Are You Writing
Proposals in “Crisis Mode”?

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon.
The mail is picked up from your office at 4:30.
A proposal to a foundation must be mailed today.
Your computer screen is blank.

Does this sound familiar?

We’ve all been there. And to be realistic, there are many legitimate reasons why you may have to write a proposal or a letter at the last moment. For example, you may have just heard back from the program officer of a foundation with pertinent information related to your request, or a new foundation may have just responded positively to your letter of inquiry and the proposal is due right away.

But ask yourself:

Are you writing every proposal at the last moment?


Is there anything you could have done to avoid operating in “crisis mode”?

Create a proposal schedule and give yourself an early deadline. Many of today’s donor software programs offer ways in which you can easily track proposal and report deadlines. However, you don’t need anything beyond Word or Excel to develop an adequate proposal schedule. You may want to include some basic information such as:

  • Name of Foundation/Donor
  • Deadline
  • Target Mail Date. (Give yourself some extra time, especially if you need to send the proposal via US mail.)
  • Ask Amount
  • Project or Program
  • Prior Year’s Gift
  • Notes / Requirements

Review the foundation’s guidelines in advance. Even if you can’t begin writing the text of the proposal, you may be able to work on some of the other requirements in advance. For example, does the foundation require the biographies of staff involved in the project or a report on the past year’s accomplishments? These elements can be prepared well in advance of the deadline. The added advantage is that you won’t have to gather this information at the last minute after you have written the proposal.

Review deadlines regularly (at least once a month). Deadlines have a way of sneaking up on us. Every fundraising office should establish a time each month-or even more frequently-to review its solicitation activities, including what proposals need to be written. 

Call program officers as early as possible. If you anticipate that you will have questions about the proposal, call the program officer several weeks or more before the proposal is due whenever possible. Remember, you are not the only grantee of the foundation, and the program officer may be delayed in returning your call.

Have standard materials handy. Why rush around trying to make a copy of your form 990? Instead, save valuable time by copying a stack of standard enclosures such as the IRS determination letter, audited financial statement, current year operating budget, Board of Directors list, and form 990.  Then, put them in one place in your office for easy access. You may want to keep large mailing envelopes and labels nearby as well.

Today’s Tip

The proposal schedule described above can be used for corporate or individual donors as well as foundations, especially if these donors typically give at the same time each year.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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