Useful tips and lessons learned for future applicants

The following advice to applicants for UNDEF grants is based on selection of proposals in previous UNDEF Rounds. It provides useful pointers for you to bear in mind as you prepare your 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 the 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 objective and your expected outcomes -- 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 criticize 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:

  • The project promotes the objectives of UNDEF
  • The project draws on the United Nations’ comparative advantage
  • The project will have a significant impact
  • The project will encourage inclusion of marginalized and vulnerable groups
  • The project will enhance gender equality
  • The project has strong prospects for successful implementation
  • The applicant organization has a strong track record
  • The project is technically sound in conception and presentation
  • The project represents good value for money
  • The project has strong prospects of sustainability beyond the project duration.


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. UNDEF rarely funds the purchase of vehicles.


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 a proposal was late. The answer is to start in time.

The online application platform can face technical difficulties due to high volumes of applicants in the last few days before the deadline, it is the applicant's responsibility to apply in advance to avoid missing the deadline, and UNDEF will not grant extensions.