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PREPARING RESEARCH PROPOSALS FOR EXTERNAL FUNDING

DR. TRINIDAD OSTERIA


YUCHENGCO CENTER DE LA SALLE UNIVERSITY

I. Know the requirements of the funding agency.


1. Approaching Funding Agency
Individuals or research centers interested in external support should begin by familiarizing themselves with the funding agencys approach and program priorities. It is strongly recommended that you contact the program officer of the agency early to ensure closeness of fit between your area of interest and the program priorities. Alternatively, you may initiate contact by sending in a project idea in a one-to three-page letter.

2. Innovative Approach

Many funding agencies require a multidisciplinary, participatory approach in proposal development. This inclusive methodology ensures that research is grounded on the needs of local people. Many features describe and distinguish the funding approach:
A focus on encouraging and supporting research in developing countries;

An insistence on building research capacity, defined in terms of human and institutional resources;
The devolution of responsibility for management and administration of research to institutions in developing countries;

The intellectual flexibility and willingness to take risks and experiment, if needed;
The inclusion of gender concerns in research programming and analysis;

The tailoring of support to different countries to best match their needs, resources, and aspirations;
An emphasis on fostering collaborative partnership between and among institutions in the region; A concentration on establishing partnerships with other donors that exploit comparative strengths; A commitment to encourage connected communities or researchers, in funding agencys program initiative structure;

An emphasis on assisting researchers to access and share information themselves; The promotion of evaluation as a planning, learning, and management tool (logical framework approach); An effort to ensure the impact of research by bringing it to the attention of policy and decision makers at all levels; Seeing through the utilization of research results by involvement in evidence based policymaking and programming.

STANDARD CONTENT OF PRELIMINARY PROPOSALS

The following guidelines may require some adaptation in some cases, but the standard proposal should contain these elements:
Background (situationer) and literature review (previous studies undertaken) Problem and justification of the proposal: What is the problem the researcher seeks to address, and why is it important? What will be its contribution to the knowledge and development? How will the study build on existing knowledge? Objectives: What are the objectives against which the projects achievements will be evaluated? (General and Specific)

Methodology: How will each of the objectives be addressed? What methodological approach be adopted? What are the technical and substantive considerations in implementation? (Qualitative? Quantitative? Combination?) Results and Dissemination: What are the expected outputs of the research, and how will these be disseminated? What possible development impacts can reasonably be anticipated?

Institution and personnel: Who will carry out the work and administer grant funds, and what are their qualifications for doing so? Timetable and budget: What resources and time are required to achieve the projects objectives? Evaluation: evaluated? How will the projects achievements be

Types of projects and partnerships


Nowadays, funding agencies support fewer stand-alone projects from individual researchers than it once did. They increasingly strive to achieve a critical mass of knowledge on particular topics that concern the organization. This requires a degree of focus and integration that is often obtained by organizing larger research programs or networks. Increasingly, this is done in collaboration with other donors.

Many funding agencies do not generally support stand-alone request for travel, conference participation, or training. However, partial funding for conferences is occasionally provided as part of their network building efforts.

Funding agencies principal approach is to support projects and partnerships proposed by developing country research institutions. However, this does not exclude developed-developing countries partnerships, and developed institutions may propose an initiative in collaboration with one or more developing country partners. Funding agencies are more likely to consider partnerships involving other developed countries when funding is available from other donors, provided the partnership is seen as a means of strengthening supported research in developing countries.

Where essential, funding agencies may provide funds to help lay the groundwork for project initiatives. For example, some agencies may provide travel funds for researchers in different locations to meet and finalize their joint submission, in collaboration with an agency representative. This category of funds is only available for out-of-pocket costs, not for salaries or fees.

Evaluation of proposals or ideas

A proposal is evaluated according to a wide range of criteria that assess a projects scientific and technical merit and its potential impact on development problems. These criteria reflect both the funding agencys overall objectives and the different priorities of its programs and regional offices.

Development relevance: Is the proposal consistent with development goals that have been identified by policy makers or other development actors in the country or countries where the project will take place? Are the research findings likely to be applicable in developing countries or regions other than the one in which the research takes place (replicability)? Does the project have the potential to influence larger development agendas? Will the implementation and success of the project promote sustainable and equitable development? Will the work help to empower vulnerable or disadvantaged groups?
Fit with funding agencys priorities: How well does the project fit within its current programs? Are there important synergies with other projects?

