Before beginning to identify potential sponsors, take time for two steps which will save headaches later. First, conduct a thorough bibliographic search - avoid duplication of existing studies and to uncover information that may strengthen the proposal. Second, evaluate individual qualifications of proposed project personnel in relation to the requirements of the project. Be realistic in assessing whether there is the necessary experience, interest, and ability to carry out the project and compete for funding. It is equally important to assess how the project fits the institution's mission, size, and resources. Grants are made to institutions, not individuals. In most cases, sponsors require evidence of institutional commitment before considering project support.
Developing a project outline
What really needs to be done? What significant need(s) will the project meet? What services need to be delivered to whom, or what gaps exist in the knowledge base of this field? Thinking critically about these questions allows definition of the problem to be addressed. The problem must be both significant and manageable. Potential sponsors must be convinced not only that a problem is important enough to deserve attention but also that some measurable impact on the problem is possible.
Set an overall goal for the project by delineating what will be accomplished. Think about what impact the project will have on the problem. What caused the problem, or what factors contribute to it, and how can these factors be modified to alleviate the problem? What specific measurable changes could be made? The answers allow for development of a set of project objectives – a statement of precise outcomes that can be measured to determine actual accomplishments.
What specific activities will meet the objectives set? How can they be conducted? For a research proposal, the appropriate methodology must be selected and a clear rationale for its adoption established. For a service or demonstration project, think about the number and types of people who would be served and who would provide the specific service components.
Before beginning a budget, read the Sponsor guidelines to determine what costs are allowable. Estimate the personnel requirements of the project. How many people with what types of qualifications would be needed to carry out the project? What space, equipment, and travel resources would be needed to adequately carry out the project objectives? How much time is necessary to complete the project activities? After answering these questions, assess the dollar value of each of the items mentioned to get a fairly accurate estimate of the financial requirement of the project. Although many departments have budget administrators who can assist with internal budget development, the PI is responsible for accurately assessing budget expenditures and overhead. The budget must also include the University’s Facility & Administration Costs (also called “indirect” or “overhead” costs). The Office of Research Affairs can also assist in budget development.
Upon completing the project outline, choose a simple title that explains (to the extent possible) the project plan.
Review the overall plan to ensure that it is logical and consistent. Identify a mentor or collaborator who can review the plan and make suggestions.