Proposal Development

Before You Begin Writing…

Developing Proposal Content

As your project takes shape, you should consider the key questions that funders typically ask when they review a proposal:

For Academic Research Projects–

  • What is the academic significance or the intellectual merit of this project?
  • Where is this project situated in relation to existing scholarship?
  • What is the timeline for the completion of this project?
  • Does the project have an established workplan and is the timeline for completion feasible?
  • What will be the impact of the work on the discipline or the field, at large?

For Other Types of Special Projects–

  • What need will this project address? Is it solving a problem or providing a key program/service?
  • Why is this organization the best funder to support this particular project? Do we have a shared goal?
  • What tangible or intangible results do you propose to achieve?
  • What are the concrete steps that you will take to achieve your goal?
  • How will you evaluate your work and measure your success?
  • How will you share those successes with the public or the target community?

Creating a Budget

Proposal budgets can vary widely from project to project; however, your budget should act as a solid framework upon which to build your work.  Check the funder’s guidelines carefully to see what types of charges they will allow, as sometimes an organization’s restrictions can be surprising!  Be sure that your proposed budget categories are clear and sufficiently descriptive.  At the end of the grant, most funders will ask for a financial report that details the project spending directly in relationship to the original budget, so you will want to use your original budget as a road map to guide you while you perform your project activities.

Budget Tips–

  • Proposals that include funding for student research assistants during the summer should include the current cost of room and board for those students.
  • All salary and stipend payments must be accompanied by a charge for fringe benefits.  Human Resources establishes the college’s current fringe benefit rates.
  • All proposals to organizations that allow indirect costs should include a line-item charge for indirect expenses in the project budget.  For all grants after July 1, 2012, the indirect cost rate at Williams is 62.5% of direct salary and wages (not including fringe benefits).  This rate will remain constant until 06/30/2015, after which time, it is subject to change.  Please check back for the most current information.
  • Indirect costs (sometimes called “overhead”) are expenses that are not specifically defined as part of your project activities, but which are necessary for the operation of the college and enable your project to occur.  For example, utilities and maintenance expenses are common indirect costs.
  • Typically, government agencies will support indirect costs. In some cases, private funders are willing pay all or a certain percentage of indirect costs (for example 10%), and in other cases, indirect costs are explicitly prohibited by private funders.  Please refer to the organization’s specific proposal guidelines for more information.


Before You Submit…


Any proposal that commits the college to something beyond the granted resources (for example, matching funds, summer students, physical facilities and space, employees, etc.) or creates any kind of intangible liability (for example, reputational risk, human or animal subjects research, etc.)  MUST be discussed with Associate Provost Chris Winters prior to submission.

In most cases, it is advisable to work in conjunction with CFR and Chris Winters at the very beginning of the proposal process to discuss requirements and timelines.

Before the final submission to the funder, proposals ideally undergo two levels of review: individual and institutional.


The best proposals usually go through multiple iterations to streamline their content and strengthen the impact of their ideas.  While you are developing your project, you may want to take advantage of our digital resource archive within Glow that is filled with materials to help you prepare a high-quality proposal. The archive is automatically accessible to all faculty members after logging into Glow under the “Faculty Funding Resources” course.  “Faculty Funding Resources” contains sample proposals, as well as documents suggesting strategy for constructing a good argument.

Moreover, proposals often request details like the college’s official name and address, tax ID number, etc. We have compiled a selection of institutional information here for easy reference.

When you are satisfied with your draft, we recommend that you share your materials with others for review and seek feedback from colleagues in your discipline with previous grant experience, Bridget Wiffin, Assistant Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations, and/or from the college’s director of writing programs, Stephanie Dunson.


After a proposal has received a thorough informal review, it may also require further approval by the college in the Office of the Provost or the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations.  Early in the process, you should have discussed the requirements of your particular proposal with staff from these offices.  Typically, the associate provost will review the proposal for various obligations, including any matching funds or compliance requirements.  The associate provost is the official institutional signatory for all state and federal grant applications. For private foundation applications, the signatory may vary, so please consult the funder’s guidelines for more information.

If your proposal needs to be sent to the provost’s office, please allow sufficient time for review and communication by submitting it to the associate provost at least three business days in advance of the proposal’s mailing deadline.  We recommend allowing for as much review time as possible, especially for federal grant applications which commonly experience technological setbacks during the online proposal submission process.

Before submitting your proposal for review, please read the college’s official policies and federal reporting requirements to ensure that you are aware of your obligations and acting in compliance with all stated guidelines.


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