Scientific and technical merit: Is the importance of the research problem convincingly demonstrated? Are the project objectives clear and easy to conceptualize in operational terms? Do these flow convincingly from analysis of the problem? Is the methodology proposed appropriate and convincing for achieving projects objectives? Are the budget and the timetable realistic? Capacity-building: Will the project contribute to the development of local research capacity? Will the recipient institution be strengthened as a result of the project? Does the project promote developing countries cooperation?

Gender considerations: Do the design and methodology of the project take into account different gender roles, perspectives, interests, and priorities? Is the projects potential impact assessed from a recognition of gender inequalities and imbalances? Will data be broken down by sex? Do the projects capacity-building features reflect gender considerations?

Ethical

considerations: Does the project raise any ethical issues affecting those who will be involved in the project, where there could be a negative impact on their health, right to privacy, financial circumstances, or any other matter of significance to them? What measures are suggested to ensure that research will be conducted in a manner that minimizes such risks and that interviewees will give free, informed consent to their participation?

Human and institutional resources: Have the proponents of the project succeeded in mobilizing the necessary collaboration and interest to ensure the success of the project and the most effective use of financial resources?

II. WHO ARE YOU?


One of the best indicators of future performance is past performance. Show the funding agency past studies or projects that you have completed or are currently working on. Focus on past performances, include project reports, publications, participation in conferences and testimonials. Let your potential funders talk with past clients. Sharing a portfolio of your work is very professional, and it allows potential support based on the good work you have done. Once the funding agency is satisfied with your qualifications, they need to know what you are going to do and how you are going to accomplish it. Your proposal needs to present methodologically the steps of the project, explain specific ideas and any options to convince funders that your institution can meet their needs better than anyone elses.

Qualifications

Here is where you blow your own horn. You may recount similar and successful experiences with other studies or describe special skills or procedures adopted. You may summarize your education or special certification. In fact, anything that supports or underscores your qualification to undertake the project and bring it to a successful conclusion will help. In preparing this section, relevance and brevity are the watchwords.

III. PROJECT TITLE/COVER PAGE

Check to see if the agency you have in mind has any

specifications for the Title Page (often they have a required format).

Usually the Title//Cover Page include names of key people in the project. If your proposal is built on collaborating with other groups/organizations it is a good idea to include their names on the Title/Cover Page.

Your cover should look professional and neat. However, do not waste time using fancy report covers, expensive binding, or other procedures that may send the wrong message to the potential funding agency. You are trying to impress the potential funding agency with how you really need funding, not the message that you do things rather expensively.
The title should be clear and unambiguous (do not make it cute).

Think of your title as a mini-abstract. A good title should paint a quick picture for the reader of the key idea(s) of your project. The words you use in your title should clearly reflect the focus of your proposal. Try and use only a single reference for your title. If the sentence is getting too long, try removing some words. When all else fails, try using a two-part title with the parts separated by a colon (use only as a last resort). Do not attempt to use the title as an abstract of your entire proposal.

IV. PROJECT OVERVIEW


Think of the Project Overview as an Executive Summary (the busy evaluation team probably only has enough time to read your overview - not the entire proposal). Be specific and concise. Do not go into detail on aspects of your proposal that are further clarified at a later point in your proposal. The Project Overview should paint a picture of your proposal in the mind of the reader. It should establish the framework so that the rest of the proposal has a frame of reference.

Use the Project Overview to show your knowledge of the organization from which you are requesting funds. Key concerns of the funding organizations can be highlighted in relation to you proposed project.

Try to keep in mind that someone will be reviewing your proposal and you would like to have this person be positive about what you have written. The Project Overview will probably form a strong impression in the mind of the reviewer. Work on your Project Overview so that you can avoid giving this person the opportunity to say things like: * Not an original idea * Writing is vague * Does not have relevant experience * Proposal is unfocused * Methodology is messed up * Rationale is weak * Uncertain outcomes * Problem is not important * Project is too large to be manageable

Generally, the Executive Summary should be limited to two 1.5 spaced pages. Focus on goals of the proposal, key parts of the methodology, major findings and implications. Remember that first impressions are important, so make the abstract informative, well-written and readable.

