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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E


Index (Search Engine)

Moursund's Websites

Chapter 3: Four Important Ideas in Writing Proposals

A proposal is proposed business transaction that is written by a Resource Seeker and communicated to a potential Resource Provider.

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 3

The Project Mission Statement

Goals of Resource Provider and Resource Seeker

Communicating Your Ideas

Conducting a Business Transaction


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A proposal is written by a Resource Seeker and communicated to a potential Resource Provider. This chapter discusses four unifying ideas that underlie all proposals:

  1. The Project Mission Statement

    The starting point in proposal writing is the development of a clear Project Mission Statement. This succinct statement summarizes the problems you want to solve and tasks you want to accomplish in your proposed project. If this proposal is part of a still larger project, then summarize the Mission of this still larger project, and make it clear what role the current proposal plays in that larger project.

  2. Goal Setting

    A proposal seeks to achieve goals that are mutually acceptable to both the Resource Seeker and Resource Provider.

  3. Communicating Your Ideas

    A proposal is presented (most often in written or oral form) to a Resource Provider. Effective communication is a key characteristic of successful proposals.

  4. Conducting a Business Transaction

    A proposal can be viewed as an offer to carry out certain tasks in exchange for a certain amount of money or other resources. The proposal writer and the funding agency carry out a business transaction--negotiate a contract--and then each fulfills its part of the contract.

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The Project Mission Statement

A grant proposal usually will focus on one major problem or group of closely related problems to be solved or tasks to be accomplished. We call this the Project Mission. (If you are a Star Trek fan, you know about the mission "… to boldly go where no one has gone before.") The Mission of the March of Dimes is that all babies shall be born healthy. Before this mission was adopted, the mission had been to wipe out polio. Success in accomplishing that mission led to adopting a new mission.

You will see that grants are closely related to the field of solving problems and accomplishing tasks. Thus, you need to have some familiarity with that field. Two documents written by David Moursund (1996, 2002; 2002) and available (for free) on the Web may be of use to you. The first reference is a complete book on problem solving, with a major emphasis on roles of IT in problem solving. The second reference is a chapter-length document covering many of the ideas from the book.

The Project Mission serves as a unifying theme in writing a proposal. A proposal defines and discusses the various problems that must to be solved to accomplish the Project Mission. It may take many years and many different projects to accomplish a Project Mission. The Project Mission thus represents the "big picture." Figure 3.1 suggests how grant proposals fit into the process of accomplishing a Project Mission.

Figure 3.1. Components underlying a Project Mission.


As an example, consider an elementary school with a long-range goal of functional computer literacy that meets the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards for all of its students. The school has defined functional computer literacy as a working knowledge of each component of an integrated software package, including word processing, spreadsheet, database, graphics, multimedia slide show, and telecommunications. Students in the school have all learned to use word processor, spreadsheet, and graphics software. Although the school has adequate networked computer facilities and is actively training students to use the software, it has only a low speed and quite limited connectivity to the Internet. Among both students and teachers, Internet use is minimal, and neither group has received systematic training. This situation is illustrated in Figure 3.2.


Figure 3.2. Components of a computer literacy Project Mission.

An analysis of the Internet goal may lead to identification of a number of specific objectives. Some examples might include:

Objective 1: Obtain adequate Internet access.

Objective 2: Train teachers to use the email and the Web on the Internet.

Objective 3: Obtain and/or develop appropriate curriculum materials.

Objective 4: Develop a solution to the equity problem in which some students have Internet access at home but most do not.

Objective 5: Obtain commitment from the school district to continue the funding of the solution once it is in place.

The school may decide it has the resources to accomplish objectives 4 and 5, if it could just get grant funding to accomplish objectives 1, 2, and 3. This is illustrated in Figure 3.3.


Figure 3.3. Analysis of components of computer literacy Project Mission.

Notice how the diagram in Figure 3.4 envisions the overall Project Mission in terms of goals and objectives. This approach provides a good start on developing an outline for a proposal.

Project Mission: Functional Computer Literacy (ISTE NETS, 5th grade)

Goal 1: Word processor fluency

Goal 2: Database fluency

Goal 3: Spreadsheet fluency

Goal 4: Graphics fluency

Goal 5: Slide Show (Multimedia) fluency

Goal 6: Internet fluency

Objective 6.1: Access

Objective 6.2: Teacher training

Objective 6.3: Curriculum materials

Objective 6.4: Equity

Objective 6.5: Long-term commitment and funding

For a variation on this example, suppose the school has not yet accomplished Goal 5 but has defined it as follows:

Goal 5: Slide Show (Multimedia) fluency

Objective 5.1: Fluency developing a linear slide show with graphics and text.

Objective 5.2: Fluency in developing a linear slide show that includes sound, motion, and video.

Objective 5.3: Fluency in developing a non linear slide show.

Objective 5.4: Fluency in applying all of the above in developing a Web page.

Suppose the school is willing to commit resources to accomplish objectives 5.1 and 5.2. A diagram of this situation is given in Figure 3.4.

Figure 3.4. Refinement of components of computer literacy Project Mission.

