Do you have an exciting idea for a project? Can you envision exactly how it would come together, and all the good it would do for your community or organization? A project proposal is a way for you to share that vision with someone else.
Unless your project is very small, you’ll need buy-in and collaboration from others to make it happen. A proposal is your first step towards getting that support, whether you’re planning a food festival, a new hospital, or a corporate retreat.
Today, we’ll explain what a project proposal is and how to write a great one. Let’s get started!
What is a project proposal?
A project proposal is a document that outlines everything your proposed project is going to accomplish. It’s the first stage of the project lifecycle, and it provides a foundation for all the planning and management to follow.
Your proposal tells the reader what’s going to get done, how you’ll put it into action, and what outcomes you expect. But more than that, a proposal is about convincing others to help you make your project a reality.
Often, a proposal is written to request funding, or other kinds of support, that you need to get your project off the ground. The goal is to prove to others — usually stakeholders or potential partners — why your project is a good idea, and why they should get on board.
Project proposal vs. project brief vs. project charter
At first glance, these terms may seem interchangeable. They all describe your project at length and are used to bring people up to speed on what the project’s about, what the scope is, and what the final deliverables are. But there are some key differences between them, namely who they’re for, what they accomplish, and how detailed they are.
A project proposal is a detailed document that outlines a project’s objectives, scope, approach, and expected outcomes. Its audience is someone with the power to approve the project, and its purpose is to give that person all the information they need to make a decision. That can be an external client or an internal stakeholder.
A project brief is a shorter document — usually a page or two — that’s more of an overview of the project’s objectives, its scope, and high-level requirements. Depending on how your organization does things, this can come before a proposal, after, or even simultaneously. The important difference is a brief is typically used to inform internal collaborators or stakeholders who’ll either work on the project or need to be aware of it.
A project charter serves a very different purpose than both a brief and a proposal. It’s a fundamental document that codifies your project and its objectives. It serves as a reference point at every stage of your project, helping to prevent scope creep and other issues. In some organizations, a charter is mandatory for formalizing a project.
Types of project proposals
There are many different situations when you might need to write a project proposal, each requiring a different approach.
Here are four common types of project proposals.
Solicited project proposal
A solicited project proposal would be submitted in response to a formal Request for Proposals (RFP).
RFPs are a common practice among governmental and other public-sector organizations, to encourage healthy, unbiased competition, and make sure they’re getting the best possible rate.
Usually, responding to an RFP means following specific content and formatting guidelines. These could be the difference between getting chosen or disqualified.
Example: A corporation needs a new ad campaign for a new product. They put out an RFP to find a marketing agency that’ll suit their needs.
Unsolicited project proposal
This is a proposal sent to a person, or organization, that you have no prior relationship with. It’s similar to a cold call or email, because you’re reaching out to a cold lead.
These are the trickiest kind of proposals to write. An unsolicited proposal needs to be extra convincing, because you are truly starting from scratch with the reader.
Example: A marketing agency regularly sends out unsolicited project proposals to various corporations, advertising their services and hoping to get new business.
Informal project proposal
Not every proposal is a formal, official document. For example, if there’s a project you want to champion at the job you already have, you might just talk to your manager about it one-on-one, then follow up with a proposal sharing the details they requested.
To write an informal proposal, you likely won’t have to follow strict submission and formatting guidelines.
Example: A marketer in an agency finds an opportunity for a new campaign, and writes an informal project proposal for their superiors, hoping to kickstart a new project.
Supplementary, renewal, or continuation
You might also write a proposal to renew or continue a project that’s already underway. Or maybe during the project, you realize the scope has changed, and you need additional funding or resources to get things completed.
In this case, the proposal might have some report-like elements, sharing what’s been achieved to date.
