Preliminary contact with potential extramural funding sources in highly recommended to determine if they are willing to consider a formal grant application. A well-written two or three page preliminary proposal can provide answers about the agency's potential interest and will save time for you and agency personnel. If the proposal is clearly not suitable for formal submission, you will know early in the process. The preparation of the formal document is simplified if a preliminary proposal has been carefully written. The agency may offer assistance in designing the proposal to meet their priorities without distorting your original intentions. Finally, the agency staff may be able to suggest other funding sources that might be interested in your proposed research project.
A preliminary proposal should demonstrate that the investigator is acquainted with the work and purpose of the particular organization. It will include the significance of the project; discuss the objectives and how they will be achieved; a timeline; and an estimated budget. Fringe benefits are ALWAYS included in the budget without exception. Indirect cost or facilities and adminstrative (F&A) costs are included, if applicable. The preliminary proposal should also identify who will benefit from the project, how the results will be disseminated, how the project will be funded after grant funds are no longer available, and what will happen if the project is not funded.
A preliminary proposal should give enough indication of step-by-step planning to show the project has been carefully reviewed and pitfalls have been anticipated. It will also demonstrate the writer's knowledge of the subject and his/her ability to undertake the project. It should be emphasized that this is a preliminary inquiry, not a formal proposal, and the investigator will send further details if the agency wishes.
Since the preliminary proposal is an informal, direct communication between the principal investigator and the funding agency, generally it is not routed through university channels with a transmittal form and does not require any university endorsement. However, an informational copy of the preliminary proposal and agency correspondence should be sent to the Office of Sponsored Programs.
In general, private foundations are interested in innovative projects that are a) relevant to national or regional problems; b) relevant to new methods in education; c) capable of being continued after funding from the agency ends; and, d) not being funded by governmental agencies or the investigator's own institution.
The initial letter of inquiry and brief preliminary proposal should highlight characteristics that best fit the project at hand. Further suggestions on both the appropriateness and the preparation of a preliminary proposal may be obtained from the Office of Sponsored Programs.
While there is no guaranteed formula for developing a perfect proposal, there are some general principles, which can help you prepare an effective document that will strongly state your case when seeking extramural funding.
The format of a particular proposal will depend on the requirements of the sponsor. Most federal agencies have application forms or very specific guidelines, while other sponsors may be less direct. The guidelines also known at the Request for Proposals or RFP's can be obtained from the Office of Sponsored Programs.
Consider the nature of the potential funding source as you begin to write. The approach to a "general purpose" foundation will differ from the approach to a "discipline specific" federal agency. With the approach to a "general purpose" foundation, start with a general needs statement to establish the importance of the specific area of interest as it relates to larger areas of need. In the approach to a "discipline specific" federal agency, be direct and state the specific need of your project.
The preliminary proposal serves as an outline when drafting a fuller, more complete document. Funding agency or collegial reactions to the preliminary proposal should provide assistance in developing your final proposal. Here are some helpful suggestions as you write the final proposal.