Chapter 6: Types of Proposal-Writing
Proposal-writing situations generally
fall into three categories: highly competitive,
moderately competitive, and noncompetitive.
Moursund, D.G. (2002). Obtaining resources for
technology in education: A how-to guide for writing
proposals, forming partnerships, and raising funds.
Copyright (c) David Moursund, 2002.
Section Headings for Chapter 6
Department of Education
U.S. National Science
Scenario 1: Subscription
to a Periodical
Scenario 2: PTA/PTO
Scenario 3: School/Business
Scenario 4: Teacher Professional
Scenario 5: School Maintenance
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Proposal-writing situations generally fall into three
categories: highly competitive, moderately competitive, and
noncompetitive. Of course, there are no strict boundaries
between these categories, as shown in Figure 6.1.
Figure 6.1. Degrees of competitiveness in
- Highly Competitive
The most competitive situations are those in which a
large number of people or organizations are eligible to
compete for resources from a government agency,
corporation, or foundation. Such competitive situations
are often widely publicized. There is a clear statement
of the amount of resources available. There are
directions for how and when to submit a proposal. The
underlying assumption is that the resources will be
awarded to the best proposals. The number of submitted
proposals is usually many times the number that can be
- Moderately Competitive
Many proposal writing opportunities fall someplace
between highly competitive and noncompetitive. For
example, suppose you approach your local Parents and
Teachers Organization (PTO) to fund a new computer in the
teachers' lounge. There are many other possible uses of
the PTO funds, so this is a competitive environment.
However, the PTO does not advertise that it is seeking
competitive proposals for how to use its resources and it
is possible that no one else is seeking funds for
technology in the school.
Some situations involve no direct competition with
other proposal writers for resources. For example, you
might approach a local business seeking volunteers to
visit your school to inform students about technology in
the business world. The local business has not advertised
that it is seeking such proposals. It is possible that a
number of individuals from different schools would
approach this local business, but you could be the only
one who has thought of the idea and followed up on
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The "grant business" is a multibillion dollar business.
Over the years, guidelines have been developed that help
systematize the process of receiving, and processing grant
proposals. As a result, many funding agencies have strict
content and format guidelines a proposal must follow if it
is to qualify for funding. Of course, general guidelines
vary with the funding agency.
The total resources available from Resource Providers are
limited. Demand always exceeds availability. Given this
fact, the overall proposal business is very competitive.
However, the level of competition varies widely in different
In openly competitive situations, such as funding
requests submitted to federal agency programs, the level of
competition is fierce. There may be 200 proposals submitted
where there is money to fund 10 projects. You can imagine
how it feels to be rated 11th out of 200 proposals submitted
and still not get funded! The difference between being rated
11th and being rated 10th might be a tiny thing, such as a
single sentence that is unclear, an obvious reference that
is overlooked, or a spelling error. Careful attention to
detail is essential in such highly competitive
The following sections provide examples of several sets
of proposal guidelines. The first set is extracted from
literature published by the U.S. Department of Education.
The second set comes from a document published by the U.S.
National Science Foundation. Both agencies fund numerous
projects each year.
The U.S. Department of Education and the National Science
Foundation are discussed in more detail in the next chapter
on evaluation criteria. It is important to pay careful
attention to such evaluation criteria when writing a
Department of Education
The detailed submission guidelines for the U.S.
Department of Education are many pages long. There are
special forms that must be filled out and included with the
proposal. Details for specific proposal areas are available
at the US Department of
The following outline describes the essential components
of a proposal to the Department of Education.
Part 1: Abstract.
This may vary in length between approximately a quarter
page and a half page. There may be a strict limit on the
length, such as 200 words. Often the abstract is the first
part of the proposal that a proposal evaluator reads. While
it is placed at the beginning of the proposal, it usually is
the last part of the proposal to be written. It should
provide a good overview of the key points in the proposal.