V. BACKGROUND INFORMATION/STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM


It may be easier to think of this section as a review of Relevant Literature. Cite previous projects and studies that are similar to what you are proposing. Show that funding agency that you know what you are proposing because you are familiar with what has preceded you. What are the major findings of the study? What are the flaws in the methodology? What are the knowledge gaps? How will your study fill the knowledge gaps? What new issues and challenges emerged that your study will address?

Try to be careful in your use of language. It can be very helpful

to have a critic, outside of your area of focus/expertise, read your proposal to ensure that the language is understandable and minimize the use of:

Jargon (conceptualize) Trendy or in words (oozy, funky) Abbreviations (i.e., n.d.) Colloquial expressions (as poor as a country mouse) Redundant phrases (repeat it once again for the second time) Confusing language (not unwilling)

Position your project in relation to other efforts and show how your

proposal:

a. Will extend the work that has been previously done b. Will avoid the mistakes and/or errors that have been previously made. c. Will serve to develop stronger collaboration between existing initiatives d. Is unique since it does not follow the same path as previously followed. e. Contribute significantly to new knowledge and development. Use the statement of the problem to show that your proposed project is definitely needed and should be funded.

VI.

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

Differentiate between your general and specific objectives.


The general objective is the large statement of what you hope to accomplish but usually is not quite measurable. It creates the setting of what you are proposing. Specific objectives are operational, tell specific things you will be accomplishing in your project, and are measurable.

Your objectives will form the basis for the activities of your project and serve as the basis for its evaluation.

Ensure that there is considerable overlap between the general and specific objectives in your proposal. If there is no strong overlap of both, then research has no value.

Present measurable objectives for your project. If you are dealing with things it is easier for them to be measured than if you are dealing with abstract ideas. Your proposal is easier for a prospective funding organization to understand (and the outcomes are much clearer) if you describe your objectives in measurable ways.

VII. METHODOLOGY

Describe the project setting

Describe sampling and means for selection of respondents Identify risks and assumptions There should be a very clear link between the methods you describe in this section and the objectives you have set. Be explicit and state exactly how the methods you have chosen will fulfill your projects objectives to deal with the needs/problems on which your proposal is focused.

The prospective funding agency will be looking at your methods to see what it is that you are proposing that will be new, unique, or innovative both in substance and techniques. Make sure you clearly present the innovative aspects of your project.

Are the specific methods you are proposing important to your define clientele? Do not forget to include the collaborative relationships your project will be developing with other groups. A good way to show collaboration is in the methodology that you will be using. How will it encourage groups to replicate your approach in dealing with the issues/concerns that are similar?

VIII. Staff/Administration
Use this section to describe the functions of the different people associated with your project and the importance of each. Clarify how each of the roles is essential to the success of the project and how it relates to operationalizing the methods you have described. Make sure you include name, title, experience, and qualifications of key people. Include other information if you feel its important to the success of your project. The description of your personnel will enable the funding agency to know that you have excellent staff who are committed to the project. You are not asking the funding agency to trust you. The validity of what you are proposing is directly related to the persons who will work with the project.

Key Personnel
Identify the duties and responsibilities of staff funded by the proposed project who will implement the plan. Indicate the amount of time that staff members devote to the project.

Describe the qualifications of the key staff members. Create a match between the capacities required to implement the program and the qualifications of the staff. If the match is weak, explain how staff members will use this knowledge and experience to implement the project successfully.
Demonstrate that the collective capacity of the staff includes ability to respond positively to the project implementation needs.

IX. Budget and Justification


Remember to display clearly the proposed expenditures for the project and justify the items in each line of the budget. For example, for the item Supplies: $10,000, explain how the supplies are linked to activities in the Implementation section. Needed Resources

A. Personnel
Refer to your Staff/Administration section and identify the people who will be paid from the grant.

B. Facilities Though you may not be requesting funds for the


purchase or rental of facilities, it will be helpful to provide a brief description of the facilities that will be used for the project. Consider describing existing facilities that will be used for the project as in-kind contributions to the project (counterpart).

C. Equipment/Supplies/Communication

Be careful in listing the equipment that will be needed for your project. Funding sources are usually much more willing to provide funds for the support of personnel than they are to support the purchase of equipment.

