Writing a proposal is a particular form of writing – concise and precise is the key. Whether you are writing a proposal for your own project or for someone else there are certain guidelines to follow for success. Proposal writing requires summation, stating key points, giving planning details to realise the project and description of concepts, needs and people or work involved. In short, it’s a presentation in writing. Proposals are rigidly structured documents and you will be required to follow the structure exactly, there is no room for ‘fancy’ in proposal writing. However, good writing is paramount.
Proposals take time. They should be well researched and seriously considered in order to convey the important aspects of your project. The language used in proposal writing is different too. Often it requires a neutral voice, not the first person. For example: ‘The project will be funded by….’ rather than, ‘I will fund the project by….’ Your ego and self-identity which is visible by using the first person ‘I’ should not factor in the proposal except where your background is stated and that should be factual in nature. It simply is annoying to read, ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’ throughout a proposal, so keep it neutral.
The form of a proposal changes with the purpose, many elements are the same but may carry different significance depending on what the proposal is for. For example, an exhibition proposal is focused on the exhibition premise, artists, artworks and the exhibition presentation; a budget is considered as supporting material often. However, a grant proposal requires detailed attention to the budget for a project and is one of the main elements in the proposal; artists and artworks may be considered as supplementary. So pay attention to the requirement and the focus of each kind of proposal.
The main points of any proposal:
Aims & Objectives
Who is involved & what do they bring to the project
You may be given a proposal application form to fill out. Follow the directions and the word count exactly – do not exceed a word count limit. This is often a challenge and one of the reasons to give yourself plenty of time. Fill out the form as fully as possible; this should be in its entirety. If there is a section you cannot fill out, communicate with someone from the destination organisation to get help with the section and briefly write in the application why you have no information to give for the section. This reason should be acceptable with the organisation before you state it. DO NOT LEAVE IT BLANK. Often a section requires an attachment, for example a list of images, write ‘See Attached’. Be sure your attached information is professionally presented on your letterhead with your name and full contact details, the project name and a page title to identify it, such as IMAGE LIST. You want to be sure any loose papers can be easily identified and reassembled with the proposal application.
If you are not given a proposal form, you will need to create your own proposal presentation. Each page in the presentation should be identified with you and the project title so nothing gets lost; chances are you will be sending loose unbound pages in a folder. Use your full letterhead for the cover letter and then use a more subtle letterhead version for the following pages. If you have a snazzy letterhead design you don’t want to give your assessor a headache by page three. Think about how you would receive the pages if you were the assessor and lay them out accordingly.
Generally speaking, these are the main points of any proposal:
This should be one to three short paragraphs giving an overview of the project and its goals. It should contain background information or questions which have inspired or informed the project, what you intend to do and present as part of the project, what form the project will take and what you hope to achieve as a result. It is the first thing an assessor will read and often the assessment will stop there. So be through but concise, poignant and informative; encapsulate the whole history of the project from conception to desired future outcome, naming the most important aspects of the project and its goals – do it within 300 words.
- Aims & Objectives
These should be three or four bullet point sentences stating the goals you wish to achieve through the project. Keep them succinct and direct. They should be straightforward and achievable with no flowery fussiness. This is common sense talk for the project.
- Project Plan
- What is your plan?
- How are you going to achieve it?
- How are you going to assess the results?
- What is your timetable for the project?
- What do you need to realise the project?
This is the nitty-gritty of your proposal and the answers to these questions will need to be clearly stated and achievable.
- Who is involved and what do they bring to the project?
This may be the group of artists you are working with, speakers on a symposium panel, venue partners, supporters or sponsors for the project or anyone else who has a stake in your project. Think of this as an introduction, you should briefly give background, credentials and perhaps one major achievement if it is pertinent to their participation in your project. You may also need to give contact information for these people so be sure you have their permission to be named in the proposal.
Other points which may factor into your proposal:
- Your background details and experience
- Special instructions for installation, transport or anything else requiring special explanation
- Balanced budget
- Background or inspiration for the project
See the ‘Further Reading’ section below to find examples for writing exhibition proposals, grant proposals and sponsorship proposals.
Exhibition Proposals with a Punch by Cindi Huss gives insightful information on how to write an exhibition proposal and is an excellent guide.
Grant Space offers a huge amount of information on writing grant proposals and related issues from just this one page! The information on grants available through Grant Space will be most useful to readers in the USA.
Vivek Singh offers good advice on how to win sponsorship money in his blog All About Presentations. He covers the basics of what should be in a sponsorship proposal and offers a free Sponsorship Proposal Template download. This is from a business perspective but the concepts are the same for the arts.