The funding agency often reproduces the abstract in reports
of its funding activities.
Part 2: Statement of purpose of the project.
What problem is being addressed? What is the project
designed to accomplish? The statement of purpose may vary in
length from a single sentence to a short paragraph. Usually
this comes at the very beginning of the body of the
proposal. There must be no doubt in the reader's mind what
problem is to be solved or what task is to be accomplished
by the project.
Part 3: Literature review and general methodology based
on the literature review.
What is known about solving the problem or accomplishing
the specified task? The discussion, based upon published
information about this type of problem, should lead to a
description of the general methodology for attacking the
Part 4: Plan of operations, evaluation plan, key
personnel, and adequacy of personnel and other
This is often quite detailed and includes a timeline.
This is the core of the proposal. Usually there is a strict
limit on the number of pages in this section of the
proposal. This section may include links to Websites of the
organization, key personnel, and related project work being
carried out by the organization and/or the key
Part 5: Organizational capability, budget summary, and
What resources (what cost sharing or in-kind
contributions) do you and your organization bring to the
project? Justify the claim that your resources together with
the funding agency's are sufficient to solve the problem or
accomplish the task.
Part 6: Appendices.
The appendices provide additional information that is too
detailed to include in the body of the proposal. They may
include a bibliography, vitae of proposed project staff,
letters of support, statements of commitment from an
organization or an advisory board, and other material.
The U.S. Department of Education issues many different
Requests for Proposals (RFPs) each year. These specific
programs vary considerably in size. Thus, one particular RFP
may call for proposals in a particular area of special
education. The program might be designed to support
10&endash;15 different research projects funded at about
$60,000 to $75,000 per year for three years. This RFP might
attract perhaps 75 to100 proposals. A different RFP might
call for proposals to establish one research center to carry
out and synthesize research on a particular topic, such as
student drug abuse. This RFP might indicate funding for this
research center at the level of $2 million a year for five
years. Dozens or even hundreds of organizations might submit
proposals in response to this RFP.
U.S. National Science
The submission guidelines for proposals to the National
Science Foundation (NSF) are lengthy and are accompanied
by a number of special forms that must be filled out and
included with the proposal. NSF grant application forms are
available electronically, and many of their programs now
require that proposals be submitted electronically.
The following list identifies the main components that
must be included in a proposal to the NSF as of this
Part 1: Cover Sheet (NSF Form 1207) and abstract.
Approximately one-third of a page is provided for the
Part 2: Project Data and Summary Form (NSF Form
This provides statistics on the number and nature of
people being served. This data is used both in evaluating
the proposal and also in gathering statistical data on the
proposals being submitted and funded.
Part 3: Table of Contents. Typically NSF proposals are
long enough and detailed enough so that they benefit from
having a Table of Contents.
Part 4: Project Description/Narrative (including results
from previous NSF funding).
This is the core of the proposal. Usually the number of
pages in this section is strictly limited.
Part 5: Bibliography and analysis of literature relevant
to the proposal.
Part 6: Biographical sketch of Principal
This is usually a brief narrative; more detailed vitae
(typically limited to two pages) appear in an appendix.
Part 7: Budget (NSF Form 1030) and Budget
This form includes details on cost sharing.
Part 8: Current and Pending Support (NSF Form 1239).
This form lists all your current and pending grants. The
NSF wants to make sure that the Project Director and key
staff are not committed beyond one full-time equivalent
(FTE) of employment on grants.
Part 9: Appendices.
These include letters of support and detailed information
that is not appropriate to place in the Project Description.
Usually the proposal guidelines limit the nature and amount
of material that can be placed in appendices or indicate
that the proposal evaluators will not necessarily read the
The Department of Education format is somewhat more open
ended than the NSF format. Both organizations require use of
certain forms that they provide. Both ask for enough
information to satisfy all legal requirements being placed
on their agencies. Both use outside reviewers, so they
require uniformity in the proposal layout.
