Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How to loosen purse strings through proposal writing

The book cover. 

By Reviewed by RT REV STEPHEN KEWASIS

Title: The Project Proposal Writing Handbook: A Practical Road Map For Success in Proposal Writing.
Author: John Chikati
Hardcover: 287 pages
ISBN NO. 996696531-9
Publisher: Regional Partnership for Resource Development
Year: 2008

This volume is specifically designed to assist development workers develop skills for project proposal writing.

Whatever development programmes they are carrying out, development organisations, whether government institutions, non-governmental organisations or religious organisations, are going to be a lot more successful if they improve their project proposal writing skills.

This is because these organisations must raise money and other resources every year to help finance their annual operating budgets.

It is fair to state that a project proposal is the key resource mobilisation method that acts as fuel; without it, organisations would not be able to provide their programmes and services to the public. This explains why only a few organisations are financially independent.

Organisations that have alternative revenue sources or can draw either on a government budget or endowment earnings raised years before, may be less dependent on project proposals for their operating budgets.

But even these well-funded organisations will want to raise funds every year to maintain the quality of their programmes and to expand the services provided for public benefit.

In his book, The Project Proposal Writing Handbook, Mr John Chikati, who has also written, The Fundraising Handbook and The Monitoring and Evaluation Handbook, meticulously covers all the steps, from developing an idea, finding sources of funding, writing and submitting a proposal, through to managing a development project.

Excellent models

Beginning with an overview of the rules of proposal writing, Mr Chikati moves on to give an outline of a project proposal and provides samples of proposals for various projects in developing countries that will serve as excellent models for new project proposal writers.

He discusses such aspects as stating community needs, writing goals and objectives, and covers topics like writing a project justification, problem statement, key assumptions, implementation plan, monitoring and evaluation, reporting, components of sustainability, itemising the budget, and reviewing the proposal itself.

The author states that a good project proposal communicates the needs of the organisation to its potential donors, partners and collaborators and forms the basis upon which many funders decide whether or not to give a grant.

According to him, a good proposal is a critical key to unlocking the doors of potential assistance, partnership, collaboration and networking.

The author includes a discussion on seeking assistance for development work, which he observes is not simply a matter of randomly contacting donor agencies.

Once a need has been identified, one has to design a plan to address that need and then prepare a project proposal. Understanding the needs of one’s organisation is key to successful project proposal writing.

The author cautions development workers and consultants against attempting to write proposals for organisations whose mission and activities they do not understand.

Mission and vision

Some organisations hire the services of project proposal writing “experts” to develop proposals for them. This practice is not desirable, Mr Chikati argues.

The reason is that such “experts”, in most cases, do not understand the background, mission and vision, needs and problems, and organisational structure of an organisation.

The best thing, he says, is for one to train oneself in project proposal writing and not to rely on third parties. Chapters in this book give the steps for developing an effective proposal in a coherent way.

The author observes that when preparing a project proposal, one must understand that it will eventually be reviewed by someone else who, in many cases, lives far away from the project location, or may not speak your language and is not familiar with life in your region.

And in today’s crowded non-profit world, organisations are probably going to have serious competition for the limited donor funds no matter how creative their project proposals.

Think competitively

That is why organisations and individuals need to think competitively throughout project planning, design and writing.

They need to realistically identify where they do things in a manner similar to their competitors , where they will do things differently, where they have real strengths and where they have real weaknesses.

Trying to produce proposals that are significantly better than the competition’s is a challenge, hence organisations are often better off focusing on planning, being different from their competitors and competing less with them.

“With increased competition for limited donor funds,” the author argues, “organisations and individuals need to think competitively, strategically and innovatively in order to access donor funds.” Planning is essential before proposal writing.

He goes on to observe that a lot of project proposals sound good on paper, but do not work in practice. Such proposals are what he calls “imagined proposals”.

With the advent of the internet, the world has become a global village. Many donors know and understand virtually all corners of the globe, so a proposal must be realistic and practical. It must reflect the real needs of the organisation concerned.

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