The story of the Pacific is one of adaptation. For thousands of years the people of the Islands have been adapting to new environmental conditions and thriving, managing their environments sustainably, and developing community-rooted systems for overcoming the periodic hard times stemming from typhoons and severe storms, droughts, and other environmental challenges. Now the environmental conditions that nurture and sustain Pacific peoples are shifting as a result of global warming and climate change
While local communities are not responsible for these changes, they must find ways to adapt to them. In this context, community cohesiveness and social capital are important assets. People of the Pacific understand the challenges they face as a result of these changing conditions and are adept at harnessing local wisdom to overcome them.
In some cases, external assistance is needed to empower and enable communities in the struggle against climate change. Fortunately, there are a number of small grants programs that provide financial support to communities to implement projects that enhance resilience and improve adaptive capacity. Unfortunately, the need for these resources far outweighs the support that is available, and so grants tend to be competitive. However, well-designed adaptation projects that draw upon the strengths of communities have a good chance of finding support.
The need for a small grants guide
The inspiration for this guidebook comes from the experiences of many different stakeholders in developing small grants project proposals in the Pacific region. Although there are many opportunities for financing available, until now there has been little if any guidance on how to develop a good project proposal. Funders seem to assume that community organizations know how to develop good projects that are consistent with the funders’ expectations, but the truth is that most people find the idea of developing a project proposal intimidating. This is because no one is ever really taught how to develop a project proposal; in most cases it is a case of learn-by-experience.
Many organizations that have been successful in securing external financing for projects find that developing successful proposals becomes easier over time. But what about organizations and community groups that have little experience in developing projects? For them there is a steep learning curve, and until now, few accessible, user-friendly resources have been available.
Developing project proposals is a unique skill set. It is a technical process that requires research and a careful structuring of data and information to support a specific set of activities that will make a positive change in the community. However, as difficult as designing a project might seem to you, the truth is that you probably already have most of the information and know-how that you need to develop a successful project proposal. The trick is to put together this information and know-how in a way that demonstrates to a funding organization that your plan for promoting positive change in your community is practical and worth their investment.
This guide is designed to guide you through the process of compiling your information and know-how into a successful small grants proposal. Although this guide focuses primarily on climate change adaptation projects, much of it is applicable to other types of projects as well. The key difference between climate change adaptation projects and regular development projects is that adaptation projects focus on problems that are primarily driven by climate change, whereas other projects focus more on traditional development or conservation issues.
How to use the guide
Each of the guide’s chapters focuses on one aspect of developing a proposal. For the most part you can use the chapters sequentially, as indicated in the figure below. The exception is Chapter 4, which covers gender equity, disability, and social inclusion (GEDSI) considerations. GEDSI considerations should be part of the foundation supporting your project, and so these considerations need to be mainstreamed through every step of developing your proposal from the very beginning when you are first considering the problem you want to address with your project. Throughout the guidebook, you will see example questions and criteria that have been taken from actual small grants applications and evaluation forms. The guidebook is written to help you address these kinds of questions, which are very likely similar to the questions that you will need to address in your own proposal.
We recommend that you read through the entire guide before starting the process of developing your proposal. Before you begin, here are some tips that will help you develop a successful proposal:
- Read the directions the funder provides in the request for proposals (RFP) fully and completely, and make notes. In a surprising number of cases, projects are rejected because they do not follow the funder’s instructions. This includes the eligibility criteria, the types of projects being funded, and the format of the application.
- Make sure that your project addresses the evaluation criteria and the goals of the funder. These are the things the funder considers when “grading” your proposal. In many cases, the evaluation criteria include a scoring system or points. Make sure that your proposal meets all the requirements to earn the maximum number of points possible.
- Keep your information organized. Figure out a system that works for you for organizing the background research, data, and information you are using to support your project proposal. Also, make sure that you always keep track of the most up-to-date version of your working proposal, and keep multiple backups in different places. If you are collaborating with others, it is important to control the inputs and make sure that you do not experience “version confusion”. Using cloud-based systems (e.g., Google Docs) is a very efficient way to collaborate on documents, but it requires reliable internet connectivity.
- Plan ahead and give yourself time. It is a good idea to create time-bound targets for your team and allow plenty of time for proof-reading and revision. If you are requesting support from external organizations or experts, give them plenty of time to review your proposal and provide feedback, and give yourself time to respond meaningfully to their feedback and to incorporate it into your proposal draft. Also make sure that you can easily submit your proposal by the deadline. In most cases, deadlines are not flexible. This is to help ensure that the process is fair to everyone competing for grants. Even if you know the person responsible for tracking the grant proposals, do not expect any special treatment.
- Plan for the unexpected. Remember that computer crashes, power outages, internet failures, and other technical problems always seem to happen at the worst time possible, so give yourself plenty of time in case such an event happens. Finish the final draft of your proposal ahead of the deadline.
- Developing effective project proposals takes a lot of work. To the extent possible, budget staff time to developing the proposal, and make sure your team can concentrate fully on putting the proposal together and are not distracted by other duties or deadlines.
- Designing a good project proposal requires multiple perspectives on the problem you are trying to address. This means that the process of developing the project should be participatory and should include a wide range of stakeholders. It is always a good idea to get “fresh eyes” to go through project proposals even if you think you have everything figured out. An outside reviewer can help point out logical errors, invalid assumptions, and other weaknesses.
- Include fieldwork and consultations in your design process. Good projects are not born in an office or conference room.
- Identify the right problem before you decide on what the project is going to do.
- Gather your data and information before you start filling out the application form.
- Remember that projects should complement other initiatives in your community and be consistent with your community’s development plans and aspirations.
- Make sure that figures, legends, tables, and other visual aides are legible in your final proposal.
- Remember the real purpose of your project proposal: to improve the resilience and adaptive capacity in your community, not to secure money. The money you secure with the grant is just a means for achieving this goal. Thus, before preparing your proposal, take some time to reflect on the purpose of applying for the grant. Consider whose lives will be improved and how you can create a positive impact in the community.
This guidebook encourages you to take a deliberative approach to developing your project. This means that the majority of your time should be spent on identifying an appropriate problem to address in your project and then developing a rigorous evidence-based explanation of the direct and indirect causes of the problem. This makes designing a project much easier. So in summary, approximately 80% of your time and effort should be spent on research, participatory consultations, testing your assumptions, and validation, and 20% should be spent on designing what the project is actually going to do.