The Department of Education and the NSF are prestigious
organizations. Thus, if you are a faculty member at a
university, having a grant funded through one of these
organizations can contribute significantly to your obtaining
promotion and tenure.
Note added 4/21/06. At the time this book was being written, the NSF was funding about 1/3 of the grant proposals it was receiving. Here is a brief note from a 4/21/06 NSF news report. It indicated that the NSF is now funding about 1/4 of the proposals it receives.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 1,700 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes nearly 10,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.
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There are many grant situations in which the level of
competition is moderate. Often these are situations in which
the competition is within a state, For example, a state may
receive funds (such as Block Grants) from the U.S. Federal
Government, and then distribute some of it though a
competitive process within the state.
Many school districts use a competitive process to help
distribute some of their educational technology funds. A
school district may decide to invest some of its budget in a
few "model school" programs rather than distribute funds
evenly over all schools, or the district may decide to
implement a program in half of the schools in the first year
and expand it to the remaining schools in the second year.
Typically, the proposal writers have a clear understanding
of how many projects will be funded and the nature and
amount of resources each will receive.
The following two sections provide good examples of
moderately competitive funding programs.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower program allocates U.S. Federal
funds to the individual states according to a formula laid
out in the authorization for this program. Each state has
its own set of rules governing the program, but these must
be approved by program administrators at the federal
Recently in Oregon, for example, about three-fourths of
the funds were allocated by formula to the school districts,
while the remaining funds were placed in a competitive grant
program. The Dwight D. Eisenhower program for science, math,
and technology in Oregon had approximately $500,000
earmarked for proposals to be submitted through higher
education. Proposals were to be in the range of $25,000 to
$50,000. Data from previous years suggested that fewer than
20 proposals are typically submitted each year, and that
perhaps 10&endash;12 are funded. In the most recent round of
funding, about three-fourths of the submitted proposals were
This is a rather low level of competition. Moreover, the
competition comes from within the state. Finally, the size
of the grants and the restrictions places on them tend to
make it so relatively fey "Grant Mills" apply.
The Meyer Memorial
Trust is a good example of a private foundation that
operates regionally. It is the largest foundation in the
Pacific Northwest. Eligibility for most of the programs
operated by this foundation is limited to applicants from
Oregon or the part of the greater Portland metropolitan area
that expands into Washington state. This tends to restrict
the number of proposals that it receives.
The Meyer Memorial Trust has several different programs.
One of the newest, Support for Teacher Initiatives, is for
elementary and secondary school teachers in Oregon and the
Clark County region of Washington. This program targets
relatively small, teacher-initiated projects.
Support for Teacher Initiatives grants are available
either to individual teachers or teams of two or more
teachers. Quoting from the Website:
Support for Teacher Initiatives is intended to
recognize and support the initiative and imagination that
teachers employ to engage students in learning. The
program provides grants to individual teachers and teams
of teachers, in public and private elementary and
secondary schools, for projects intended to stimulate
more effective classroom learning. The maximum amount of
a grant is $2,000 for an individual teacher, and $7,000
for a team of teachers. To qualify for the maximum
amount, applicants must secure matching funding from
The annual deadline for the Support for Teacher
Initiatives program is February 1.
This is a very open-ended program. Appendix B contains a
hypothetical sample proposal designed to fit the Meyer
Memorial Trust guidelines. The sample proposal given in
Appendix B is of sufficient quality so that it probably
would have been funded. However, it is relatively easy to
see ways to improve the proposal.
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Non and/or Very Low
Competitive Proposal Situations
There are many different funding opportunities involving
little or no competition with other Resource Seekers.
Various states have encouraged long-range planning for
educational technology at the school district level by
awarding technology implementation money to every school
district that submits a reasonably well-written long-range
plan. This is an example of a noncompetitive situation.
