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Thought of the Day: Funders Could Provide Proposal Templates in Word

Federal, state, local and foundation funders could save everyone, including themselves, a lot of grief and heartache by including a Word proposal narrative template with every RFP.

Let me explain: this may not be the most compelling way to start a post, but if you don’t like to waste your time, energy, and precious life on this planet you’ll stay with me even when I write about how last week I was formatting a particularly tedious HRSA proposal. This proposal’s narrative instructions alone have more than ten pages of headers, sub-headers, sub-sub-headers, inconsistent number/bullet patterns, and instructions. I followed the model Isaac wrote about in “What Does a Grant Proposal Look Like Exactly? 13 Easy Steps to Formatting a Winning Proposal:”

Learn to love outlines. If the RFP has an outline format, reproduce it. If not, develop a simple outline format of your own, indenting .2 or .25 inches as the outline descends. It is easy to do this in Word by using paragraph styles. Make Outline 1 “A” with no indent, Outline 2, “1″ with a .2 indent, Outline 3 “a” with .4 indent and so forth.

Not surprisingly, I succeeded in creating an attractive outline.* But I also spent many hours creating styles, copying and/or rewriting header text, and deciding on the formatting necessary to reproduce this relentlessly, tediously verbose HRSA RFP. Towards the end of the process I realized: HRSA didn’t have to make me do all this! HRSA doesn’t have to make each applicant use subtly different sub-heading text, as is currently the case. They could offer an optional proposal template in Word that already has all the narrative headers in a style that’ll make proposals easier for HRSA to read and easier for applicants to write. Everyone wins!

Standardized proposal templates would be slightly bad for our business, because plenty of people see the byzantine narrative structure, become distressed, and think hard about how quickly they can pay someone else to make the pain go away. But they’d be a net win for humanity, and, at heart, I am a humanitarian. Think about it, funders: a tiny amount of work on your end could be a great virtue for all mankind.

* Don’t underestimate the value of instant attraction in just about any domain. Publishers spend a lot of time and money getting book formatting right for a reasons. They know that readers judge a book based not only on the particular words used but on the way those words are shaped and presented. We’ve seen many, many clients who turn in sloppily formatted proposals or who sacrifice readability for more words. Those are mistakes.