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Proposal Writing Tips

I love writing, so proposal writing is not so bad. I get into the art of translating realities with words – our reality and girls’ realities have to be translated into the funder’s reality. We think about words that are meaningful to the funder, and how we can interpret them to support our work. It is a creative act.

~ Juniper, Girls Action Foundation


A proposal is a document that outlines what you intend to do in your program. Proposals are written for funding agencies and should follow the guidelines they provide. Proposals should include a timeline of what you will do and when, how you will accomplish goals and how much money you will need to reach these goals. Proposals for girls’ programs will ideally be done in partnership with the girls’ community or will at least be strongly guided by the needs of the girls involved.


Here are some further tips on proposal writing…


1. Know your audience

Use the vocabulary of the funder. Study their language and know their priorities. Describe your project in a way that fits the funding program criteria, but stay true to your project.


2. Call the funder to pitch the idea

If there is no contact person identified, ask for a program officer. Say “We are developing a project and wanted to see if it would be a good fit with your program.” Describe the project in a broad, general way (don’t tie yourself down to a particular framing of the project right away). Listen to their responses (they will tell you what you need to make a convincing proposal).


The objectives of this phone call are to let them know you exist and to get key information on what their priorities are. This will help you shape your project in such a way that will make it appealing to the funder. Don’t panic if they say “No that doesn’t fit.” Initial negative responses may mean you can adapt the project using their feedback – and then try again!


4. Build a relationship with the funder

Making contact with the funder before the deadline (aim for one month) is incredibly valuable. There is a lot that is not written on the website and it is by talking to a real person that you will get this priceless information. Follow the initial phone call with an in-person meeting if possible. Sketch out your project idea in two pages and email this for feedback. If you can’t meet them in person, ask for feedback in a phone discussion.

5. Frame your activities as a project

Most funders will not fund “core” activities, for example, the stuff you “regularly” do as an organization, such as paying the rent, and the staff. They want to fund new activities. Keep in mind that almost anything can be framed as a project. For example, specific location or community, specific objectives, new activities or new partners – any of which could result in a particular community event or awareness campaign. Try piloting a new workshop series or addressing a current issue that girls in your community are facing…

6. Break the project down into steps

You will usually need to write a work plan and an evaluation plan (see the samples in Appendices: Section 1). This means you have to think about the timeline for each of the major steps to achieve your project. Don’t just focus on the program implementation (doing a girls’ program), consider such things as: outreach, promotion, program planning, having an advisory committee, training facilitators, recruiting mentors or guest speakers, doing a community event, disseminating the results, artworks or resources created by your project. All of these can be important elements in your project.


7. Remember to talk about evaluation

Many funders want to see how you will measure the success, outcomes, and outputs of your program. For more information on evaluation, see the section Reflecting on Practice: Evaluation or go to our Online Resource Centre.


Writing a Proposal: Breaking It Down

Here are the categories that are either required or very helpful to include when writing a grant proposal.


1. Write a project overview


It is helpful to write a 2-page project overview, both for your own clarity and to communicate with potential funders and partners. Here are some elements to include:



A two-sentence overview of your project.


In point form, list your objectives.


In point form, describe the length of the project including start and end dates.


List the partner organizations. You may want to write a sentence about what each will contribute.


Two to four paragraphs (with subheadings, to make it easy to read) about the things you will do in your project. It is good to show the logical progression of your activities.


To summarize the steps, this is a commonly used outline:



Program planning

Program implementation (workshops or activities with girls)

Community action (if this is part of your girls’ program)

Creation and dissemination of resources (if this is in your plan)

Evaluation and dissemination of results


2. Back up your proposal


Bring on the partners! Draw on all the people and organizations you have been networking with. Choose strategically. Ask the people or organizations you choose if they would be willing to be a project partner and write a letter of support. Call them first, give them a brief summary of the project and a couple of points they could use in the letter about how they could be involved. If they seem very busy, offer to write a draft letter and send it to them. Collect the letters to attach to your proposal.


