Top 5 tips for stellar proposal writing: Guest blog!

Lauren Carr
When it comes to talented colleagues, I've got an embarrassment of riches. I've had the good fortune to work with and befriend some Boston's very best fundraising professionals over the past 12 years.

Several of these superstars have graciously agreed to participate in a new series of Fundraise Well guest blogs that will offer tips, tricks, and case studies directly from the front lines of Development!

I could not be more pleased that Lauren Carr, my dear colleague (and--full disclosure--best friend) kicks off our guest blog series.

Without further ado, here are Lauren's top five tips for stellar proposal writing:

1. Learn as much about the donor as possible. Some questions to ask:
  • What is their connection to your organization? A grateful patient? An alumna/i?
  • Have they given to your organization before? 
  • What is their level of knowledge on the subject of the proposal? E.g., If you are writing about a research study, are they already well-versed in this area of research?

Knowing the answers to these questions will help you write a proposal that is as personalized as possible for each donor. Avoid inadvertently talking down to a donor who may already know a lot about the subject--or frustrating a donor by not being simple enough.

2. Be clear about what the gift will specifically fund. Most donors want to see a real impact made with their gift and telling them exactly how it will be spent gives them a clear idea of what will be achieved with their funding. For example, if asking for money for a research study, will their gift support the salary of staff who will conduct the study? Will it buy a related piece of equipment? Will it create a discretionary fund that the researcher will use for several different studies?

3. What makes your institution so unique? This helps to make the case about why they should give to your organization and not another hospital, school, etc. For example, is your organization the only one that conducts this type of research? Is it the only school with this type of after-school program?

4. Keep it simple. Most people do not have time to read lengthy proposals. Keep it as simple and concise as possible. Don’t write a five page proposal when a three page proposal can make just as strong of a case.

Think about the formatting of your document, too. For example, use subheads to break up sections of a proposal to make it easier to follow or add pictures, charts, etc., if these will help explain or add to your case. Again, make it as easy as possible for your donor to understand what the proposal is about.

5. Always get a final set of eyes. Most proposals go through several rounds of approvals before they are ready to send to the donor. Make sure someone else who has not seen the proposal yet reads it through to check for typos, spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, etc. It would be a shame to put all of that hard work into a proposal just to make a bad first impression with a misspelled word or other typo.

Lauren Carr is the Director of Communications, Proposals, and Stewardship in the Office of Development at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. In this role, Lauren manages a variety of writing projects that solicit, inform, and celebrate the hospital’s philanthropic donors. Previously, Lauren worked for nearly eight years in Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Division of Development and the Jimmy Fund. There, her responsibilities spanned Corporate and Foundation Relations, Donor Relations, and Development Marketing throughout the duration of Dana-Farber’s successful $1 billion Mission Possible fundraising campaign. Lauren earned her B.A. in Communications from Simmons College. She lives in downtown Lynn, where she serves on the boards of Girls Inc. of Lynn and Arts After Hours.

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