The diagram given in Figure 3.4 was designed to fit the situation where a grant proposal would be written to focus specifically on obtaining resources to achieve objectives 5.3, 5.4, 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3. In submitting this proposal, the school and the school district are making a formal commitment to accomplish objectives 5.1, 5.2, 6.4, and 6.5 using their existing resources if the project is funded. It is common for a Resource Seeker to make a substantial commitment of its own resources when making a request for outside funding.

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Goals of Resource Provider and Resource Seeker

The previous section explains that a Project Mission is achieved by the process of fulfilling several constituent goals. A proposal seeks resources to help achieve one or more of the goals or specific objectives.

In Figures 3.5 and 3.6, there are two distinct "players" who are concerned about the goals in a proposal: the Resource Seeker and Resource Provider. Each has a variety of possible goals to be achieved. The goals of the Resource Seeker may be quite different from those of the Resource Provider. Indeed, as suggested in Figure 3.5, there may be no overlap among their goals. Even a very well-written proposal submitted in such a situation is apt to result in a "Thanks, but …" form-letter rejection.


Figure 3.5. Unless one or both sides is open to compromise, there is no reason to continue the proposal process.


Figure 3.6. The overlapping goals of the Resource Seeker and Resource Provider reveal shared priorities that can lead to successful proposals.

As a proposal writer, it is very important that you understand the goals and objectives of the Resource Provider. For example, a particular funding agency may be dedicated to solving educational problems in rural communities. Such a funding agency would not be interested in a proposal to improve the computer facilities at an inner-city high school. Likewise, a funding agency interested in promoting educational television may not respond favorably to a proposal that focuses on the Internet as an educational vehicle. Indeed, it may consider the Internet to be a competitor because the Internet can be used to transmit video.

In some situations, both the Resource Seeker and Resource Provider are willing to compromise their goals. Each has the flexibility to make adjustments in its goals. A dialogue between the Resource Seeker and the Resource Provider might lead to a project proposal with goals acceptable to both parties, as illustrated in Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7. A "give and take" dialog between Resource Seeker and Resource Provider can lead to a compromise with mutually beneficial project goals.

The diagrams and discussion given in this section suggest a number of different proposal-writing situations. Here are some possible scenarios:

Neither Side Will Compromise

Neither the Resource Seeker nor the Resource Provider is willing to compromise. If their goals do not overlap, there is no sense in continuing the dialogue or submitting a proposal.

The Resource Seeker is Flexible

The Resource Seeker finds a Resource Provider who has resources. The Resource Seeker develops goals and a project that specifically meet the needs of the Resource Provider.

The Resource Provider is Flexible

If the Resource Provider has a great deal of flexibility rather than a fixed set of goals, a Resource Seeker with a heartfelt need and a well-established set of goals may be able to write a convincing funding proposal.

Both Have Some Flexibility

A dialogue may lead to compromises from both sides, improving the chances that each will achieve its goals. A key part of the dialogue may be an effort by each side to help the other understand its goals and underlying philosophy.

It should be evident that the Resource Seeker should know the Resource Provider agency and, if possible, specific program officers within the agency. One reason that experience proposal writers have a higher rate of success than novice proposal writers is that the experienced proposal writers have more knowledge of funding agencies and specific program officers with the agencies.

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Communicating Your Ideas

A proposal is a communication that requests resources. A proposal may be presented in writing, orally, or in other modes. For example, in some situations it might be possible to submit a proposal on videotape or as a hypermedia document. In some situations, a proposal is presented both orally and in writing. Increasingly, proposals are submitted electronically and may well contain links to one or more Websites developed by the Resource Seeker.

There is often considerable interaction between the Resource Seeker and the Resource Provider before a formal proposal is submitted. This dialogue may continue after the proposal is submitted, whether or not the proposal is funded.

Here are four important communication-oriented ideas about proposal writing.

  • The proposal preparation process is a dialogue.

    The overall proposal preparation process is a dialogue between the Resource Seeker and Resource Provider. This dialogue may begin with a request for a copy of a funding agency's guidelines. It may include telephone conversations, written communications, and personal visits with a Program Officer. The final formal proposal is only one piece of this longer dialogue.

  • The proposal is a message to the Resource Provider.

    A proposal can be thought of as a message especially designed to communicate effectively with people who represent the Resource Provider. In many cases, your audience will be a small group of people examining a large number of proposals and making rapid decisions on their relative merits. Thus, the language in a proposal should be simple and direct.

  • The content and technical aspects should be error-free.

    You should assume that your proposal will be reviewed by people who have a high level of professional knowledge in the field of the proposal. One or more of these people are apt to discover technical errors of commission or omission in your proposal. Especially in highly competitive situations, even a small error in technical correctness can result in your proposal not being funded.

  • The quality of the presentation should be excellent.

    The proposal's design and presentation quality is very important. For example, a few typos and a poor job of desktop publishing can doom a proposal for high-tech resources. Surely the people submitting a high-tech proposal should be competent in using a spelling checker and in doing an adequate job of page layout!