The following are the types of equipment that may be needed for a funded project: tape recorder (for recording interviews, dictating reports, etc.) video cassette recorder and television monitor recording project activities, documenting change, etc.) computer/monitor/printer (for general project support) desks/chairs/tables (for

filing cabinets
intercom/office telephone system photocopy machine

It is easy to overlook many of the office supplies that will

be needed for your project. Will you be needing printed letterhead stationery? And, if you will be mailing many letters, have you considered the current cost of postage (and possible increases in cost)? Do you have a good idea how much paper is needed to support the use of a computer? Have you recently checked the price on such things as sticky notes, paper clips, or pencils/pens? A trip to a local office supply store could be most appropriate.

Consider including in your proposal additional funds for

hosting some forms of workshop where you can bring together other professionals who are knowledgeable of the subject area. Invite someone from the funding organization to attend the workshop so they can hear what others think about the investment they have made.

D. Budget
Make your budget realistic. Carefully think through exactly what you will need from the funding agency to carry out the project and establish your budget around this amount. (Do not forget, funding agencies receive lots of requests for funding. They can easily tell when someone has inflated a budget in order to procure funds for other purposes. Dont get caught in this situation.)

Have someone else in your organization, preferably somebody knowledgeable of financial matters to review your budget to see how realistic you are.

Do you really need a large amount of funding at the beginning of the project or will your project be phased up over a period of time? Sometimes it is not realistic to expect a new project to be able to be up and operating (and spending large amounts of money) during the first 6 months or year of operation.

A good strategy to use with a potential funding agency is to ask for a small amount of funding for the first phase of the project. Specify in your proposal what you expect to achieve during this minimal funding phase and when you will be returning to the funding agency to ask for funds for the next phase. This suggests to the funding agency that they can terminate the relationship easily if your project is not successful (and then it is essential for you to make sure the first phase IS successful).

Check with the agency to see if they have suggested/required budget categories that they want you to use.

If the potential funding agency does not have any suggested/required

budget categories, organize your budget around a set of meaningful categories that work for the project you are proposing. Categories that you may want to consider for itemizing your budget are:

Personnel (salary and benefits) Consultants (salary) Equipment Supplies and communication (telephone/postage) Travel Rental of facilities Evaluation Other expenses

A suggested budget format for a three year funding


proposal:

Year 1
PERSONNEL Person #1 Person #2 Person #3

Year 2

Year 3

Total

Sub-Total
FACILITIES (list)

Sub-Total
EQUIPMENT (list)

Sub-Total
SUPPLIES (list)

Sub-Total

COMMUNICATION (list) Telephone Postage

Sub-Total
TRAVEL (list) Fuel Vehicle Rental Total

X. Evaluation Plan
It is important to describe how you will conclude that your
project has been successful in achieving its objectives. The Evaluation Plan will tell the prospective funding agency how you will be going about showing them at the end of the project that their investment in you was a good one. If you plan to use a questionnaire to help in evaluating the success of your project you may want to include in the Appendices a draft of the questionnaire.

Your evaluation plan does not have to be elaborate but it is


important to indicate to the prospective funding agency that you have not forgotten this important step. Try to include both a concern for monitoring (ways to gain feedback on the project while it is being conducted) and summative evaluation (to show that the project fulfilled the objective from which it was originally proposed). Another way of conceptualizing this is that monitoring is concerned with the compilation of activities of the project. On the other hand, evaluation is concerned with the achievement of the stated objectives of the project.

It is easy to create an evaluation plan if you have done a good


job of clearly stating your project objectives or expected outcomes. Make direct reference to your objectives in your evaluation plan. This creates a strong sense of integration/consistency within your proposal The reader of your proposal will now be hearing the same message repeated in different sections of your proposal. Try creating two separate plans one for monitoring and the other for evaluation.

A good evaluation plan should include a sense of what


will go in the conclusion of the funding period. How will the initiatives that have been started under the project be sustained? Have new things emerged that will be addressed in the future? How will other cooperating agencies assist in continuing the project after the conclusion of the funding period? These and other areas should be included in a viable evaluation plan.

XI. Appendices

Appendices should be devoted to those aspects of your


project that are of secondary interest to the funder. Begin by assuming that the funder will only have a short time to read your proposal and it will only be the main body of your proposal . Then, assume that you have gotten the attention of the reader who would now like some additional information. This is the purpose of the Appendices.

