Conquering the Blank Page: Proposal Writing Tips

by Clarke Schwabe

So, you’re writing a proposal—you’ve had multiple meetings with the prospect, you’ve established a rapport, you know what they’re interested in, and they know what UGA can do to help their gift make a significant impact. Great!

Now, you’re staring at a blank page. And the longer you stare at it, the bigger it seems. “Where do I start? How do I start? How do I condense the weeks/months/years I’ve been working on this into a single document?”

Maybe you’re one of those natural born authors and you feel no fear in looking at that blank page, but for the rest of us, here are a few tips for turning that blank page into a finished proposal.

Start from the middle

A lot of times, we become preoccupied with the opening of a document. We think, “This has really got to grab them, it’s got to sum up everything, it’s got to capture the essence of the gift in one, fell swoop.” That kind of thinking right out of the gate can paralyze a writer.

But, consider what informs that magical opening you’re hoping for: the middle pages. The meat of your document is what UGA will do with the prospect’s gift, and if you’re at the proposal-writing stage, then you already know what these are.

So, start there: writing out the middle portions, the nuts and bolts of the proposal, might not seem as creatively-rich as writing your intro, but those portions are what everything else is built upon. What’s more, it’s easier than weaving your brilliant introductory line, and many times the simple act of getting something, anything, on the page can begin turning the gears you’ll need to write everything else.

Find the thread

No matter how many parts there are to your proposal, something unifies them. Your prospect might want a scholarship here, a professorship there, and program support somewhere else, but each of those desires is connected, and identifying how they’re connected can go a long way in sealing the deal.

Think back on all the communication you’ve had with the prospect and drill down—what motivates them to give, to give to UGA and, finally, to give to these particular areas? You don’t necessarily have to answer each question, and you don’t have to spell out that answer in your proposal. But if you can find an answer to any of those questions, then as you write, think about how that answer applies to each section you’re writing.

Finding that common thread helps to keep your proposal from turning into a UGA wish-list and instead personalizes it and places it in the context of the prospect’s story.

Tell a story

It’s a common adage, but people love stories and being told stories. So, tell the story of this gift.

How did it start? Why is this person giving it? What will it do? Who (not just how) will it help? How does this gift’s story (and to a certain extent, the prospect’s story) fit into the larger story of the University of Georgia?

This isn’t to say that you need to format your proposal as a story (“Once upon a time, there was a very generous Bulldog…”), but just keep that idea of a narrative in your mind as you write: “someone wanted to do something for a reason, so with UGA’s help they can do it, and it will help these people in these ways.”

Ask around

All fundraisers have been in this position, and they’ve all conquered the blank page in one way or another. At UGA, we have a large number of fundraisers and, collectively, an enormous amount of experience, so use that to your advantage.

Email people, set lunch meetings, make a phone call: not only will you find a variety of tactics on writing proposals, you’ll open communication channels that will be valuable in the future. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people far outside your area—you never know where you’ll find inspiration.

Use the Proposal Toolkit!

The Proposal Toolkit provides a variety of tools for the creation of proposals: from templates to pre-approved language to photography and more, all high-quality and all on-brand. The Toolkit was developed with feedback from fundraisers and is updated regularly throughout the year based on the needs of the division.

You can find the Proposal Toolkit under the Resources section of the DAR site. If you’ve got any questions about the Toolkit, contact me at ude.agu@ebawhcscc or 706-542-8386, and if you have feedback about ways to improve the Toolkit or new content you’d like to see there, please fill out the feedback form on the sidebar of the Proposal Toolkit page.