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The Proposal Development Process

All funders provide guidance on rules and expectations for a proposal at the agency and program level. Below is an outline of the general process for developing and submitting a proposal to an external sponsor.

Common Proposal Timelines

  1. Announcement. RFPs, PAs, or foundation application guidelines are commonly announced on sponsor websites or through centralized services such as (see Find Funding page). Each signifies that a sponsor has an identified area of interest to fund. These documents provide instructions on how to compete for available funds.
  2. Key submission information. Announcements provide critical information such as submission instructions, deadlines and eligibility requirements (including collaborations and cost-share). Proposals deviating from sponsor instructions or missing deadlines are typically rejected without review.
  3. Proposal development. Requires tailoring a specific project or research idea to sponsor parameters, guidance, and funding priorities. Institutional approval must be secured prior to submission. OSP should be notified of the submission deadline and level of assistance required from the office.
  4. Proposal writing. PIs draft the main programmatic narrative due to their subject expertise, with support as required. Specific questions identified by the RFP as those that reviewers will ask or by which they will rate the proposal should be addressed.
  5. Budget development. OSP is available to collaborate on budget development. At minimum, this process should be coordinated with OSP.
  6. Compliance and other requirements. OSP can direct faculty to appropriate compliance committees such as IRB (research with human participants), IACUC (animal welfare), or IBC (recombinant DNA). OSP, on behalf of the college, will secure internal and/or external certifications and assurances, as required through the RFP.
  7. Proposal submission. OSP will submit the proposal or collaborate on the submission process, as determined in advance.
  8. Post-submission. The PI should send OSP a copy of the final proposal and should obtain reviewer comments if the proposal is denied. Addressing comments and resubmitting to the same or another funder greatly increases chances of being funded.

Common Elements of a Proposal

Depending on funder guidelines, some or​ all of the following may be required in a proposal:

  1. Cover letter is typically required for private foundation proposals. In one-page, it should provide a clear, concise overview of the college and the amount and purpose of the request. It should also state how the proposal conforms to funder's mission, goals and funding priorities. Outside Link (Click here to see a sample.)
  2. Executive summary or abstract states the project description clearly, usually in less than two pages. It includes the applicant, establishes credibility, need or problem addressed, objectives, methods, total project cost and amount being requested. When applicable, sustainability and collaborators or partnerships should be included.
  3. Background describes the college and applicant, establishing the credibility of each. It includes college mission and history (template for RIC proposals available on our forms & templates page), relevant facilities and/or equipment, PI qualifications, evidence of relevant accomplishments, long-range goals and current similar programs and/or activities. Reasons for including collaborators and their credibility should be included.
  4. Need statement states why the research or project is necessary, why now, and why the applicant and college are best suited to do the work. Supporting statistical data should be included.
  5. Program goal(s) and objectives include proposed project outcome, accomplishments, or changes realized, addressing the stated needs. Include the overall goal(s) and specific objectives or ways in which the goal(s) will be met, with at least one goal stated for each problem or need.
  6. Methods describe the process by which objectives will be achieved. Include a chronological description, actions to accomplish objectives, impact of proposed activities, how they will benefit the target population and/or community, who will carry them out, a timeline of activities, and long-term strategies for sustaining the project. (Items 5 and 6 may be presented in a table format for clarity and to save space, if necessary.)
  7. Evaluation measures performance or results of the project. State who will be conducting the evaluation, at what point(s) in the project, and when and how results will be used. Evaluation is particularly important in pilot or demonstration projects and may require up to 50% of the project budget. If using external evaluators, they should be identified and brought into the process as early as possible.
  8. Dissemination of results may include publication, program replication, and/or other means. State that the funder's support of the project will be acknowledged in conformance with their wishes.
  9. Budget is described in detail in the next section.
  10. Supplemental information such as letters of support and letters of commitment (from key personnel indicating willingness to participate in the project) show broad support for, and participation in, the program. Assurances, certifications, college financials and other information may be required and is typically obtained by OSP at PI request.​​

Page last updated: October 12, 2017