    The latter point deserves additional consideration. Computers have revolutionized the publishing industry. In the "good old days," a writer and a publisher were two distinct people. Moreover, the publisher typically employed both content editors and copy editors. Thus, the author's original manuscript was content edited and copy edited before entering the production process. Quality-conscious publishers may have employed both a designer and a graphic artist in producing the final product.

    Desktop publishing technology has made it possible for writers to be their own publishers. But who is responsible for the editing and graphic design? When a few points in a proposal's rating can spell the difference between funding and rejection, the quality of these easy-to-overlook aspects of publishing can prove to be decisive. Lookin' Good: Elements of Document Design for Beginners, by Yoder and Smith (1995), contains an excellent introduction to the fundamentals of desktop publishing and can help you prepare professional-looking proposals.

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Conducting a Business Transaction

It is useful to think of the Resource Seeker and the Resource Provider as engaging in a business transaction. Each contributes something to the transaction, and each expects to get something in return. You know what you want--you want resources to accomplish your Project Mission. But what does the Resource Provider want?

Resource Providers increasingly think of their roles as investing in a project. You, the Resource Seeker, are asking the Resource Provider to invest in your project. Therefore, consider your dialogue with the Resource Provider and your final proposal as a sales effort. You need to convince the Resource Provider that investing in your project is appropriate.

The concept of a funding agency investing in a project holds equally well for all kinds of funding agencies and sources of funds. For example, a school's Parents and Teachers Organization (PTO) raises funds each year. How should it invest these funds to best accomplish its mission? A school uses site-based management to decide how to allocate its staffing dollars. Is it better to invest some of these dollars in funding a technology coordinator position or in funding a school nurse position? A federal agency wants to improve education throughout the country. Should it invest in research, curriculum development, or implementation?

In many proposal-writing and funding situations, the final outcome is a formal legal contract signed by both sides. Indeed, in some proposals, both sides are represented by legal counsel. In other proposal situations, the final outcome is somewhat less formal. However, in either case, you should think of a proposal as being like a legal contract. The Resource Provider agrees to provide you with certain resources. You agree to accomplish certain tasks, solve certain problems, and make measurable progress toward achieving your Project Mission.

Measurable progress is an essential idea. A project has measurable outcomes, often called deliverables. The Resource Provider expects reports on measurable outcomes. These reports may be required to be submitted quarterly, yearly, or at the end of the project. In any case, the Resource Seeker must indicate in the proposal how the outcomes will be evaluated and when and how the results will be reported.

In some projects, it is easy to measure the progress and report on the results. Suppose that a project provides funds to equip a computer lab. It is easy to report on progress (for example, a set of bid specifications have been prepared and sent to four vendors) and completion (for example, the computers are installed and students are using them).

Reporting progress and final outcomes can pose a greater challenge in other projects. For example, suppose the Project Mission is to achieve functional Internet literacy for all students in a school. How is this to be defined? Is it possible that a student is half-functionally Internet literate? What happens if a new student transfers into the school two days before the project is scheduled to end? What if the knowledge and skills gained by a student are so modest that they are forgotten over summer vacation?

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  1. Think of an educational technology problem you would like to solve (where you have "ownership") and for which you need resources. Examine several different Resource Providers. (If you are not aware of any potential Resource Providers, you will need to do some research in this area. Some nontraditional ideas are given in Activity 3. ) For each, analyze the overlap between your goals and the Resource Provider's goals. Then discuss ways to increase this overlap, perhaps by a combination of modifying your goals and by a careful presentation that will help the Resource Provider to be more accepting of your goals.
  2. Analyze your skills that relate to writing a good proposal. Take a careful look at important components such as: your writing skills; your knowledge of educational technology, education and educational change; your knowledge of desktop publication; your interpersonal skills; and so on. In the overall process of writing a proposal, where will you need help? How can you get the needed help? You might think about assembling a proposal writing team that incorporates the needed knowledge and skills.
  3. In proposal writing, it is helpful to develop an entrepreneurial point of view. That is, look for opportunities and then be quick to take advantage of them. In the following table, the first two columns give sources and types of resources, while the third column gives examples of projects in which such resources might be used. These may be the only resources needed to carry out the project, or they may serve as the "matching-funds" component of a proposal seeking additional resources. Fill in the empty cells and add several more rows to the table.

Source of Resource
Type of Resource
Type of Project

Your immediate supervisor; higher level supervisors; boards, such as a school board.

Permission. Legitimacy. Impressive mailing address. Office space.

A fund-raising project, perhaps one involving a mass mailing to potential donors. A project to start a newsletter.

School, college, or university.

Labs of computer equipment in which you can train teachers and parents. A staff development proposal.

A project that sells after-school and evening computer lab time and uses the money to buy hardware and software.

Local high-tech company.

Place to visit on field trips. Source of consultants and guest speakers. Possible source of summer internships for educators and students.

School's Parents and Teachers Organization.

Local organizations, such as business groups.

Funds for computer equipment for a severely handicapped student.

People and companies

Broken, worn out, or antiquated computers with little or no resale value.

School administrator

Space for meetings of parents, teachers.

Inexpensive or free access to the Internet.

Students and teachers working together in a training session designed to help them learn to use a new software package.

Parents and their children working together to learn about educational uses of computer technology.

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