The following lessons learned provide useful pointers for you to bear in mind as you prepare for your project proposal.
The higher the quality the presentation, the higher your proposal will score. You can get a good idea of what is required by viewing an proposal form, and by project proposal guidelines. Complete all relevant information, but do not exceed the character limits in the proposal form. Ensure that the information is accurate. Write in plain English or French, avoiding jargon where possible. Use correct acronyms and website addresses. Write succinct sentences and avoid repetition.
Clarity is the key to a successful proposal. The applicant must have a clear idea about what they want to achieve and a clear strategy for how to achieve it. You need to spell out the link between your overall vision and your activities and outputs -- how these will translate your vision into reality. Lack of clarity cannot be disguised by the use of “buzz” words or other formulaic constructions; a successful design requires a logic that can be followed step by step. Brainstorm the ideas thoroughly before writing them down, but equally, agree on what specific steps are needed to make them happen, and in what sequence. Play the “devil’s advocate” and criticise the initial ideas until you have achieved a logical design.
Scoring and criteria
In UNDEF’s initial assessment of proposals, each project proposal is scored against 10 criteria. Since less than two per cent of proposals make it to the short-list, you need to score well on all the criteria to advance to the next stage. Make sure you demonstrate that your proposal satisfies each one:
Does the applicant organization have a strong track record?
Is the proposal technically sound in conception and presentation?
How would the proposed project:
Promote the objectives of UNDEF?
Make use of the UN’s and UNDEF’s comparative advantage?
Have significant impact?
Represent good value for money?
Have strong prospects for successful implementation?
Have strong prospects of sustainability beyond the project duration?
Enhance gender equality?
How can your proposal stand out from the others? The answer is innovation. That means a new idea, a new method or an original proposal. If the outputs of the project are simply more workshops to raise awareness, then your proposal is unlikely to distinguish itself. When you think of innovative approaches, ensure that the proposal is action-oriented, with concrete outputs listed in the proposal.
UNDEF was established not simply to fund good causes or good people. Arguing that your cause is just and your people are worthy is not sufficient. UNDEF is a Fund to promote democracy and each proposal must be able to show how the funding of that project will advance the cause of democracy. UNDEF focuses on supporting the voice of civil society, and so the proposal must show how that voice will be strengthened, and how that, in turn, will strengthen democratic processes. The more direct the link, the stronger the proposal.
Give considerable thought to the budget. Make sure the budget relates to the outputs listed in the narrative part of the proposal. We understand that the budget is an estimate, so use rounded figures (in the thousands or hundreds is sufficient). Do not ask for a high amount of salary in the budget, as UNDEF looks for an element of volunteering in proposals. Do not ask for a high amount in other items as a back door method to obtain more salary. Also be aware that UNDEF rarely funds the purchase of vehicles.
Value for money
Many proposals have scored badly on the criterion “value for money” by asking for far too much in their budget. The maximum grant UNDEF can make is $400,000; in more than 400 projects implemented to date, only few projects have received this amount. The average grant is around $200,000. A proposal requesting $399,000, but delivering the same outputs as a similar proposal asking for $250,000, will score low on value for money. That will probably be enough to knock that proposal out of the running. The more realistic the budget request, the better the score will be under the value for money criterion.
Please do not leave submission until the last few days. Given that the proposal window is open for six weeks, a well prepared applicant will submit well ahead of the deadline to ensure there is time left if something goes wrong. The later in the proposal process, the greater the risk that something may go wrong that cannot be remedied. And once the online proposal system is closed for the year, we cannot assist you. We have received dozens of “hard luck” stories about bad internet connections or electricity blackouts to explain why an proposal was late. The answer is to start in time.