Skip to main content
Jump to Footer

Basics of Proposal Development


Shippensburg University has put into place a comprehensive system for the acquisition of funds for scholarly activities. This system is one component of a program designed to assist faculty in activities associated with professional growth and change.  

Competition for grant money is keen; therefore, it is essential that project directors pay close attention to the program guidelines and statutes, know what the agency or foundation is funding the grant, make personal contact before submitting the application, and perhaps most importantly, have an idea that promises to contribute to the foundation’s or agency’s funding priorities. The grant application process has many steps:  

  • Begin with an idea for a research project.  
  • Develop the idea into an outline.  
  • Identify all potential sponsors.  
  • Evaluate sponsor interest.  
  • Determine deadline dates for submission of application and specific requirements of sponsor.  
  • Prepare a plan of action with adequate timetables for application preparation, internal review, copying, and mailing.  
  • Prepare the application. It is imperative that all required forms are completed.  
  • Submit the application for internal review.  
  • Copy and mail the application.  

To begin, you must assume that the people who will make funding decisions about your research proposal know nothing about you or your organization. You must persuade them, using the information that you provide on the grant application, of your capability to do the job and that you are able to offer something that will contribute significantly to their program. To be successful, your idea must be clearly developed with measurable outcomes in an area of need identified by the funding agency. It is usually the quality of the idea that will improve the likelihood of the application being funded. Your idea is important.  

There are many agencies and foundations across the country that may provide support for your project although may have to custom tailor your application to fit the needs of each funding agency. First, you should identify as many sources of support for your particular field of interest as possible. Consider multiple sources of funding such as federal, state and corporate sources as well as foundations. Then determine the guidelines those funding agencies have under which they will provide financial support for research.  

Institute for Public Service staff are prepared to assist you in all phases of the funding process, including:  

  • Review concept papers.  
  • Identify potential funding sources.  
  • Interpret application regulations.  
  • Prepare budgets.  
  • Aid in project implementation, close-out and final audits.  

In addition, Institute staff will take care of the university clearance process, duplication and mailing of your grant applications. 



The application development process should begin with the development of your research idea. To frame the project you will want to discuss the research idea with your colleagues and Institute for Public Service staff. Your idea is the most important aspect of this process. Develop the idea before embarking on other steps in the process. To be successful you must present a clear picture of why your project is important, what goals you are trying to achieve, and how you plan to achieve them.

Once you have developed the research idea into one that is workable, put the ideas down in an outline form. The outline will facilitate the organization of the application and give structure to the process. At this point your should decide whether to work on the project alone or to establish a committee. Working on a project with a committee brings together persons with differing capabilities and talents and often improves the probability of success of the research application. If you decide to work in a committee, a project director/coordinator should be selected.

Once your idea has been developed, it is often helpful to develop a schedule to track the flow of information and activities necessary for a successful application. Creating a chart helps to define project activities, set completion dates, and establish tasks that are manageable within a complex project design. 

Funding agencies establish calendar dates for mailing or for receipt of applications under a grant competition. These dates represent either postmarks, affixed by the U.S. Post Office, or receipt of the application by the agency. These dates are important and must be honored to ensure your application is considered in the funding cycle.

It is helpful prior to seeking funding to review the following questions in determining which funding sources are most appropriate:

·         What are the agency’s funding priorities and patterns of giving?

·         How many awards were made in the last two to three years?

·         What is the dollar range of awards?

·         What is the closing date for application submission?

·         How long is the review process?

·         What are the allowable costs?

·         Will the grant be awarded to the institution or directly to the individual?

·         What is the duration of the grant?

·         Are renewals or extensions possible?

·         What is the name and address of the contact person?

·         Are visits to the funding agency permitted?

Before writing an application, primary resources should be reviewed. By studying the annual reports, foundation IRS form 990s, and application guidelines, you will gain insight into the sponsor’s values, capabilities, priorities, and funding patterns.



