Monthly Archives: October 2012

Proposal management

At Arizona State University, the proposal manager is responsible for the preparation of the proposal (format, font, page length), compliance with the announcement requirements, all scheduled reviews of the content, adherence to the principal investigator’s vision, assignment of tasks (writing, editing, layout, and others as needed) and the proposal’s scheduled completion. They are a facilitator of information and coordinator of events and people for a successful proposal. The proposal manager works within a team: working closely with the research administrator and project manager.

The Association for Proposal Management Professionals ( is the professional association for proposal managers. APMP has over 4,000 members, with several chapters globally. Along with an annual national conference, chapters hold regular events throughout the year for professional development and networking. The Southern California APMP chapter held their annual training day on October 26, 2012. The event featured leaders in the field of proposal management:

  • B.J. Lownie of Strategic Proposals pushed attendees to become proposal champions.
  • Stan Balfour of Shipley Associates emphasized capture management as an integral part of success rates.
  • Jim Franklin described mind mapping and integrating the approach with proposal development.
  • Mike Parkinson of 24 Hour Company provided highlights from his two day training on proposal graphics.
  • Amy McGeady of Privia outlined how successful proposal managers and proposal leaders share traits.

Proposal management is a relatively “new” professional field, but it is filled with people who have been working for decades on bids, proposals, and contracts. The professional organization provides a framework for best practice so that this knowledge can be harness, distributed, and used by everyone involved in developing proposals.


MIT Adopts a Quiet Global Strategy

In addition to the hundreds—no, thousands—of faculty research collaborations around the globe, the  university over the past five years has once more engaged in ambitious efforts to create new, independent institutions, this time in Abu Dhabi, Russia, and Singapore. Other such projects, in Asia and Latin America, are also on the table, says MIT’s freshly inaugurated president, L. Rafael Reif.

Read more: cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Letters by the Letter

If the sponsor allows you to include a document that furthers your argument, you take advantage of the opportunity and submit something that is compelling, explanatory, and provides additional information. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Letters (of commitment, collaboration, and support) are proposal real estate that you should use to your advantage. However, there may be risks associated with letters as well. The PI or proposal team should discuss and determine the cost and benefits associated with securing letters.

Reasons for securing letters may include, but are not limited to: to explicitly identify partnerships, mitigate or diminish a perceived risk in the approach or team, provide a competitive edge, provide concrete evidence of support (e.g., cost share), improve teaming agreements, and sponsor requirements.

Reasons for not securing letters may include, but are not limited to: space limitations, compliance, exposure of a perceived or real risk in the approach or team.

The content of  letters can be drafted concurrent to identification of those providing the letters. Letters of support or collaboration should be requested early. There is a risk of requesting too early and then rescinding the request, so care should be taken when negotiating with your partners. And, you want to make sure that the content of the letter doesn’t change once it’s sent to the letter provider. For example, your proposal title should not change between when you send the letter and submission of the proposal.
Template letters should provide a structure that is easily followed.  The more context you can provide the signee, the better. If they feel the need to rewrite it, chances are high that it will be a spectacular letter.
Other tips when drafting letters:
  • Letters must adhere to the sponsor and funding announcement requirements (i.e., margins, layout, and content).
  • Letters should have a consistent voice; written in the first person active voice whenever possible, e.g., “I believe that this proposal team represents the exceptional quality of faculty found within the School of Life Sciences.”
  • The letter should reference the project, proposal, white paper, PI, or team regularly.
  • Reference the mission, values, or goals of the organization that will provide the letter, as it relates to the proposed project.

Look for an upcoming post on organizing the content of your letter!

ASU Faculty Member Wins NSF SEES Fellowship Award

Ted Bohn has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) Fellowship award. These awards are made to promising early-career researchers whose work takes a systems approach to issues of sustainability. Twenty awards were made this round.

Read more…

The Importance of Page Design

First and foremost, proposals must conform to the sponsor’s requirements regarding formatting and organization. Once addressed, page design describes how information is laid out on each page. It involves the nuances of white space, reader fatigue, and persuasion.

Academic researchers often have a visceral negative reaction to including graphics in proposals. Reasons run the gamut; graphics are often either not necessary to convey meaning or are too ostentatious. And, I agree, it is a delicate balance between providing a concise information heavy graphic and squandering the reviewer’s time.

The inclusion, style, and frequency of graphics and is determined largely by the sponsor’s expectation and the principal investigator’s style (previous experience). A full page color brochure ad is not appropriate when responding to the National Science Foundation. A text heavy, full justified, single spaced methods section is not appropriate when approaching a foundation. In the same breath, convincing a faculty member who has 20+ successful years of funding through the NIH to include a photograph of the laboratory to show the diversity of team and projects may not be a useful pursuit.

Ultimately, page design should be used to your advantage, to persuade the reader into seeing how wonderful your proposed work is. To that end, here are some tips I use when considering page design:

  • Graphics should condense text or replace text.
  • Use text boxes for figures to your advantage; make them strong statements that promote your thesis.
  • Have one graphic element per page.
  • Use floating text boxes sparingly, but load them with information that cannot be integrated well into the narrative (facts, figures, testimonials).
  • Use left justified text, so that the reader can use visual cues as they make their way down the page.
  • Research changes from year to year on san serif or serif font, so I no longer have a recommendation.
  • Always check your figures in black and white, printed, and copied (electronic submission is becoming the norm, but reviewers may print/copy proposals).
  • Graphic elements should be either line or cartoon or photo, but rarely a combination of those.
  • Always ask yourself if the proposal “real estate” that you trade for a graphic element is worth it.
  • Have two people review your graphic without the figure or legend and tell you what it means to them (this will help you work on your messaging).

Do you have any rules that you follow for page design?