Developing strong proposals: Part 3
Although not all funding opportunities are the same, there are some basic elements to any proposal that producers must consider.
Agriculture throughout Michigan is quickly evolving as operations are looking to diversify or modify production practices. Unfortunately, capital is not always available to make these dreams a reality. In response, producers have been actively seeking grants or other funding opportunities to take the next step with their operation. A producer must develop a strong proposal in order to access these funds.
Although not all funding opportunities are the same, there are some basic elements to any proposal that producers must consider. Michigan State University Extension recommends developing a basic proposal ahead of that perfect funding opportunity, to allow for careful planning and to prepare for success. This article, third in a three-part series, will review the elements that make a strong proposal—specifically, budget development, evaluation, sustainability and style tips. Remember, all good proposals start first with a good idea!
Make sure you understand what the funding opportunity permits funding for, also known as “allowable expenses.” Many grants do not allow infrastructure improvements or equipment purchases greater than $5,000. Other grants do not allow personnel support. Each grant program is unique, so check this out to ensure that the funder allows what you want to do. Matching funds or in-kind support may be required. This means you will have to bring either cash or a show of support (through your time, infrastructure investment, etc.) to the table, which indicates an investment by you or your operation to the funder. Matching funds and in-kind support can be a complicated issue for those developing a proposal budget for the first time, so feel free to reach out to the funding agency for guidance. Follow instructions on how they want the budget developed, and be sure to include a budget narrative to explain how and what the funds will be spent on. This elaborates on the standard budget table you will likely develop for your proposal.
Other things to consider
Evaluation and sustainability are two important indicators that funders want to see you have considered. How will you determine success? Grantors want to know that their investment has returned a positive benefit. Likewise, they want to know that once the money has run out, you have a plan in place to keep the work going and/or implement the results to accomplish your long-term goals. Writing-in a sustainability plan will show that you have thought beyond the 1 or 2 year duration for which you are requesting funding. Projected income or additional funding opportunities are appropriate to note, but should not be treated as a sure thing.
You may be asked to attach supporting documents to your proposal, which could include plans, photos or quotes for purchases you plan to make. If supporting documents are not asked for, check to make sure they are allowed. Letters of support are another common attachment. These often come from the partners that have pledged to assist you with your project. Make sure letters are unique and include how that partner plans to contribute.
Once you have identified a funding opportunity, review the Request for Proposals (RFP) or Request for Applications (RFA) very carefully. Style guidelines are often outlined, including font type and size, page margins, spacing, number of pages allowed and supporting documents. Be sure to adhere to these guidelines very carefully. No matter how well written your proposal is, neglecting to follow these guidelines may get your proposal thrown out. Understand that reviewers will read multiple proposals, so use of section headers, page numbers and a concise writing style are very helpful. Furthermore, make sure you are eligible to apply. Often, “eligible entities” or “eligible applicants” are listed early on in the request, and you will want to make sure you or the entities you represent support for are eligible for the funding. If there is any confusion on this matter, be sure to call the funding agency.
Show me the money!
Now that you have developed a strong proposal, it is time to find the perfect funding opportunity. Although a grant or other type of support may be just what you need to take your operation to the next level, understand that proposals take time and there is no guarantee that you will earn a return on that time investment. Furthermore, there is no such thing as free money! Often times these funding opportunities come with reporting requirements or participation in other ventures. Keep those requirements in mind to be sure you are budgeting your time wisely. And finally, make sure the grant fits your needs instead of compromising your needs for a grant opportunity.
Other articles in this series: