Alima Ahmad

About Alima Ahmad

Alima Ahmed is a development professional having masters degree in Social Work from Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi, India) and possessing more than five years of experience in development sector. She has worked with government entities like Delhi Disaster Management Authority as well as with NGOs like CRY, Action Aid India, Manas Foundation and others. Her expertise includes project management & implementation and fundraising and possesses efficient skills of documentation, communication, advocacy, networking and partnership.

Proposal Writing Guidebook for Grassroots-based NGOs/CBOs/CSOs

Characteristics of successful proposal writing

A good proposal must convince the donor/funding agencies about the following aspects of the project going to be proposed by the organization:

– The issue going to be addressed matches with the objectives/target area of the donor agency.
– The problem going to be addressed is of significant magnitude in the proposed area amongst the target population.
– A need assessment/baseline survey has already been done to assess the gravity of the problem.
– The beneficiaries were involved in need assessment by using various participatory tools (PRA/PLA/RRA etc.) & the organization believe in beneficiaries’ capacity & capabilities to bring changes.
– Partnership & networking with other organizations of the area who are working for the same problem/issue.
– Is the organization well equipped to undertake the project in terms of manpower, capital, infrastructure etc? An organization must do SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) analysis before writing any proposal.

Browse more contents of this proposal writing guidebook at the following links:

Few tips for proposal writing

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Write as per donor/funding agency’s guidelines

A proposal must be written as per the format & guidelines provided by the donor/funding agencies. Most of the multilateral, bilateral, CSRs have their own format, which the organization must follow. This you can access at their website & can ask your queries on their given email ids. Many donor agencies just ask for a brief concept note instead of a solicited project proposal, which they usually ask in second phase once your proposal gets selected. A concept note should not be more than 5 pages.

Do research before writing

Although, it is believed that the organization has enough references & data about the problem, but it is always advisable that the information should be made handy before sitting to write the proposal. This research could be online or offline too.

Simple language & concise

We should write in simple language, which could be easily understood by a lay man too who is not linked or aware about the problem. We should avoid using negative phrases & jargons. Every statistics, maps, pictures used should be quoted with its source clearly.

Cover Letter, Cover Page and Project Summary

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The format for foreign donors & local donors might vary but most of them follow the same format based on Logical Framework Analysis model, which consist of the following topics:

Cover letter- one should always write the cover letter on the letter head of the organization signed by the competent authority. The cover letter ideally should not be more than one page. It should be addressed to the concerned person with his/her name, designation & address.

The first paragraph should have few introductory lines about the organization, its aim & vision. The second paragraph should be about the proposed project with its goal, target group (preferably quantifiable) & target area. One should also clearly state the amount of fund/grant seek by the donor agency. At last add two or three lines for thanking the organization & request for their response. The letter should include the contact information of the organization with its email id, website, mobile/landline numbers etc.

Cover page- It should have the title of the project with the tag line, which is generally the vision of the organization for encountering the proposed problem. It can be made pictorial by adding a picture of the activities of the organization with the target population on the same problem or any other relevant picture. At the end of the page it should have the name of the submitting agency with its contact info & logo and name of the donor agency with its concerned wing/branch etc.

Project summary- One should include a one page summary of the project at the beginning of the proposal. It should give a brief overview of the project to the donor/funder, with clearly indicating depth of the problem, target group, target area, total funding amount requested, the innovative solution to the problem and organization’s credibility to address the problem.

Problem Statement

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Firstly one should give an overview of the problem at the national & universal level followed by its magnitude in the proposed state & the geographical region to be covered. We should try to justify it by statistics from research data, press articles, references from concerned govt. agencies etc. We can also give references of other NGOs or Govt. intervention about the same problem.

– We should try to establish a link between “Cause & Effect of the Problem”.

– It should also include the rational of the project, which is mainly the relevance of the proposed project, indicating the unique methodology going to be used to tackle & address the problem. The rationale should also discuss about the need analysis or baseline survey (if already done) done by the organization.

– We also need to include the geographical location in detail, giving its demography & map (source of the map should be mentioned).

– It should also include the total number of beneficiaries going to be targeted. We should also write how we will use the knowledge & capacities of the beneficiaries to address the problem. The emphasis should be on beneficiaries’ participation in need analysis & activities too.

