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20 Elements of a Winning Proposal

How to increase your Grants Win-Ratio with outstanding proposals!

Did you know that writing and submitting a Grant Proposal is not very different from writing your CV and submitting it for a job! You need it to stand out from the crowd - and you want to ensure you get a call-back for an interview!


Great grant writers will always tell you that writing a winning proposal is different every single time. You can't - or you shouldn't - be copying one proposal over to the next. Every proposal will vary depending upon who you're submitting your proposal to, the size of the project, the geographic area, the sector, the level of innovation required, the length of implementation, the budget size, the target population - and the list goes on.


BUT there are certain elements of a proposal that never change and MUST be included if you are to ensure your Grant Proposal stands out from the rest of the submissions that a donor receives.

20 Elements of a Great Proposal!
Elements of a great grants proposal

I'm going to talk about two of those 20 important elements in this blog. They form the "art and science" of grant proposal development - and they will lead to an outstanding win ratio!


If you want to learn about all of the 20 important elements of a great proposal, click here and check out our video on what every grant-writer needs to know and use in writing that winning proposal!


Ok, let's look at two of them now:

Grants Call for Proposals.  The Grants House.  The Grants House Blogs

1. Know the donor approval steps for a Proposal. Before you even start writing your proposal, remember that most donors follow a minimum of 3 stages for an approval process. You need to know these ahead of time, before you start writing and submitting.


First - you need to get through the Eligibility Stage: Make sure that you've read all of the requirements for that proposal. Simple enough, right? But from my experience, as many as 30% of applications will be disqualified simply because they did not meet the eligibility requirements. Think about those CVs you had to go through and short-list the last time you did some recruitment. How many applicants didn't read the Job Description properly and just didn't qualify? What did you do? You threw them out, I'm guessing.

Well, for proposals, either the submitter just wanted to give it a try or they failed to read the description carefully. If you have any doubts about a call or the requirements of a proposal, don’t hesitate to ask a colleague or the donor themselves.


Grants Technical Review.  Grants Approval Stage.

Second - you need to qualify in the Technical Review Stage: Every proposal should be technically accurate. If 30% of proposals are rejected on the basis of eligibility, another 20 - 30% will be rejected because they do not conform to the technical specs of a donor's proposal guidelines. Either the budget is too high, they have not filled out the templates correctly, they have not provided sufficient or accurate information, and things like that. Again a simple oversight, but it happens way more often than we would like to think. Consider how much money and time is wasted from nearly 50% of proposals being rejected at the initial stages of a proposal review. It’s always good to have a colleague or third-party review the proposal and assess it internally for technical accuracy.

Grants Merit stage.  Grants approval.

Third - you must meet a rigorous standard in the Merit Stage: The donor wants its funded projects to conform to certain parameters that they've laid out in their program strategy - whether solicited or unsolicited. As such, they'll be looking to ensure that it's aligned with their goals, that it is logical in how it will achieve the outcomes, and that it can be managed - and that you have the capacity to manage it!.


Your proposal will then be put in the Selection or For Consideration Stage, where approvals are made. Sometimes they are ranked and assessed against available funding - or there may be multiple other reasons that a donor approves one proposal over another at this stage (such as region, sector, objectives, budget size, etc.).

The Triple Constraint

In order to get your proposals to the For Consideration Stage, The Grants House training courses spend time talking about the project management core and support processes. The reason is simple - you need a strong foundation to build a solid and consistent grants portfolio. And guess what? Every grant funding is essentially a project in the making. The approved grant will have to be implemented. So a donor wants to see a proposal that addresses The Triple Constraint of project management - and you'll want to demonstrate that to donors in every proposal. Very simply, it involves managing the time, cost, and scope of a project.

"You're not presenting a 'good idea' to a donor; you're presenting a solid project to be funded."

In other words, does it meet the timeframe and have you presented a reasonable one? Is the budget written correctly and in keeping with the donor's range for proposals and are your costs reasonable, and is the scope of the project something that can be achieved within the timeline, and within the costs proposed? Is it clear how you will achieve results and have you clearly described the sustainability of your project and the closure activities, etc.

I always suggest writing a proposal with a project management hat on, so that every aspect of your proposal can be defended and shows the donor that your organization has the capacity to implement the project once it’s funded. If you design your proposal with that hat on - you'll sail through every stage of the donor's approval process!


Proposal design should not be based on passion and zeal alone
Grants proposals require more than passion and energy.  Feet looking at sidewalk with sentence Passion Led Us Here.

2. The Grants Value-add Proposition: Do you have a Value-Add Proposition (VAP) for your Grants Strategy? I bet that you have a statement for your organization but it's a good idea to have one for Grants specifically that can be integrated into every proposal that you do - along with some strong capacity statements. A proposal design should not be based on passion and zeal alone. It should add value to what donors are trying to achieve through their own objectives. This means a lot of internal discussion to narrow down your primary strengths and value-add contribution to the grant proposal. It also means a good deal of research into what drives your primary donors.

You need to determine what your point of difference is - or your unique selling advantage? Once identified, you will want to invest in your Grants VAP by investing in people, your organization and in the development sectors in which you work. A Grants VAP will build your influence by making you a 'partner of choice' in your given sectoral work and it will get you recognized by donors. As that strength and recognition grows, it will get easier and easier to write it into any of your proposals - and it will stand on its own legs.

Organization staff conversations.  Internal conversations. Discussing Grants Value-Add Proposition.

Where would you normally start this conversation? I would look at 3 key stakeholder groups. First - the staff of your organization. Some carefully crafted questions can tease out the views and the impressions of your own organization's staff perception about your value-add – and this is always a good starting point. I'm almost always surprised by the responses to questions on an organization's Grants VAP.

Second - talk with some of your external stakeholders. This could be customers or clients of your agency, donors, and those with a touch-point on your agency but are not embedded on a daily basis. And third - identify the value-add proposition of other organizations, who might be considered competitors in your market space. So – it’s very helpful for you to speak to your peers in the industry and try to assess what they are saying about themselves.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on treating Grants as one of your most important 'Products!' The Grants House has developed a proprietary adaptation of a Journey Mapping methodology, and we will be sharing an example from a highly successful beverage company to show the importance of looking at stakeholders and grants processes - end to end.

Donors see through the Fluff!

Always remember that donors see through the fluff pretty easily. It may look and sound nice but to the donor, it may come across lazy and unclear in writing. When I was a proposal reviewer, I could tell if someone was unsure about their added value. If an agency can't communicate their value to a donor, it's likely they're not sure of it themselves. So it's worth the investment to create this right at the start. Also, make sure that your Grants VAP lines up with the donor's own VAP or objectives. A donor always wants to see their plans pushed forward as a priority. After all, you're the recipient of their funds and can help them do it. So your proposal needs to tell them why you're the partner of choice to make that happen!

Happy Grants Hunting!
Elements of a great proposal; grant proposal; writing a grant proposal; grant writer; grants strategy
Philip Tanner, Grants Coach and Trainer. Founder of The Grants House

I'm Dr. Phil Tanner, founder of The Grants House. Don't forget to join us for a short video at The Grants House to hear about all of the 20 elements that will deliver your winning proposal! (Click on image, below).


20 Elements of a Winning Proposal! (Click below)

@The Grants House, 2023

1-416-456-4718




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