So, you ve got this great idea and you want to write a proposal

Having a great research or project idea is only the first step - you also need funding, which almost certainly means you will have to write some sort of proposal, either to government agencies, University committees, private foundations, or private corporations. There are many steps in preparing a proposal, but one of the first, and possibly the most important, is to correctly identify the right funding source for your idea. Sending a proposal to the wrong funding source is like a dog barking up the wrong tree; it may be a great bark, but it's still the wrong tree.

Federal Agencies

Within the federal agencies there are competitive grant programs and formula funding for projects. The interests, requirements, and procedures vary according to which source you choose to pursue.

In the words of a senior NSF official, "Don't write a proposal until you've spoken to a program officer." Contact the appropriate program officer and ask whether your planned research is supported by that program. If you are uncertain about which program to contact, call the main number of the agency and ask to be directed to the correct program. Be prepared to explain the research idea in some detail so the program officer will understand your project and can offer accurate information. At this time, you can ask the program officer what the program budget is, how many proposals have been received (or are expected), and how the proposal will be reviewed (who will be reviewing the proposals).

If your proposal is submitted to the wrong agency or program, it might be returned to you without review, it might be reviewed by inappropriate reviewers, or it might be delayed before being forwarded to the right program.

Private Foundation or Corporation

Know the funder. Research potential funders thoroughly - a cursory look through a foundation directory isn t good enough. Then apply what you've learned. Don't ignore a funder's guidelines in the hopes of fitting your proposal into their niche.

It s been estimated that your chances of success improve by as much as 300% when you make contact with the funder before and during the proposal-writing process. Don't ask for hidden agendas, but do find out about general trends or new ideas the funder is currently interested in.