Requests for Proposals/Applications for Funding (RFPs/RFAs) provide you, the grantseeker, with a guide to successfully preparing your proposal. Most RFPs/RFAs arrive to you as a word document and are downloaded from the web. My first task as a proposal writer is to make many copies. I like to keep one with me at work, at home, and in my car. This way when I have a few extra minutes I can re-read the application to make sure that I am completing all aspects of the request. I rarely fully understand the application on one or two readings. It is not uncommon for a required twenty-five page narrative to be described in a one hundred page RFP. The forms that are part of the RFP guidelines will often serve as an outline for your grant narrative.
Most RFPs will also include a procedure for the application submission. These directions will guide you and help you plan ahead. For example, where do you send the proposal? How many copies do you send? When is the due date? In some cases, the address may be different if you use an overnight service. You will want to find out when the last possible pick-up time is in your local neighborhood to make sure that your proposal reaches its destination by the due date. I rarely have everything done in advance and I am often working up until the last minute. Knowing the little details in advance will save you unnecessary stress. Always save copies of your mailing receipt as proof that you mailed on-time.
Additionally the RFP will describe formatting issues. I usually glance over these but don’t worry too much about them until my final edit and clean-up. My goal is to present my application in a professional and easy-to-read manner. It is not uncommon to see very specific directions. For example, print the document on white paper, use a 12-point font (times or similar) and one-inch margins on all sides. Each page may be required to be numbered and placed in a folder to lay flat; not bound. Recently, grantors are asking for a CD of your files. Follow all directions. Get to know your word processing program in advance. Keep a good reference guide at your side so you will know how to turn on line numbers, format footnotes and all of the other word processing functions you don’t do on a daily basis.
Many applications have additional components, usually a set of forms and assurances. It is imperative that you read all of the directions (several times) so that you can get going on these additional pieces. I recently completed an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Enhancing Education Through Technology proposal. This particular grant had many pages of forms above and beyond the narrative. The turn around time for this proposal was very quick (less than four weeks) and I was able to enlist some assistance with the forms. In fact, working collaboratively on the forms with several colleagues helped me verbalize and identify the heart and soul of the proposal.
The first form was the title page and the second form was the project summary (abstract). This was followed by my narrative and many more pages of forms.
There was a multi-page “Program Goals, Objectives, Benchmarks, and Data Collection” form. This form required me to set my specific goals for student performance, professional development and expanded access to technology. Each section required a measurable goal, performance benchmark and a description of the data elements and how they would be collected. My plan of attack was to describe my project, fill out the forms and then write the narrative. I found that the forms helped guide my narrative. Next were the “Key Action Steps and Timelines” form. Here I took each goal and listed my strategy and action steps. I also noted the timeframe and who was responsible. By discussing this with colleagues I was able to strengthen my grant activities, logically sequence the grant milestones and incorporate other points of view.
The forms for “Projected Budgets and Budget Narratives” resembled other grants I have worked on. In this proposal, I identified expenditures over two years and divided the various costs into categories including certificated salaries, classified salaries, benefits, supplies, travel, contracted services, indirect costs and capital outlay (equipment). The narrative breaks down each expenditure and gives the reader additional information and provides meaning to the numbers. For example, I budgeted $25,000 for professional development substitute time and my narrative read “$100 substitute cost times five sub days times fifty target teachers for ARRA EETT professional development.” Those of you who have read my tips know that I start with the budget. Before I write the narrative, I break-down my project into numbers. This helps me write a focused and doable proposal.
So get your great idea, study the RFP, do the numbers, complete the forms and then write the narrative.