Example: While working on a new ad campaign with a new client, a marketing agency realizes that a series of unexpected requests and changes have changed the scope of the project. So they create a supplementary project proposal
What to include in a project proposal
No matter what, your project proposal should include:
A description of your project
Relevant background information
Key outcomes and how you’ll measure them
A good project proposal should also be interesting to read. This isn’t a dry, quantitative business plan or earnings report — remember, you want to get your audience excited about the project, and interested in taking part!
Of course, the numbers and facts do matter. But a proposal is trying to sell the reader on your idea while providing the crucial information they’ll need to make an informed choice.
A proposal also must be written with your audience in mind. Your goal is to quickly communicate everything they need to know about the project — and why it’s an opportunity they should want to be part of.
What do they need to know about the project? What are they familiar with already?
For example, if you’re submitting an informal proposal to your manager, you wouldn’t include extensive background on your company, since they already know exactly what you do. But an unsolicited proposal to a potential partner would include extensive information about your firm, explaining exactly who you are and what you do.
5 sections for your project proposal
If you’re responding to an RFP that calls for different formatting, that comes first — always follow the application instructions carefully! Otherwise, you’ll want to try organizing your project proposal into these sections.
Open your proposal with a summary that brings together the most important points from each section. Tell a compelling story about your project that makes the reader want to get involved.
Even if your audience doesn’t read the rest of the report, the executive summary should give them all the important points.
Why are you proposing this project? Is it in response to a problem? How do you know there’s demand or interest? What experience and qualifications do you have?
The point of this section is to explain why the project’s needed, and why you’re the right person for the job.
Goals and objectives
What do you want to achieve with the project, and how will you measure success? What key objectives are you working towards?
This section should paint a picture of all the amazing things that will happen once your project gets off the ground.
Now’s the time to get specific. What exactly is included in your project?
Break it down into specific deliverables. This is also the place to include potential constraints and issues you’ll need to work around, and any exclusions the project doesn’t cover.
Timeline and project budget
This is the place for all those important logistics.
What are your key progress indicators (KPIs) and when do they need to happen by? What resources, financial and otherwise, will it take to get there?
4 tips for writing an effective project proposal
Research everything thoroughly
Before you sit down to write your project proposal, you should know just about everything there is to know about your project. Who’s on the project team? What’s your project budget? Project objectives? You’ll want to take some time to ask everyone involved for their contribution so you can be an expert on every aspect of your project.
Keep things simple
A well-written project proposal doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact it shouldn’t be. Meet every requirement in the most straightforward way you can. Don’t write a page when a paragraph will do, don’t try to use complex language, and just focus on making everything as clear as possible.
Aim for persuasion
Remember that a project proposal has one goal: getting approved. That means everything going into it has to somehow contribute to an overarching argument that your project is worth undertaking, no matter what resources are required. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share any potential project risks, but you should always be aiming to be persuasive.
Keep your audience in mind
When writing a project proposal, you’re writing specifically for the people who wield the power to get it approved. But not all project proposal audiences are the same, either. You’ll write very differently for the head of a department at your organization than you would for a client who leads a multi-national corporation.
Use a template
Whether you’re using a project management tool, a Word document, or even a spreadsheet, don’t start your project proposal from scratch if you don’t have to. Ask around to see if anyone on your team has a template you can use. Otherwise, use one from this post!
3 free project proposal templates
ProjectManager’s project proposal template for Word
There’s no simpler tool for your project proposal than Microsoft Word. This project proposal template will allow you to get started quickly without any extra tools.
Jotform’s project proposal template
Jotform is a simple suite of tools for building forms and managing signatures for digital documents. But it’ll also allow you to create project proposals in minutes with this template.
Project proposal template from Canva
Canva is an online tool that lets anyone whip up beautiful designs for just about anything with simple templates. You’ll find this, and more project proposal templates, on their website.
Writing project proposals can be a little nerve-wracking because they determine whether your project gets off the ground.
But as you can see, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Your proposal doesn’t need to be anything fancy. It just needs to be clear, concise, and compelling, so your amazing project idea can shine.