Here are some possible sections to include in the Appendices:


Research instruments Dissemination Plan An important aspect of your proposal will be the plan for disseminating information of/from the project to concerned audiences. Most funding agencies are interested in seeing how their financial support of your project will be used. This may include newsletters, workshops, radio broadcasts, presentations, printed handouts, slide shows, training programs, etc. Time Line A clear indication of the time frame for the project and the times when each aspect of the project will be implemented. Try creating the time line as a graphic representation (not too many words). If done well, it will help demonstrate the feasibility of the project in a very visible way. (Gantt chart)

Letters of Support Funding agencies would like to know that


others feel strongly enough about your project that they are willing to write a letter in support of the project. Talk through with the potential letter writers the sort of focus that you think will be important for their letter. (Try and draw on the reputation of the letter writing group.) Do not get pushed into writing the letters for the agencies they will all sound alike and will probably defeat your purpose of using them. The letters must be substantive. Have the letters addressed directly to the funding agency. (Do not use a general To Who It May Concern letter it makes it appear that you are applying to many different potential funding agencies and are using the same letter for each. This may really be the case, so make sure you personalize each letter to the specific potential funding agency.)

Cooperating Agency Descriptions If you have


referenced in your proposal different cooperating agencies that you will be working with, provide a more detailed description of each of these agencies in the Appendices. Rather than include large descriptions of each cooperating agency, a single page that gives the name/address of the agency, names of key personnel, and brief descriptions of the major services provided is sufficient. Try and prepare each of these single page descriptions so they follow a similar outline/presentation of information.

Monitoring and Evaluation Instruments Include a draft

copy of the actual monitoring and evaluation instruments you plan to use (survey questionnaire, interview guide, etc.) This will let your prospective funding agency know that you are serious about making monitoring and evaluation an integral part of your project and funding agencies like to hear this! Indicate DRAFT at the top of the instrument and then make it look as real as possible. Never say things like, I think I may have a question that deals with.., or Four or five questions will be included that examine the concern of... If you will be using an interview procedure or a focus group discussion, include a draft copy of the specific questions that will actually be used for the interview/discussion.

Grant Writing Tips Choose a concise title. Follow directions. Be sure you have used the prescribed format and included all information requested. Pay attention to the deadline. Leave sufficient time to obtain the signature required on the final submission. Read the entire proposal to be sure the ideas flow from one section to the next. This is especially important when several people authored the proposal. Keep the language simple and direct; avoid jargon.

Include tables, charts and diagrams only if they are useful. Isolate supporting data in an appendix. Explain all abbreviations and terms that someone outside your agency may not understand. (Glossary)

Proofread the proposal and make a final copy that is neat and legible.
The format of proposals varies considerable between funding sources but the major sections requested are often similar.

Style/Usage Style and usage affect the credibility of your plan. Here are some suggestions for making your writing clear and correct. 1. Consult a dictionary and a style manual to help you with spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Choosing a common style helps establish consistency in the document, especially when there is more than one writer. 2. Use short sentences. Sentences of more than fifteen words are difficult to read.

3. Avoid passive voice. Teachers will visit parents at home is more direct and informative than Parents will be visited. 4. Rely on simple language. Use is simpler than utilization, because more direct than due to the fact that. Dont make your document unnecessarily complex with long words and wordy phrases. 5. Delete any words, sentences, or phrases that do not add to the meaning. Make every word fight for its life. 6. Break lengthy paragraphs into smaller sections. Try to limit paragraphs to four or five sentences.

7. Use specific and concrete terms, rather than jargon like conceptualize, empowerment, restructuring, interface, and

articulate.

8. Insert headings and subheadings in the text to reflect the main ideas.
9. Use facts and statistics to prove your case. 10. Unless directed to do so by the funding agency, avoid hardcover bindings, tabbed dividers, and other fancy touches. Keep the presentation simple and the content strong and meaningful.

Length Find the balance between making your plan too long or too short. It should address all requirements with some redundancy without providing unnecessary information. Redundancy exists in the plan because of the interdependency of its sections. Strictly follow any page limits set by the plan requirements. Accuracy

Check and recheck the facts and figures in the plan. Incorrect information, outdated statistics, or irrelevant research will undermine your credibility.

Consistency Be sure that facts and figures in one section of the plan are consistent with what you present in other sections. Acronyms Use acronyms and abbreviations sparingly because they may be unfamiliar to many readers. Be sure to spell them out the first time they are used in your plan; e.g. GATHER approach.