Goals, Objectives and Methodology

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Goals & Objectives

The project goal is the long term objective of the project which is different from the objectives of the proposal. Goals can be the vision of the organization to foresee the impact of the activities to encounter the problem. The goal cannot be achieved by the organization in isolation & other govt./private/non govt. players are required to achieve it, on the other hand objectives need to be achieved by the organization alone. The goal of the project should be only one and the listed objectives should not be more than five & one should try to quantify the objectives to make it more impactful. Objectives should be SMART (S- specific, M- measurable, A- achievable, R- relevant & T- time bound).

For example: the goal of the project is “making the villages of the area HIV/AIDS free”. One of the objectives of the same project could be “to establish HIV/AIDS booths in 21 villages of the targeted area for pre & post HIV/AIDS counseling for 12 months”.


Often people get confused between the methodology & activities & think that both are same but there is a great difference between the two. Methodology is the broad concept under which activities are placed. For example- methodology in a project can be capacity building, awareness generation, advocacy etc. and the activities for these methodology will be training workshops, rallies, street plays, FGD, campaign etc.

Activities to be carried out

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This section describe the activities going to be conducted to achieve the desired objectives. It should give details about the activities in a sequence with the time line & also indicating the reason for choosing that very activity. It should also have separate tables for staffing/personnel plan, equipment plan, number of interventions per activity (work plan). Reporting structure of the staff can also be given at the end.

The basic formats that can guide the preparation of these plans are given in the following tables:

Work Plan


Personnel Plan

Workforce Reporting Structure

Monitoring & Evaluation

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A good monitoring & evaluation plan targets the activities in the following manner & will include:

– Assess the impact of the activities undertaken
– To measure the project’s success & effects
– To monitor the project’s performance on an ongoing basis
– Tools used for monitoring & evaluation
– List of indicators to gauge the success of the activities

There are two kinds of monitoring and evaluation system. One is internal M&E, where the organizations itself will act as a watch dog to monitors the activities by constituting its own M&E committee. Second is external monitoring and evaluation, in which external M&E experts come to evaluate the project, which are mainly form donor agencies. Monitoring is a continuous process. From initial month of the implementing year, all activities should be monitored by an expert monitoring team.

However, evaluation would take place at the end of the year after collecting information of each and every activity. An indicators’ sheet should also be prepared to quantify the data and also to analyze the expected and actual; outcome of the project. The parameters of the indicators sheet should be in collaboration with the objectives and activities of the project. Evaluation can be quantitative or qualitative or both. For instance- number of drop out children enrolled in Education Resource Centre (quantitative) and improvement in basic reading & writing of children (qualitative).

Project Sustainability

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This is one of the crucial aspects of a proposal, which funders/donors give emphasis on. This gives a vision to them to foresee your future plan to sustain the project after the budget is exhausted & project period is over. In this part one should be able to give relevant & tangible plan of actions which will be taken by the organization. Funders also give importance on the replicability of the model. We should be able to convince them that the organization is self dependent unit to run the project by applying various fund raising strategies to increase their corpus fund.

Project Sustainability


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Most of the projects are influenced by various external factors/risks, which are beyond the direct control of the implementing agency. Thus, it is very important to identify those risks & the measures to be taken to address those risks. These risks could be because of the vital role & changing pattern of different stakeholders of the project, such as unstable environment because of sudden change in Govt. schemes/policies, behavioral change amongst the beneficiaries etc.

Example of an assumption could be- lack of proper road communication will lead to children’s non-attendance and dropout in Education Resource Center. The measure to address it will be that the organization will set up the Education Resource Center at a centrally located area so that it will be accessible by most number of beneficiaries.

An assumption has its influence on the goal, objectives, activities & the expected outcomes of a project.

Project Assumptions

Expected Outcomes in a Proposal

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The outcomes are the changes or results that the organization expects to be achieved after the successful completion of the project. The outcomes could be quantitative or qualitative or both. We should try to make the outcomes quantitative as much as we can as the donor agencies always give an eye to it. These outcomes could be three, four and maximum five in numbers, in line with the objectives & goals of the project.

For example- if a project is on constructing & running an Education Resource Centre for children of disadvantaged communities of village XYZ with special focus on backward class population than one of the expected outcome of the project could be 500 disadvantaged children of age (6-14 years) will receive free and basic education that will help them to get admitted to the local government schools of the village.