Tuesday, October 16, 2007

10 Tips for Technology Proposal-Writers

1. Read the Request for Proposals (RFP)

The number one rule for writing a successful grant is to read the RFP...and then to follow the RFP's rules and guidelines when writing your proposal. Not surprisingly, most unsuccessful proposals violate this basic rule. The RFP is written for the specific purpose of providing prospective grantees with all of the information that they need to write a successful proposal. Most grant-makers spend a huge amount of time writing their RFP. They expect you to read it and follow it carefully.

2. Write Appropriate Proposals

This follows from reading (and understanding) the RFP. Do not waste your time, or the reviewers' time by submitting proposals that do not meet the guidelines of the RFP. If an RFP says that it will not fund proposals for specific items, expenditure categories, or for specific populations, then do not write a proposal asking for these things. For example, it is quite common for grant-makers to state that they will not provide funds for hardware and software. If this is the case with your RFP, then do not write a proposal asking for funds for hardware and software. Grant-makers follow their own rules to the letter, and "exceptions" are not made. Rather, inappropriate proposals are almost always simply rejected.

3. Follow the Structure Provided by the RFP

Another thing that virtually all RFPs provide is a "suggested" proposal structure or table of contents. If your RFP provides such a structure, follow it! Most of the time, this suggested structure forms the basis of the checklist that reviewers will use when reading your proposal. Reviewers use a checklist to determine if each proposal has all of the required elements, sections, etc. Make their job easier, and thereby improve the chances that they will like your proposal; organize your proposal by their structure.

4. Clearly State Your Proposal's Goals

All reviewers want to see your proposed project's goals. If you do not clearly state these goals, then the assumption will be that you do not have goals. Goal-less proposals are generally not funded. Furthermore, it is important that your goals be aligned with the purposes of the grant program (as stated in the RFP) and that they are reasonable given the scope of your proposed project and resources. Good goals are at the core of all good proposals.

5. Align Your Proposal with Your Technology Planning Goals

Good goals are also at the core of good educational technology plans. Therefore, when writing technology proposals, you should reference your planning goals. Show how your proposal supports your broader goals and how it completes some element (albeit a possibly small element) of your technology plan. Alignment with planning goals gives your proposal a "big picture" that demonstrates that the funds you are requesting will accomplish much more good than the specific, anticipated, outcomes from the proposed project.

This is also a good place to mention that increasingly, technology proposals that come from districts which do not have technology plans are not funded. Funders expect grantwriters to have their proposals grounded in the long-term vision and strategies expressed in a technology plan. While it is not often necessary to include your technology plan with your proposal, it is always a good idea (or in fact, often a requirement) to reference it in your proposal and/or include it as an appendix.

6. Specifically State Your Project's Impact on Teaching and Learning

What impact will your proposal have on teaching and learning? This is the bottom line of any successful technology proposal. If you cannot show impact, it is unlikely that your proposal will receive funding. Do not make the reviewers search for your anticipated impact. Do not assume that they will understand your impact unless you specify it. Specifically state how your project will positively impact students and their educational environment.

7. Include Evaluation and Dissemination Components

In many cases, an RFP will dictate that you include one or both of these components. Funders see the projects they fund as learning experiences for a larger educational constituency and as guides for future funding inititiatives they might make. Therefore, funders are interested in projects that can measure their success, document their challenges, identify potential problems, and ask questions for future research. This is the value of an evaluation component to your project. Further, virtually all funders seek ways to share the outcomes and learnings of their projects. This is the point of a dissemination component.

It is a common mistake for proposal writers to consider evaluation and dissemination as "wastes" of often-tight project funds. Do not fall into this trap. Evaluation and dissemination components are critical to successful projects. Conscientious proposal writers, who have a "big picture" for their project, devote sufficient project time and resources to evaluation and dissemination. Even when the RFP does not specifically ask for one of these components, their inclusion very much strengthens a proposal.

8. Realize that Not All Technology-Related RFPs Fund "Computers"

In fact, most grant programs do not fund basic hardware, software, network access, and other "infrastructure" needs. Rather, the majority of technology-related grant programs now fund staff development and curriculum development. Writing a proposal for one of these programs requires a through understanding of not only what you will use, but how and why you will use it. Another way of putting this is that few funders simply want to "give you stuff." Instead, they are mostly interested in how you are putting "stuff" to good use and creating positive impacts on teaching and learning.

9. Collaborate!

Successful proposals are collaboratively written. Collaboration not only helps in terms of editing and reviewing drafts, but more importantly it expands the ideas in your proposal. Proposals that are obviously "one person's idea" are not favorably reviewed. Further, proposals that involve several collaborating partners are always more successful than those which are limited to a single organization/school/individual. Collaboration shows that others believe in your proposal's idea and will work to make it a reality.

10. Write, Modify, Resubmit

Few proposals are successful the first time around. If your proposed project is rejected by a funder, try again. Try with a different funder and if possible, resubmit the proposal to the original grant maker. Before you resubmit an idea, it is wise to incorporate any feedback you received on your rejected proposal. Remember, when resubmitting a proposal it is necessary to redraft the proposal document to the new RFP (in terms of organization, components, budget requirements, etc.). Do not simply photocopy your old proposal for the new submission and do not submit proposals that do not fully fulfill the current RFP.

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