ENGL 379: introduction to professional writing
formal proposal


For this assignment you will compose a grant proposal to a foundation on behalf of a nonprofit organization.

getting started

Proposals may be divided into three types according to subject. A research proposal offers to study or to solve a problem. A university's horticultural research team might use a research proposal to request funds from the National Science Foundation. A sales proposal offers a product. A small computer firm might use a sales proposal to sell a computer system to an airline to use in making reservations. A service proposal offers to perform work. An interior design firm might use a service proposal to offer to restructure a workspace for an insurance company.

Some proposals are as brief as a memo; others may extend to several hundred pages. Informal proposals within an organization may be presented orally; formal proposals from a contractor to a government agency are likely to appear in a folder that is professionally printed and bound.

Whatever their details of form and presentation, all proposals share three elements:

1) the author and the entity he or she is representing. For purposes of this assignment I am encouraging (but not requiring) that you write on behalf of a non-profit organization.

2) a contracting agent or granting agency. This is the person or organization at whom the proposal is "pitched." For purposes of this assignment I am encouraging (but not requiring) that you write to a foundation.

3) a project. As stated above, the work a proposal describes is one of three types: research, sales or service. For purposes of this assignment you will be offering to perform research or other work.

getting started

1. Begin by identifying a need. In past semesters, students have sought funding for after-school baseball leagues, breast cancer research and a documentary film to document the threatened habitat of mountain gorillas. Give your subject careful thought, as you'll be working on this assignment on and off through the rest of the semester, and you'll do better if you like it. Be idealistic. Foundations are set up to reward idealism. If you identify a cause you believe is important (and interesting), the research and writing will be easier.

2. When you have identified a need, find an entity to represent -- c.g., a nonprofit organization that serves that need. You may find a list of nonprofits at Guidestar: the National Database of Nonprofit Organizations.

3. When you have identified a need and a nonprofit on whose behalf you are writing, you must find what is politely termed a "revenue source" -- a contracting agent or granting agency.

Perhaps the best place to begin is The Illinois Researcher Information Service (IRIS). I encourage you to spend some time exploring this site, as it offers links to a wide range of sites associated with foundations. A particularly valuable feature is the IRIS Alert Service. Sign up, and you will be alerted to funding opportunities within the area(s) you specify automatically and on a regular basis. You may find a list of foundations at The Foundation Center. You might also look at the Foundation Grants Index, which cross references foundations, recipients of grants from the previous year, and subject areas. It is available online for a fee; a bound version is available in the reference section of Du Bois Library (and, for that matter, most libraries).

Many of you may be interested in small or intermediate scale projects involving education and the arts. You would be wise to investigate funding possibilities offered by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, whose stated mission is "to promote excellence, access, education and diversity in the arts, humanities and interpretive sciences in order to improve the quality of life for all Massachusetts residents and to contribute to the economic vitality of our communities."

samples, models and guidelines

Your proposal should follow the guidelines supplied by the foundation or other agency from which you are seeking funds. Please include a copy of those guidelines with your assignment.

One problem presented an author of grant proposals is that some granting agencies offer only general guidelines. If this is the case with the agency from whom you are seeking funds, and you feel the need for more detailed advice, consult The Foundation Center's A Proposal Writing Short Course and/or S. Joseph Levine's Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal. It is always reassuring to see models, and you should note that Levine's site also includes an excellent "simulated" Proposal for a Community-Based Mothers and Infants Center. This exhaustive proposal outline offers a useful check again the others, and against your own omissions.