Some ideas for how partners can be involved could include: guest facilitate workshops on specific topics; be mentors for girls and young women; give advice on areas of their expertise; sit on a Project Advisory Committee; offer use of a room to hold workshops; help do outreach and promotion for your girls’ program, etc.

Demonstrate the need for your project. Use sources to first show the need or the problem you are addressing, and second, why your approach is good. Use quotes or references from articles and books. Check out Girls Action National’s Literature Review for references. Call up “experts” in your community to get statements.


For example, a police community liaison, nurse/health centre administrator, school counsellor or principal might say something like: “Youth here face these challenges. Therefore, we need more programs for them focused on violence prevention/healthy choices/anti-bullying/leadership/community involvement…” Use quotes from participants, parents and teachers who know the impact of your programs. Keep track of the number of people or organizations that have made requests for your workshops, or who have said your project would be useful to them.


3. Answering some challenging questions


The Sustainability Question

How will your project continue after the funding is finished?


Some possible answers are that you will develop partnerships with other organizations; seek diverse funding sources; develop a volunteer program so volunteers can take on some of the project activities; apply the lessons learned to other projects; OR develop a sustainability plan that includes all of the above!

The Results Question

How will you share the results of the project?


Ideas for answering this question are that you will:


- Share lessons learned, publications and tools produced, results, evaluation reports, achievements, etc., with schools, community organizations working with youth and women’s issues, national or regional organizations who you are connected to, institutions (police, hospitals, etc.), decision-makers (MP, MLA, local government, school board, etc.) and the media.

- Write articles, present at conferences, post results on your website, disseminate a report or a newsletter, share results through your electronic networks and by email. You can also share your project results with the Girls Action National network – made up of over 100 organizations that work at the community or national level for the interests of girls and young women!


4. Evaluation


Most proposals require an evaluation plan. Keep it simple. Have two to four objectives and the same number of outcomes. Here is a description of some of the key elements of an evaluation plan.


Objectives: What you are trying to achieve? What are your goals?


List two to four objectives. Some examples might include:


Increase access to empowerment and mentorship programs for 13- to 15-year-old girls in XYZ community

Increase girls’ self-esteem, communication, conflict resolution and critical-thinking skills.

Increase access to role models and mentors for girls aged 16 to 18

Increase girls’ understanding of, and ability to, take action to prevent violence

Develop girls’ skills in digital arts production

Increase girls’ ability to use video, dance, and theatre as a means to effect positive change in their lives, families, and communities


Outcomes/Impacts/Results: What are the things you intend to have happen because of your project?


Imagine the results of your project. Describe what you will be proud to have achieved by the end of the project. Numbers help to show funders the impact their $ will have! Outcomes are what you will demonstrate in your evaluation at the end of the project! You will want to show how your project will have achieved or moved towards the outcomes.


Outcomes, impacts and results might look like this:


Twenty girls living in a low-income community will have participated in a weekly mentoring and leadership program

• Ten adult women mentors will have shared their skills and experiences with girls

• Girls will have gained skills and understanding how to make healthier choices

Girls will have gained an increased awareness and knowledge about how to prevent violence

Girls will have gained adult female role models and mentors and will feel that they know more about their educational and career options

• Girls will have created original artwork that explores their lives and/or social issues that they identify as important to them

• Girls will have increased their involvement in their communities


Outputs: The things or services your project will produce.


Often outputs are things you can touch or count, for example:


• Weekly violence prevention program with 20 girls participating

Fifteen two-hour workshops delivered to girls in local schools on (list the major topics of the workshops)

Four workshops for teachers/parents/service providers about the health/violence issues facing girls

Two community action projects organized by young women

Advisory committee made up of six community members and experts who will inform the project

Ten adult women providing mentorship to girls

• Evaluation report

Workshop manual distributed to 20 youth organizations in your community

An awareness-raising ‘zine resource created by and for girls (for example, about community involvement, healthy relationships, body image or stereotypes)


For a Sample Evaluation Plan, a Sample Program Budget and a Sample “Asking for Donations” Letter see Appendix 1.