The grant application has at least nine components that must be developed. These components are:

Title Page  

The funding agency will usually provide an outline for the title page. Since the title page is the first component of the application that the review committee will see, be sure that it is complete and accurate. The title of the project is an important part of the overall funding strategy. The title should stress the expected benefits to the client and any benefits to larger audience


The abstract, or summary of the project, is usually developed after the application is written.  The abstract is designed to focus the attention of the reader and to provide an overview of the contents of the application.  Therefore, the abstract should be clearly written and include the name of the applicant, a statement of the problem or need to be addressed, the objectives and strategy to meet the objectives, the evaluation design to determine whether the objectives have been met, the anticipated results stated in terms of what benefits the project will provide for the funding agency, and a dissemination plan in order to further develop the sponsor’s interest.  The abstract should stress outcomes and outputs, not costs and inputs.  The length of an abstract should be no longer than necessary to summarize your project, usually not longer than 600 words.


The introduction is developed to persuade the reviewer that you and your institution are able to address the problem. It should be written in a logical form that places your idea in context with the capabilities of your institution. A successful introduction will outline the goals of your organization and establish how this project fits into the long-term goals of the organization.

Since the qualifications of key personnel are important to the success of a project, your education and relevant experiences should be explained. Clearly establish that this project is important to you and to the institution.

Statement of Problem  

Although you clearly understand the importance of the problem, you must persuade others that there is a problem and that the problem is within the scope of the agency.  The problem should be stated in terms of outcomes. Avoid assumptions and statements that are not supported. The problem should be related to the goals and needs of the agency. To be successful, you must present a clear picture of why your project is important, what goals you are trying to achieve, and how you plan to achieve them.


The objectives must be stated in measurable terms specifying what you will accomplish through your proposed project. They are different from goals, in that they are measurable activities that detail the activities of the project, while goals establish the overall direction for the project. The cost of each objective should be determined.  This is helpful for developing the project budget. Each objective should state the action, the behavior, the condition under which behavior will occur, and the standard to which it will be measured to be considered acceptable.

Plan of Operation  

This section of the application describes your plan of action. It describes the procedures or activities for carrying out the stated objectives and is the outline for achieving your program goals. All parts of an application come together here in the plan of operation. The introduction section describes the overall goal of this activity, while the procedures describe what will be done to accomplish the stated objectives.  If the objectives are clearly written to describe outcomes, the procedures should flow and evolve systematically. 

The plan should describe in detail what the activities are and how the activities will meet each objective. The plan should include the names of those who will be responsible for carrying out each activity, the scope and sequence of events, and the time frame established for the project. 

State clearly who is responsible for each task and how each is qualified to carry out this assignment. Appropriate information about each key person should be supplied either here or in the appendix. Any consultants should be described here including their role, how they will be used, the institution which they represent, where they are located, and how they were chosen. If special facilities or equipment are required for the successful completion of this project, details must be included in the plan. 


Almost all funding agencies will require that your application contain a plan to evaluate the proposed activity. The data obtained from the evaluation of projects is useful to a number of audiences. The data can be used by project administrators to make program decisions, by project staff to develop new direction when necessary, by policy makers to develop research programs, and by consumers who may wish to use information from your project for their own.

Evaluation plans must be developed in concert with writing the program objectives. Objectives clearly written in measurable terms can provide program criteria with which to determine success. The evaluation plan should describe how the successful attainment of each objective is related to program activities. 

The evaluation plan must detail the type of information to be collected, how the data will be analyzed, and how it will be reported. In addition, a plan must exist for the collection, storage, and disposition of evaluation data.


Most discretionary programs fund projects that are addressing similar program-related issues.  Since these projects are working on related issues, they tend to share and benefit from common information.  A well defined dissemination plan is important to the overall design of the program.  As this information is transferred to others who may benefit from its use, the value of your project increases as does the value of the agency program. 

A dissemination plan should include what information will be disseminated, in what format, and in what numbers.  Remember, printing costs are high, so be innovative in your plan.  Next, decide who will receive the materials and reports, and determine how you expect them to share the information.  Also, consider the time and expense required to continue to provide these materials after the grant is completed.  Grant funds cannot be spent after the grant is closed.  If the plan calls for printing and mailing material, these costs must be included in the budget.

Be sure to include in your plan what reports and information the agency should receive and how you will ensure it is accomplished.  Final reports that are delivered on time leave a lasting impression.

Contact the Institute for Public Service & Sponsored Programs Old Main 207 Phone: 717-477-1251 Fax: (717) 477-4053