Over the years I have written many business and project proposals. I have also been involved in developing a number of grant proposal submissions. In addition, in a number of my jobs I was directly involved in proposal evaluations as a member of Proposal Evaluation Committees.
As a result of those experiences I have been intimately involved in the proposal submission and evaluation process from both sides of the fence.
Although each proposal is different in terms of situation, approach, and specific content, there are a few basic rules of thumb that apply to almost all proposal writing situations.
1. Address the Terms of Reference
Almost all proposal submissions, no matter what the subject, are in response to some sort of Request For Proposal (RFP). An RFP is the document that specifies the specific expectations of the organization soliciting the proposal (i.e. Client). Make sure that your proposal addresses all specific points requested in the RFP document.
2. Structure Your Proposal After the RFP
In addition to the previous point about making sure that you cover all requirements specified in the RFP, it is a good idea to organize your proposal in exact lock-step with the RFP. In other words, respond to the RFP points in the exact order that is laid out in the RFP. Do not try to impose your own thinking and/or structure on the client. Your proposal will be evaluated based on the RFP specifications, so it’s best to follow those exact criteria.
3. Understand the Project
Make sure that you study the RFP carefully and demonstrate clearly and simply in the Introduction to your proposal that you have a clear understanding of the exact scope and nature of the project at hand. I have been involved in the evaluation of many consultant proposals where it was unclear to evaluators as to whether the bidder truly understood the full extent of the work outlined in the RFP. Missing this is a fatal error that will almost always eliminate your proposal from serious consideration from the outset.
4. Use the RFP As A Checklist
Both during the proposal development process, as well as after the draft proposal is complete, go through the RFP point-by-point, against the proposal, to ensure that you have addressed each and every point mentioned in the request document. Failure to address any point in the RFP will penalize your proposal when it is being evaluated.
5. Check Your Summary
If your proposal submission includes an Executive Summary make sure it is a true summary. Depending on the complexity of the actual proposal, the Executive Summary should be a one to three page presentation of the highlights of the proposal from an overview perspective. The Executive Summary should not repeat any parts of the proposal, it should summarize it and present an overall bottom line conclusion(s).
6. Follow the Instructions
Almost all RFP documents contain specific instructions about how the proposal should be submitted. For example, it may specify that the Cost/Fee Section be submitted separately from the main proposal. Or, it may request a specific type of Executive Summary. Many RFPs have detailed instructions as to how many copies to submit, where to submit them, etc. The important point here is to be sure that you carefully follow the submission instructions provided.
7. Do A Final Edit
In my experience evaluating proposals over the years, how well a proposal is written in terms of correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation is an important factor. Even if the proposal is good technically, if it is poorly written and/or riddled with spelling and grammar errors, it will definitely be penalized. Such a proposal indicates sloppiness and a lack of professionalism. If you really want your proposal to have the best chance to be accepted, make sure you have it professionally edited.
As I stated above, there are many different types of proposals for a variety of situations. Nevertheless, if you follow all of the above guidelines your proposal will have a much better chance of being accepted.
By the way, if you need help with a proposal I have found a company that produces high quality proposal templates and software for almost any type of proposal. It’s called ProposalKit.com and You can check it out right here.