—matching the format of the proposal to the ‘kind’ of funding you’re after. Some charitable dollars are “fungible” – money given by an individual donor, e.g., and can be used for many different purposes within the organization. But foundation grants are intended for specific purposes and proposals need to match the donor’s intentions.


For arts and cultural projects, the traditional “problem statement” isn’t appropriate. Instead, talk about how your work adds to a community’s vitality. . .how your project expands and deepens exposure to your art. . . how you will increase access, lower barriers, reach non-traditional audiences.


Many nonprofits want to strengthen their operations and look for capacity-building grants. A proposal for capacity-building rests on demonstrating the value and impact of what you’re already doing, then makes a case for (as examples) planning, board development, restructuring or mergers, upgrades to technology or other systems, public-facing communications and other elements of organizational growth and thriving—independent of specific programs.


Requests for capital projects generally represent a portion of total project funding—and many funders want their grants to be “last dollar,” after money has been raised from individual supporters. You’ll need to make a case for the improvement, why it’s necessary for your organization and its impact, why your approach is the best approach, and an overall development plan that shows the funder where its grant fits in the scheme.


General operating proposals, like capacity-building, depend on a funder’s overall positive assessment of the nonprofit and its value to the community. These grants generally happen after a funder has made program grants and learned that an organization is “good to work with.” The heart of a general operating proposal is the evidence you present that you are making a difference, right now, through your work.


A research proposal is centered on the significance of the “thing” to be investigated, the state of current knowledge about the issue, the credentials and qualifications of the principal investigator, and the justification for the study—i.e., what will you do with the answer.


It’s worth planning your proposals with the end-use in mind. If you get the money you ask for, what will it produce: community enhancement; a more robust organization; new facilities or equipment; more business as usual; answers to important questions. Each of these lends itself to a particular proposal format.


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

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