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Three more things you need to know before writing a proposal

Pearl and Mel Shaw

Pearl and Mel Shaw

FUNdraising Good Times

Three more things you need to know before writing a proposal

By Pearl and Mel Shaw

Last week’s column focused on six basic things you should know before writing a proposal. With this column, we address three more nuanced things to consider.

Some nonprofits create a “boiler plate” proposal and send it out to as many foundations and corporations as possible, hoping to “get a hit.” That is one strategy, and sometimes it is appropriate. Making small modifications to a standard proposal is efficient, particularly when seeking to secure sponsorships and smaller grants. In general, we suggest a more targeted approach.

Here are three things to consider:

  1. What percentage of your revenue do you project will come from foundations or corporations? We recommend building diverse re-venue streams. This is important for long term reasons such as having other revenue streams should foundation/corporation giving contract. A shorter term reason to diversify your revenue is that it signals financial health to foundations who are reviewing your proposal.
  2. What percentage of your operating or program budget are you requesting from a specific foundation? Looking to one funder for the majority of your funding sends a red flag to many funders. They have responsibilities they have to consider: one of those is what will happen to your organization or program if they need to reduce or eliminate their support. Does your proposal include a discussion of who you will be approaching for additional funds? Are these realistic potential funders, or foundations you would like to approach but don’t yet know if they will consider your request? This information helps a program officer evaluate your proposal and your ability to deliver on some or all of the deliverables. When developing your project or organizational budget be prepared to answer the question “what if you don’t secure all the funds that you need?”
  3. Is your nonprofit a strong match with the priorities of the foundation you are writing to? For example, if a foundation seeks to reduce poverty in a specific area, it looks to fund nonprofits with a track record of work in that area, that have accountable and effective leadership, and strong community relationships. This is in addition to effective programming and a proposed evaluation method.

These are the business decisions that should be made in advance of submitting a funding request and communicated through your proposal. This is the work of the board and executive leadership, and not the work of fundraising staff and volunteers. It is work that supports fundraising success and that takes time.

Looking for foundation support – “we’ll get a grant” – as a cure all for revenue shortfalls is not a fundraising strategy.

Fundraising is competitive, and as a nonprofit leader it is your responsibility to understand the funding landscape and to proactively address the serious questions that funders will ask.

Copyright 2015– Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw position nonprofits, colleges and universities for fundraising success. For help with your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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