Every proposal that meets the standards specified in the RFP
There are many minimally competitive funding situations
sponsored locally by schools, school districts, and other
community providers. Taking advantage of these opportunities
requires innovation--figuring out a good plan of action and
actively pursuing it.
For example, perhaps you are involved with a school
making its facilities increasingly available to the
community after school and during evening hours. What roles
would you like educational technology to play in the
community school? Perhaps you would like to involve the
school's computer facilities in the program. Perhaps you
would like the program to encourage students to help their
parents learn about computer technology. Perhaps you would
like students to offer courses to other students and adults,
possibly as a way to generate a little income to acquire
more computer facilities. You are working in a minimally
competitive environment, so achieving all of these goals
might be relatively easy.
Many school districts budget funds for professional
development. Some districts allocate a specific amount per
teacher per year, and teachers can receive funding by
writing a short proposal. A teacher might be able to get
$300 to help pay expenses in attending a computer
conference--merely by filling out a one page request form.
There is no competition, but there are strict guidelines on
what types of activities will be funded.
Here are a few scenarios that represent noncompetitive
situations. Each describes a Resource Seeker taking an
innovative or opportunistic approach to obtaining
Subscription to a Periodical
Sue carries a full teaching load. In addition, she serves
as the volunteer technology coordinator in her school. In
this unpaid position, she meets once a month with the school
district's technology committee. She regularly reads several
computer magazines and shares ideas with her fellow
teachers. From time to time, she helps people in the school
office solve their computer problems.
One morning, Sue helps the school secretary format a
report the principal has written. The secretary later tells
Sue that the principal was pleased with the appearance of
the report and wanted to thank her for her help.
Later in the day, Sue talks to the principal as they walk
down the hall together. She tells the principal about a
computer education conference she attended at her own
expense the previous weekend, where she saw a copy of
Leading With Technology, a periodical that seems well
suited to the needs of teachers in the school. She gives the
principal a sample copy and subscription form, and asks the
principal to request that the school media specialist
subscribe to this publication.
This scenario illustrates a very informal proposal. At
first glance, it may seem that no advance preparation was
required. However, the advance work probably included the
- Obtaining a copy of Learning and Leading With
Technology and a subscription form at the conference. Sue
was probably already familiar with this publication.
- Knowing that if the principal makes the request to
the school media specialist, the probability of success
will be much greater than if a teacher makes the
- Figuring out how to best make her request to the
principal. Sue's approach may have been based on her
personal knowledge of the principal's management and
- Deciding to take advantage of the fact that the
principal was grateful for Sue's help on his report
earlier in the day.
Of course, this is a lot of work just to get one new
periodical into the school's library. But, "the way the twig
" is an important idea. The next step might be
to convince the principal to form a committee to make
recommendations on Information and Communications Technology
books and periodicals that are needed by students and staff
in the school.
Tom has two children in elementary school and is an
active member of the Parents and Teachers Organization
(PTO). From talking to his children and their teachers, he
knows that computers are not widely used in their school
because little modern equipment is available. He prepares a
proposal to the school's PTO to earmark some of its funds
for six computer workstations in the library media room.
These stations would be networked to a laser printer and
linked to the school district's Internet connection.
Tom has done his homework. His written proposal details
the cost of hardware, software, and teacher training. He
includes letters of support from the library media
specialist, his two children's teachers, and the school
district's technology coordinator. His oral presentation
includes a discussion of curriculum in which students access
a wide range of information sources, communicate with people
throughout the world, and create reports with a
desktop-publishing program. Tom has discussed the proposal
with several other PTO members, and they make statements in
support of the proposal.
This proposal is very apt to be funded. It is
strengthened by Tom being a parent of students in the school
and a member of the PTO. The support of other PTO members is
a very important feature of the proposal.
