The Problem Tree tool can help here. Consult widely and establish what the Core Problem is that your project aims to solve. This has three parts:
- Target Population
Then work down into the causes of the problem asking 'why does this happen?' at each step. Describe the consequences also.
When explaining the problem, never start with the causes ... go straight to the Core Problem. If necessary make it stand out by letting it hang as a sentence on its own. It should be the first thing your donor sees. (At least, the first thing after any context / background.)
Then describe the consequences. Convince your donor this problem deserves attention. Here's a great example from a training participant from Save the Children.
Very few children in Nepal are registered at birth.
From 2000-2008, only 35% of children’s births were registered nationally, and these rates are even lower in rural areas. Birth registration is one of many strategies used to protect children from violence and increase their access to basic social services. According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) children have the right to a name and legal identity.
Not knowing the exact age of a child poses many problems such as:
- Early marriage
- Underage military service / Lack of legal protection
- Lack of access to social services
Now he is free to describe the causes - which is where the project will intervene.
Plan Projects Based On Actual Stakeholder Needs And Interests
This could be due to the last point, where the problem is not explained properly. However, poor explanation is usually because we have failed to go 'one step further' when describing the consequences of the problem.
As development practitioners and community mobilisers we can see clearly how important the issues we are facing are; but often conveying this importance to those who make decisions is difficult. We may have satisfied ourselves that the issue is significant, but haven't taken that extra step to explain to our reader why this issue needs to be addressed.
Whether the project is a large-scale irrigation project that needs to take into account existing irrigation practices, social dynamics and local peoples' ownership and capacity for maintenance, or whether it's a village-level campaign against child marriage, all projects need to involve stakeholders in identifying problems and agreeing on solutions.
Let's clear one thing up - when I say badly written, I'm not talking about lack of vocabulary or poor grammar. (Those aren't issues unless it's through pure carelessness - and when it comes to selecting projects to support, you grammar isn't a deciding factor.) In fact, often those who have a wide vocabulary can end up confusing their readers and their main message fails to stand out. Have a look at this.
Poorly written can mean:
- Lack of clear objectives – it takes forever to get to the point or the main message is hard to find, leaving the reader to work through lots of unnecessary information to extract the objective of the writing.
- Poor organisation of ideas – key points are buried in paragraphs, or absent.
- Unclear writing – too many abstract nouns and unnecessary words, phrases and emphasising words can cause the reader mental strain, as can sentences and paragraphs that run on longer than necessary.
Still Trying To Finish That Proposal?
This problem can be avoided by first investigating your target donors’ current and upcoming priorities. No, they're not secret. Most can be found online from the donors' web sites, along with proposal submission guidelines. After all, they want to receive the right proposals, too, and they are always looking to say 'yes'. What good is their money without your skills to create positive change? And if the information isn't easy to find, just ask.
If it's clear that your project has absolutely nothing to do with the donor's field of interest, let it go. But, before you do, analyse the problem through your donor's eyes. For example, let's say that you intend to provide water and sanitation (WATSAN) facilities to local communities. It's not just a WATSAN project, though, is it?
What are the benefits of improved access to safe water? To name just a few, we have improved health / improved livelihoods, reduced migration, reduction of women's labour leading to greater involvement in community decision making ... so, while our project’s outcomes might not appear to fall within the donor’s area of interest, the project goal can still match their requirements.
I will give one interesting true example here to illustrate this. One bilateral aid agency in a conflict- ridden developing country was instructed from its headquarters to stop all activities except for those related to conflict reduction / mitigation.
Not one single project was dropped. The only change was in the way each project was described. A rooftop garden project concluded that 'improved access to food reduces conflict in communities' where previously it had been focused on improved nutrition. A small adjustment in the logic, and the project continued to be supported.
However, consider, if you are asking a small donor for the whole grant, whether you could take a different approach. With smaller donors, requesting a percentage of the grant is acceptable. As many projects will be funded by several partners, it's also often easier to get these smaller grantmakers on board first. As your supporters increase in number, you will find other organisations willing to step in and fill the major funding gap.
This isn't quite as simple as it seems, though. As mentioned earlier, different donors will have different objectives. When you are making a budget for your project, break down the project costs by outcome, so that the donors know exactly what they are supporting. For example, one result may commit 20% of your resources, another 30%. This way, donors can see the tangible results of their support.