8 Tips for Writing Winning Proposals for CSOs
“People don’t read. They misinterpret expectations of calls for proposals. They develop their own calls and respond to it”, said the Civil Society Support Unit Manager STAR Ghana, Noshie Idissah.
STAR Ghana is a multi-donor pool of funds that was created to support the work of civil society in promoting transparency and accountability in Ghana. Working with civil society organisations (CSOs) in Ghana by giving grants that enable them contribute to address development challenges in Ghana, the organisation has gained key lessons on how to help CSOs to function better.
The Civil Society Support Unit Manager of the organisation called on some 16 civil society practitioners from Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria who took part in WACSI’s courses on Resource Mobilisation and Proposal Writing and Financial Management and Grants Reporting to apply best practices in applying for funding and managing funds in their organisations.
She encouraged the participants to make sure they achieve results as a means of winning donor confidence and establishing their credibility.
“Donor agencies with no exception are looking at results”, she said.
From her perspective she shared key practices CSOs must uphold in writing winning proposals.
Work as a team
“From proposals, it is very clear whether they [staff of an organization] worked as a team or not”, she said. This is key. It exposes a major gap in CSOs which no partner would like. Organisations with poor team spirit among colleagues will not produce good results like an organisation that has its staff working together.
“Put a whole team together to put together the proposal. The Project Officer should share the proposal with the Finance Officer to provide relevant and accurate figures”, Noshie advised.
Remember the common adage; ‘together we stand, divided we fall’. This applies to CSOs as well.
Represent stakeholders voices
Noshie encouraged CSOs to always develop proposals in response to demands from their stakeholders. “Are stakeholders’ views represented in your proposals?” She asked. This is essential in proposal development because it proves that the project has a potential to affect a life and bring about some change. She counselled organisations not to implement purposeless activities.
“Activity … So what?” Noshie quizzed.
She urged organisations to always seek to identify the purpose of their projects. “What is the change you want to make? No matter how small it may be?’
“We look out for potential for change”, she emphasised.
“Show results clearly and in plain language. What do you want to change and how will it reflect at the end? This is what we want to see”, Noshie tipped.
Tittles tell what the organisation seeks to work on. Don’t joke with this! Proposals should have grabbing titles.
“Fancy tittles make no meaning. Targeted tittles make your proposals credible”, Noshie said.
Don’t be a ‘suitcase’ organisation
Noshie advised CSOs to have a physical presence. “Where are you located? It speaks lots about you.”
“Now, we [STAR Ghana] take the time and go on the ground to locate where you are before we give the money. We do due diligence”, she cautioned.
She condemned the practice in which organisations exist on paper. They are registered, they apply for grants for projects but do not execute them.
Demonstrate innovation and creativity
This criterion is paramount in CSOs’ efforts to address societal challenges.
“This is lacking much in our proposals. We recycle proposals”, Noshie alerted.
Recycling proposals show the weak efforts put in by CSOs in their strive to solve problems. A recycled proposal will most likely fail to show concrete evidence of change when re-used some years after it was initially developed.
Have feasible monitoring and evaluation systems
This is vital for every proposal. Noshie told participants to always have baselines for their projects. “It gives a coherent approach to achieve change”, she said.
She encouraged CSOs to have very simple monitoring and evaluation frameworks to track change. “Don’t use complex processes”, she advised.
Show value for money
This must be evident in every project proposal. It is a process that must be demonstrated in the proposal. In conceiving the proposal, think of the route that will help you to get to your destination on time and with least cost.
“Finding the balance is what demonstrates value for money”, Noshie stated.
Have robust internal control systems
Internal controls are those mechanisms organisations put in place to promote transparency, accountability and efficiency of the oganisation.
Evaluate your organisational structure and your staff strength to determine what you can and should do.
Document all financial transactions and file them. It provides evidence on accountability. As Noshie put it, “cover your back”. She added that this is an era of results or evidence based work. So, “how do you keep records well so that any time you need it, it can be retrieved easily?”
Gilbert Atta Boakye, a WACSI Associate who facilitated the training on Financial Management and Grants Reporting encouraged participants to respect the pieces of advice from STAR Ghana’s concrete perspectives. He encouraged participants to put in place systems that are easy to use by their organisation’s staff.
“If I come to your organisation and ask for a document and it takes more than ten minutes to retrieve it, you have a problem”, he said.
In sum, Noshie explain that donors are constantly in search for partners who will respect basic proposal guidelines, deliver results and show respect for partnerships.
Is this the case with your organisation?