Irene and George are middle school science teachers. They
know their school lacks the high-tech hardware, software,
and other equipment routinely used in the high-tech
manufacturing facilities operated by several local
companies. By talking with their students, they identify a
number of students whose parents work at one of these
Irene and George prepare a school&endash;business
partnership proposal that has four components. First,
representatives from the company where the students' parents
work will make in-school presentations to students about the
nature of the high-tech work the company does and the type
of education and training its employees have. Second, the
students will go on a half-day field trip to the company,
where they will talk to individual employees and watch them
work in a high-tech environment. A free lunch in the company
cafeteria will also be included. Third, a teacher from the
school (perhaps Irene or George) will receive a paid,
eight-week summer internship with the company. If all goes
well, this project will be an event repeated annually.
The fourth component calls for Irene, George, the school,
and the school district to make a major effort to provide
the business with good publicity. The project will have a
high public profile. Newspaper, radio, and TV media will be
informed of the project, motivating the company to
Such a bold proposal requires a lot of groundwork. It
requires considerable dialogue with an appropriate company
official. It requires the backing of the school, and perhaps
of the school district. Typically, such a proposal is not
put into written form until after a lot of informal
discussions have occurred. If the business agrees to examine
a formal written proposal, the proposal probably has a good
chance of acceptance.
Scenario 4: Teacher
Professional Development Funds
Pacific Ocean Elementary School is in a school district
that allocates $350 per teacher per year for professional
development. The school is reasonably well equipped with
computer hardware, software, and printers. However, it is
not doing much with multimedia because it lacks equipment
such as scanners and digital cameras.
Six teachers in the elementary school decide to see if
the school district will allow them to pool the funds
allocated for their professional development. The six
teachers agree that they will pay their own travel and per
diem expenses to attend a two-day workshop on how to use a
scanner and a digital camera to do multimedia curriculum
activities in the elementary school. They prepare a budget
request for $2,100 (that is, 6 x $350) to purchase the
hardware and six registration fees for the workshop. Their
detailed proposal includes preliminary planning on how they
will integrate this computer technology into their
classrooms and share their increased knowledge and skills
with other teachers.
Scenario 5: School
Maintenance and Remodeling
Leslie is the school principal. Her school is the oldest
in the district and is scheduled for significant maintenance
and remodeling this coming summer. Leslie notes that the
electrical system in the building is totally inadequate for
the installation of pods of computers into each classroom.
She also notes that the lighting within the classrooms does
not allow partially darkening the room for use of a computer
projection device. Finally, she notes that while new and/or
improved wiring is being installed, it would also make sense
to provide high bandwidth network connections to each
Leslie prepares a proposal that all of these tasks be
accomplished using the School District funds for maintenance
and remodeling. She gets endorsement of her plans from the
School Maintenance and Remodeling Committee, the School's
Site Council, and the School's PTO. She even gets a
commitment from the PTO to provide volunteer labor in
installing the high bandwidth connectivity into each
With all of this commitment and support in hand, she
approaches the School District central administration with
her plan. She notes that she has discussed the plan with a
couple of the School Board members and that they are
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- Analyze the brief outlines of the requirements for
formal proposals to the Department of Education and the
National Science Foundation. What are their similarities
- Analyze the application instructions from the Meyer
Memorial Trust, available on their Website. Compare and
contrast them with the Department of Education and the
National Science Foundation proposal requirements.
- Using the techniques described in Chapter 4, do a
cost/benefit analysis for a proposal to the Meyer
Memorial Trust Teacher Initiative program. Assume that
about one-fourth of the proposals to this program are
- Make a list of some noncompetitive resources relevant
to the educational technology problems that concern you.
Make a list of goals related to educational technology
that each Resource Provider might have. Then describe an
educational technology problem that interests you and
each Resource Provider. In this analysis, you are working
backward from the solution (the resource) to the
- Make a list of some local companies that may be
appropriate for a school&endash;business partnership.
Analyze each from an educational technology point of view
and from the point of view of improving the quality of
student education. Select one of these companies and
develop a brief preliminary proposal.
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