Proposal Writing: Essential Skill for All Organizations

In the spring of 2010, Immigration Canada put out a call for proposals to agencies across Canada that provide immigration services. It received over 600 applications.

These proposals were particularly important this year as the amount of money to be distributed across the country was considerably less.  In other words, the pie was a lot smaller.  All submissions were rated based on criteria such as relevance to need, value for money, cost effectiveness, organization governance, and the agency’s track record in reporting and financial accountability.

Just before Christmas, Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced that a number of immigrant services agencies will not receive funding for their programs in 2011. The announcement means that several of these agencies will most likely have to close their doors.  Note: This does not mean the agencies’ programs were not essential. It means their proposals did not compete as well as other agencies for a slice of the pie.

Unfortunately, when the “money pie” gets smaller, the need for good writing skills goes up. And the people closest to the project normally don’t have the time or the proposal writing skills required. Funding one year does not guarantee funding the next year – no matter how successful a program is.

David Rockefeller, the investment banker, once said “Nothing happens in the world of business without a piece of paper going along with it.” Today, not only do you have to have a successful program/service or a great idea, you have to be able to sell that program/service/idea to others – in writing.

The problem I see with most proposals is that the writer focuses on the importance or the effectiveness of the existing program. However, evaluators are reading a proposal to determine how effectively the proposal matches their criteria. From an evaluator’s point of view, it is a fair way to compare proposals and distribute funding appropriately.

From a writer’s point of view, you have to put the right spin on your message. You can’t “sell” an effective, necessary program.  You can only “sell” a successful program that fits with the criteria being measured.

Jane Watson is a trainer, author, and consultant in the field of written business communications at J Watson Training.