Monday, June 15, 2015

Should you use a templated proposal?

It depends on what you are calling a template.

Periodically I have people ask me to write a template for them to use to reply to RFPs or LOIs (Letters of Inquiry or Introduction). What they seem to see as a template is a one-size-fits-all canned response, like a sales letter, that they can send out shotgun-style to multiple grantors.

In some cases, they will send me to their "about" or Facebook page and tell me to use that wording verbatim, but "put it into a grant format."

It would oh-so-easy for me to just add a couple of paragraph headers and collect a few bucks and move on.

The problem with that is the client would probably never win a grant with it, and here's why.

All Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and all grantors are different.

It follows then that there will be differences in the verbiage in your application. While they may have a similar macro-focus their goals will be different.

Take youth program funding for instance. That's a macro-category. To one funder that may mean providing money to purchase tablets or laptops. The next one may see it as providing after-school care.

If you send out your canned LOI, but none of your programs address laptops or after-school care, you just wasted your time.

What CAN be templated or reused.

When I think of a template I think of the headings in an application or proposal. Things like program descriptions, statistics,  board member biographies, prior year outcome reporting, annual reports and organizational history tend to stay fairly constant for at least a year, and these can be pasted into a proposal.

Most RFP's have sections for these things. Statements of need can utilize statistical reporting such as population, race, age or gender percentages, income profiles of the targeted populations, etc. That wording can be pretty much left as is for as long as they are accurate.

Other things will have to be written so that they apply to the specific grantor.
Program descriptions and goals tend to stay pretty much the same, but sections of them may need to be highlighted or even extracted to show relevancy to the grantor's goals.

Board members, key personnel and their bios usually don't change much for at least a couple of years  but should still be reviewed and any additions or subtractions noted such as promotions or a change in title.
Notice that I don't include the executive summary as a static document. If the proposals are slightly different the executive summary will also change. That's why it's called a summary. Sections of it might not change, but it should still reflect the proposal you are submitting.

I distinctly remember one summary I read that was still talking about funding for an event that had happened several years in the past. I do a lot of these documents, and I always verify that all, and I mean all, of the information is up-to-date and applicable to the grantor.

So the answer to the title question is a qualified maybe.

If the grantor or the request you are sending, say for assistance with a capital campaign, is exactly the same you could get away with sending out nearly the same proposal or LOI to several grantors during the year. If not, you may need to do a substantial rewrite.

BTW - Do be sure you have the right grantor's name in your executive summary or request for funding. I remember one person who used a foundation's name in the original LOI, and then hit "send to all" to seven different funder  prospects. Awkward!

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