Find the Funding: Four Simple Rules for Donor Proposals

By Jay Wilson, APR, CPRC

Fundraising is the lifeblood of any nonprofit, and a clean, well-written funding proposal serves as a critical first step. For many fundraising executives, writing a proposal for a prospective donor can be a difficult proposition, but used properly, a written proposal can facilitate the gift ask.

Strong written proposals can serve as a way for the fundraising executive to walk through, at a very high level, the need for the gift and the role the prospect can play in making a difference. The proposal should be used as a leave-behind. Most prospects are not going to give an answer immediately, and, in fact, the likelihood of an immediate answer diminishes the higher the level of the gift request.

So as a leave-behind, a well-written and designed proposal serves as a reminder to the prospect of the request and the need for positive action. Unfortunately, a poorly conceived or written proposal can have the opposite effect.

Follow these simple rules to increase your chances for a successful proposal.

Rule No. 1: Don’t use jargon common in your industry. Remember, just because you know what you’re talking about, you can’t assume your prospect does. Even if you believe the recipient knows your organization and is sympathetic to your cause, she is unlikely to know terminology common to your field. Write each proposal in simple, yet powerful terms. Doing otherwise risks losing your reader.

Rule No. 2: Avoid negative framing. All too often, we lead with the negative. Every organization has needs, or there would be no need for fundraising. But leading off a proposal with a recitation of challenges is guaranteed to damage your chances with a potential donor. Few people willingly run into burning buildings. Don’t force your prospect to be a hero.

Rule No. 3: Place your prospect into your proposal. People do like to be a star. Make your prospect the star of your proposal by using the words “you” and “your” often. The donor is an important part of your organization’s story. Great writing will help the prospect see the role she has to play.

Rule No. 4: Be clear in what the gift will do for the organization, and paint a vivid picture of the end result. The focus should be on the lives changed, opportunities advanced and accelerated growth made possible by the donor’s generosity. Just as you don’t want to lead with negative challenges, you should always close with positive outcomes.

Following these simple rules will help you craft strong proposals and raise needed funds for the people and programs your organization supports.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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Jay Wilson, APR, CPRC is an award-winning communications and marketing professional with more than two decades of experience working in all facets of the communications industry. During his career, he has developed and implemented award-winning branding programs for universities, foundations and billion-dollar comprehensive fundraising campaigns.