8 Tips for Writing Winning Proposals for CSOs

8 Tips for Writing Winning Proposals for CSOs

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“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 matter

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?


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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.