How to write better proposals

Written by Jacqueline Carine Samuels, Covenant Foundation for Girls (COFGIRLS), Liberia

Please describe any challenges your organisation has faced when writing proposals.

COFGIRLS started as a community-based girls’ movement in 2010, with 19 inexperienced volunteers to resist forced initiation of FGM – after the death of an influential community girl as a result of forced FGM. The movement then had no proper leadership structure in place, no financial resources and, despite their passion and drive, no members had technical skills or proposal-writing experience.

It took us 23 days to develop our first ever five-page concept note. Our first eight submitted proposals were unsuccessful.            

How did you work on these challenges and what changes did you make?

We attempted many proposal writing methods, like brainstorming among the members to explore best ideas and suitable wording, as well as inviting English-language lecturers to reconstruct our sentences, but without success. Finally, we set up the leadership Board of Directors for governance and administration with a clear Terms of Reference.  With a proper leadership in place, we were able to remain focused on our clearly defined objectives and goals.

We also entered into partnership with a local NGO. This opened up opportunities to attend a series of hands-on trainings, focusing on proposal writing, financial management and computer typing.

What did you achieve?

We had several achievements: the leadership of the organisation was properly established with clear objectives, staff members were able to develop their capacity, and our network connectivity and visibility increased.

As result, we were able to submit a concept note of good quality to an international donor and was awarded a mini grant. This grant enabled us to independently implement an anti-FGM and SRHR project, with the engagement of the traditional leaders and FGM practitioners.

What have you learnt from this experience?

From this experience, we learnt that:

  1. A quality proposal is not dependent on its length but how well the project and proposed achievements are presented.
  2. Every proposal must meet the donor’s proposal criteria – and to achieve this you’ll need to invest a lot of time and support, particularly for technically inexperienced team members involved in the proposal writing.
  3. Partnership and collaboration increase connectivity and visibility, which opens up opportunities for donor engagement.
  4. Proper leadership and governance policy enable an organisation to stay on track.
  5. Believe in your vision – a proposal denial does not mean that your mission and objectives are wrong, they might just need to be presented differently.

What are the key elements remember when writing a proposal?

  • Clear and concise problem statement and strategies
  • Achievable, measurable, realistic and time-bound objective(s), goal(s) and action plan
  • Clear monitoring and evaluation plan
  • Realistic budget
  • Demonstration of institutional capacity to implement such project, including staff qualifications, past experiences, previous funding, if any
  • Organisational background.

What are your tips for an organisation hoping to improve their proposal writing?

  • Failures bring opportunities; consider failures as opportunities for learning and improvements.
  • Remain focused: always have clear job descriptions and use the organisational governance policy to guide your staff members and the work of the organisation.
  • Value your ideas and share: collaboration, partnership and networking are keys to increased organisational visibility.

Jacqueline Carine Samuels, Covenant Foundation for Girls (COFGIRLS), Liberia

Jacqueline Carine Samuels is a strong advocate for women and girls. The Executive Director of Covenant Foundation for Girls (COFGIRLS) – a local NGO focused on female genital mutilation (FGM), child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) and rape in Liberia. Her background is teaching and nursing, she is a registered nurse but also holds certificates in proposal writing, project cycle management, and traditional mediation and dialogue. She is presently enrolled at Cuttington University Graduate School, studying for a major in Healthcare Policy and Management.