Majors & Work" Chapters:
There also are three related web chapters or pages:
Leading Writing Groups
See also "How I Learned to Write
Grant Proposals" immediately below.
How I Learned to Write Proposals
I remember the first time I helped make a successful major professional
grant proposal. I
was living in Little Falls, Minnesota, a town of 8,000. I was a freelance
writer at the time, writing for magazines, and already involved in small
proposal writing: two or three times a month I would write a one-two page
proposal to a magazine editor suggesting an article I could write for him or
However, I had never written a successful proposal for a big cash grant. I
decided to read more on how to write proposals and look at some sample proposals
for money. My chance to help write a proposal for a cash grant came much
sooner than I expected. I ran into Sister Cecelia, a nun with her Ph.D. at
the convent in Little Falls, when she and I were shopping at the food
co-op. She told me she was thinking of sending a grant proposal to the
National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a big federal-government foundation in
Washington, D.C. She wanted to start a music program for children.
But, she said, getting a grant from the NEA wasn't easy. All she wanted
was the minimum amount you could ask for, which was $10,000. But, she
said, she had no idea how to do it, and she was thinking of giving up on
Well, I told her, I had been studying how to write grant proposals, and I would
be glad to help her. She agreed, and we got together a couple of times to
go over the materials sent by the NEA. She wrote an initial draft, and I
made a number of suggestions for how she could rewrite some parts, delete some,
and add to others. After a few more drafts, she felt we had it as right as
we could. She sent it in. Several months later, she called and said
that to her surprise and delight, the NEA actually had decided to award the
$10,000 to her program. And, she said, the competition had indeed been
very stiff: her proposed music program was one of the very few throughout the
whole country at that funding level to be accepted. She asked me what she
could pay me for my help. I insisted that I needed nothing. She
offered me a night out for dinner, which I gladly accepted.
Even though I didn't take any pay from her, my study
and my practice with Sister Cecelia paid off well later on. I went on to
successfully propose grants for more money than Sister Cecelia requested.
In the largest, I received about $140,000 in cash and $40,000 worth of slightly
used computers for the English department in which I worked. Receiving
that grant also gave me a bigger raise that year than most of my colleagues
got--my supervisor had been very impressed by my work on the grant.
So, the obvious lesson here is that learning to write good proposals pays
off. The less obvious moral of this story is that writing proposals also
can be a lot of fun--even with the hard work and research they often
require. The reason for the fun part of it is that you get to change
something, to make something new or better. In other words, you get to
make a difference--in your workplace, in people's quality of living, or in your
own work life. This is, after all, how all workplaces, jobs, and
businesses are created--through a series of proposals, formal or informal, that
build upon each other. Each one of them starts in the mind of someone who
has a good idea and only needs to find a way to propose it.
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