Perfect Proposals: Making Logical Sense and Hitting the Heart

In my line of work, I interact with many small, on-the-ground, grassroots groups in Asia.  While reviewing funding requests are not the major focus of my work, I do have to read them and try to understand them before presenting them to potential donors.  Unfortunately, it is a frustrating and time-consuming process.  I am used to the fairly standardized proposals from U.S. nonprofits and when I read the ones we receive from small, grassroots groups in Asia, I find myself sighing…. what are you trying to say?  Who are you helping? What is the issue you are trying to solve? How will your project solve that issue? I am glad you will be grateful but please don’t overdo it and tell me that in three paragraphs etc, etc.

I blame myself for being trained in the western ways of proposal writing and budgeting – it created a bar that many small groups cannot pass.  I also blame our perhaps, unnecessary need of requiring pages and pages of paperwork – again and again – and then again to all the different funders.  Mostly, I blame our lack of ability to provide these groups training on how to write proposals, draft budgets, conceptualize the project and be able to articulate it, and most important, share with donors the impact of their work.

Is it right that only groups who have staff that are trained in these western ways, receive more funding because they can turn around a great proposal?  Is it right that we expect these groups to follow our process and methodology when we have not spent the time explaining to them what we need?  Who should be paying for these trainings?  How do you train groups across 19 countries and hundreds of languages?

Kalsang Y. Tashi over at Give2Asia’s blog recently posted an outline on how to prepare proposals and budgets.  The training that she attended and reported on were targeted to U.S. nonprofits.  But if Asian groups are looking for funding from U.S. donors, then perhaps some of these proposal writing techniques can help them understand what U.S. donors want?  Or, in my case, maybe I am impatient and I don’t try hard enough to understand the Asian context of proposal writing – which could involve many issues including civil society development, social acceptance and the time required for formalized philanthropy to develop?

If I had to draw a picture, I suppose I would put a bunch of words such as logic model, budgeting, statement of needs, evaluation, sustainability, impact and all those many other field-developed concepts around the phrase: the perfect proposal should make logical sense and hits the heart.