Fundraising proposal writing – insights from Jill Ritchie

We’ve had the pleasure of reading leading fundraising strategist, Jill Ritchie’s latest book – Fundraising for non-profits . It has a wealth of information on relevant topics for Causes – established and new!

If you enjoy and find this content useful – you can buy the book by clicking here.

“Jill Ritchie has spent over three decades raising money for and advising causes as diverse as anti-apartheid organisations, environmental projects and the performing arts. She has raised over R2 billion for South African and SADC region. Combining a background in commerce and marketing as well as extensive experience as a writer, Jill consults on all aspects of fundraising, capital campaigns and resource mobilisation planning.”

We’d like to share an excerpt from the chapter on Fundraising proposal writing

““The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw

When it comes to approaching potential donors/partners it pays to prepare. Don’t just use one document to spam a whole bunch of recipients – chances are your email won’t even be opened, nevermind read by the person intended.

This chapter is aimed at unpacking fundraising proposals – but the basics can be used for any kind of document where an organisation approaches a company/ individual asking for assistance or collaboration.

Planning is key here. Jill Ritchie says: “Plan proposals well. Be sure which project is to be presented to a potential donor for consideration. Be specific in the request… Keep proposals as short as possible but don’t neglect important information.”

Jill Ritchie suggests that – once you know which project you are developing the proporsal for – you compile the documents you have in a specific order:

  • Budget
  • Proposal narrative
  • Proposal cover or title page
  • Enclosures or appendices
  • Index or table of contents (optional)
  • Covering letter

Let’s look at some of these points a little closer.

The budget

Always work backwards from the project budget. Be clear on exactly how much money is required and what it will be spent on.

The project budget will instantly determine the credibility of an organisation in the mind of the potential donor. It shows how much will be spent, how much has been raised towards a project, how much the organisation does for itself by way of events and income generation and how the figure being requested was arrived at. Above all, budgets show transparency. An organisation that lays open for a potential funder its financial plans, immediately appears not to have things to hide. Budgets must be factual and all figures must be provable. If requesting money for the purchase of a specific item, enclose a recent quotation from potential suppliers.

A budget (whether for a project or the organisational budget) is a ‘plan of action’. It represents the organisation’s guideline for the coming year, expressed in monetary terms. This means that an NPO has to have specific objectives before it can prepare a budget. Most donors feel that if an NPO that does not know where it is going, it does not deserve funding. If co-funding is secured, show this in the budget – it will impress potential donors.”

“The first step when receiving a budget is to think like a donor.

  • Is there an expense that could be avoided through a donation-in-kind? If so, set about finding the item or service at no charge.
  • Once you are happy that the budget will withstand scrutiny, analyse the potential donor pool.
  • Which companies or trusts have set the precedent of giving to similar projects?
  • Read annual reports and look at websites of other NPOs in similar fields of endeavour.
  • Set up Google alerts to highlight potential funding opportunities in the same geographical area or within the sector of your work.
  • Companies too produce reports on the work of their social upliftment support. Visit their websites for details of their corporate social investment grant-making criteria.
  • Always remember that it is shareholders’ money that companies give away.
  • Projects appeal to donors when they can show that they increase unskilled unemployed people’s access to skills, knowledge and technology as well as socio-economic opportunities. This creates exciting funding opportunities for projects that address social needs while also focusing on a specific crisis and can thereby bring donors on board whose stated interests are different to the objectives of your projects as a ‘fit’ might be found.
  • Plan whom you intend to approach and for how much.
  • Donors will ask where you intend to find the balance of funds required, should they fund a part of the budget. What will you tell them?


” Find the layout or template that works best for you to present, in writing, an introduction of the organisation, an explanation of the problem or need, and the organisation’s solution – the project. It is also strongly advised to include an explanation of how the success (or otherwise) of the project – of whether the problem has been addressed in line with what the proposal claimed would beachieved, will be monitored and evaluated.

The following is a suggested format for a basic funding proposal:

  • Background information
  • The need or problem statement
  • Description of project
  • Monitoring, evaluation and reporting
  • Sustainability

Title page / proposal cover

“Title page or proposal cover is one page and should be on the NPO’s letterhead and state the title of the project. It is an excellent opportunity to provide shock statistics, a sentence from the mission statement or a quote from a respected authority in the field or a high profile patron. A meaningful photograph or two can also be powerful on a proposal cover.”


“An index, or table of contents, is optional and advisable should the proposal become lengthy, such as when preparing one for foreign donors.”

The covering letter

“The letter accompanying the pack or of proposal documents should be on the organisation’s letterhead. Ensure that it contains all the correct details such as the postal address, email, website and telephone numbers. Also make sure of all the information on the potential funder: the contact person’s name and title, correctly spelt, and an accurate address. The covering letter should ideally not be more than a page or two. It should be polite, well written and concisely summarise the rest of the document. This is the reader’s first impression. Don’t demand. Don’t beg. It is the document in which you ask for money and is usually the only one written in the first person (‘I’, ‘we’). It also summarises the pack of documents.”

Enclosures / appendices

“Items enclosed with or attached tothe proposal depend on each organisation and specifically on what each donor requires or stipulates. The following could be relevant:

  • An organisational details sheet with board or committee members’ names and brief CVs – one page!
  • Brochure/pamphlet
  • Staff qualifications/experience – very briefly – one page
  • Letters of endorsement – maximum of two
  • Letters of requests from target community – one to three
  • Quotations for capital items
  • Copy of NPO Certificate or PBO status information if not part of your letterhead
  • Photographs – not too many (It is better to provide pictures as an attachment rather than pepper them within the body of a proposal, thus lengthening it.)”


  • “Funding proposals are generally written in the third person – ‘the organisation’ rather than ‘we’.
  • Does the organisation have an up-to-date generic proposal for each project? If not, develop them – ASAP.
  • Identifying possible donations in kind.
  • Study projects’ budgets and list possible items or services that might be obtained as donations in kind.
  • Seek suppliers to approach for these.

Identify projects’ USP’s

  • Think of what is special, unique or different about each project.
  • Can you clearly identify the unique selling point/s per project?
  • If not, are there any? Establish whether they have been ignored to date. If so, how can you present them in your proposals to excite potential donor partners?

Tips on making written proposals more reader friendly

  • Edit, edit and re-edit.
  • Try to reduce the number of words – one can often shorten a proposal by a third or a half and not lose any significance or impact.
  • Avoid the overuse of adverbs and adjectives. These can be powerful if used occasionally.
  • Break up lengthy paragraphs and give them headings.
  • Use text boxes to illustrate a vital issue.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Ensure that the proposal does not contain any lengthy sentences.

We hope you enjoyed this bit from Jill Ritchie’s latest book – Fundraising for non-profits.

If you’d like to order the book – you can do so here:

Our friends at Papillon have got some great resources, we thought we’d share……

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