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Bid writing: Writing your funding proposal

Bid writing: Writing your funding proposal

What makes a good application stand out

Using their experience as evaluators, Queen’s Young Leaders, Lia Nicholson and Kiiza Saddam Hussein tell Leading Change what to include and how to present information to make your funding application succeed.

This is Part 2 of a three-part resource on bid writing. In Part 1, Preparing your funding proposal, Kiiza and Lia talk about contacts, networks and research. In Part 3, Do's and don'ts, they offer tips that will help you grow more successful with each funding application you submit.

An evaluator's eye

When Kiiza was granted funding from the German Federation, one of the conditions was to make grants to small service providers to plant trees. This was a useful experience. Being on the evaluation end of the process gave Kiiza and his team some interesting insights into the bid writing process.

For Lia too, evaluating proposals has been a valuable experience. “I almost recommend doing mock evaluations because you learn a lot when you are on the other side.”

She explains how competitive the process is. “Ultimately people receive and review a tonne of applications and you have to put a lot of effort into setting yourself apart from projects that may not be as good an investment.”

So what makes the good applications stand out?

calculator, pen and pad

Clear budgeting

“A really clear and transparent budgeting process is really important and that’s probably something I didn’t fully appreciate before,” says Lia.

She says you need to demonstrate how money will create impact, the different activities it will fund.

“Put in a level of detail and link the budget to the outcomes and activities, so that it’s a story that you’re creating – I want to do this, these are the resources within the budget that I’m putting towards achieving this.”

Kiiza recommends laying out projected costs according to the Grant Contract Budget format, which you can download as an Excel spreadsheet on this webpage. He was inspired by a funding application he was evaluating to change the way his organisation writes and presents budgets.

"Theirs was so professional. They had these good finance people who write good budgets, so in one of our bids I used the same format."

Grant Contract Budget spreadsheet

Grant Contract Budget format

Common language

Lia says using the right jargon can be helpful.

“There’s a certain language in the development world, and the climate change world, the gender world – in all the different disciplines we work in. Behind the jargon and the words, are the ideas and theories.”

She suggests that if you’re not already familiar with the jargon used in your sector, it is well worth researching the common words and phrases to put into your proposal.

“That can be a helpful way of trying to connect through your application with the evaluator on the other side.”

It is worth studying the specific terms on the potential funders’ call for applications, as well as looking at their website and any publications they produce, to get familiar with their preferred language.

Beautiful presentation

Of course, great budgets and using common language will help get the evaluator onside. But remember, evaluators “receive and review a tonne of applications” in each funding round and evaluating funding bids is hard work. You can make their lives easier by presenting your proposal in a more visual way – breaking up the text with images.

“People are visual,” says Lia. “A picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures and writing done well – so like a diagram for your organisational structure – can be really nice.”

Think about the information you can present visually – as graphs, or diagrams.

“Or even,” says Lia, “a picture of a past project that has been well received, or a screenshot of your documentary. Those things can really help to liven up an application.”

Check it all thoroughly

Finally, you must go through your proposal to check it. It is said that you can never see your own mistakes in a piece of writing – whether you’re writing short stories or funding proposals. So it is a good idea to get someone else to read it through too. And remember, spell checks don't always get it right, so don't rely on them.

I hope the guy who invented auto correct goes to hello

Image credit: Max Pixel

Make sure that you have attributed all your quotes and references. As the lady at the German Embassy told Kiiza, facts must be backed up by statistics and reference relevant reports and sources.

Lia says, “Be disciplined about doing your spelling and grammar check!” She adds that you may need to do several drafts. “Don’t expect to get it right the first time.”

Part 1, Preparing your funding proposal

Part 3, Do's and don'ts

Download a sample of the Grant Contract Budget format