When you apply for a proposal, always remember you are not the only one submitting a proposal. A grant foundation gets thousands of proposals, and no proposal reviewer is going to spend hours leaping off every page of a proposal to understand your work.
As an NGO you want to tell more and more about your work, but it is not you who is going to say YES or NO to a proposal, so start to think like a proposal reviewer. A proposal is basically a text-based document. And no one wants to read an unprofessional dull document. If you cannot activate the reader’s interest within the first few pages of your grant proposal, someone else will.
What makes a proposal boring?
Too Long, Too Much
It is very difficult to give an exact idea on the size of a proposal because it varies from donor to donor. Unless mentioned in a proposal guideline, go with the ‘shorter the better’ approach. The longer your proposal gets, the more you are repeating yourself. Keep it short and tight. Though the storytelling approach in a proposal is highly recommended, you do not need to set up a background nor the mood to capture the readers’ attention. Always remember you are writing a proposal for a grant and not a fictional novel. No need to have different characters and no need of making them gasp. Get the reviewer’s attention to one project. Even if you want to tell a story, make it special and focus on one person or one area.
As mentioned above, the longer your proposal gets, the more you are repeating yourself. Many NGOs tend to repeat this mistake. Be concise and define what is necessary for the part of a proposal. When talking about the project, you do not need to talk about your organization. Understand the basic proposal format. If not specifically requested by the donor, it is generally best practice to not include additional sections to the proposal. If the section is not part of their evaluation criteria, donors typically do not evaluate it. If the additional sections are super good, it will make no difference. But if the additional sections are bad, it may actually hurt your overall evaluation.
Masters of Grandiloquence
Using big and difficult words are not necessarily good words. Do not show off your list of vocabulary. Keep it simple. Words like grandiose, apocalypse, conscience etc. may sound bold but they are too heavy for readers and look pretentious. Instead use easy words like large, devastation, duty. A proposal needs to show you as a problem solver, not a wordsmith. The more complicated vocabulary negatively influences reviewer’s assessment of the proposal.
Choose the right words, not big words!
The passive voice is defined as to used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action. In some sentences, passive voice can be perfectly acceptable. But using only passive voice makes your document vague. In research writing passive sentences to hide holes in their research. Use active voice in sentences to highlight the main actor and activities of your project.
When you want someone to give you something, you ask with justification for why you need it. You cannot just define few points and drop ‘an etc.’ bomb. Etc. in a sentence is to imply that the reader already knows the rest of the set that you are referring and it is not the case in proposal writing. A donor understands you through a proposal. A proposal is supposed to explain everything in detail, not leaving a single question mark in the reader’s mind. It is highly recommended not to use words or phrase like so on, so forth, etc. which will make the reviewer ponder.