Key Takeaways

  • When submitting a grant proposal, a clearly defined management process and plan can help guide the proposal team to a competitive, on-time submission.

  • A proposal management plan—essentially a "road map"—documents the proposal team roles, responsibilities, tasks, schedules, and deadlines and guides the proposal team.

  • When setting the internal deadline for complete proposal submission, allow several days prior to the submission deadline to ensure time for internal reviews, approvals, and production.

When an ideal grant opportunity comes along, you can up your chances for a successful proposal submission by putting a well-thought process and plan in place.

Why have a proposal management process? 

You’ve read the funding announcement for a grant opportunity that aligns perfectly with your organization’s programmatic goals and objectives (e.g., Notice of Funding Opportunity/NOFO, Request for Application/RFA, Request for Proposal/RFP, etc.). In fact, there’s a program concept that you “shelved” for a while due to lack of funds and resources to implement it. This funding opportunity is exciting, but you have 6 weeks to pull together a complex and yet competitive proposal by the submission deadline.

The proposal requirements include a proposal or project narrative, with five required sections to complete, and 10 required attachments in addition including:

  • Key project staff bio sketches;
  • Project workplan and timeline;
  • Logic model;
  • Project organizational chart;
  • Budget narrative, and; 
  • Letters of commitment from key strategic partners

To meet the requirements, you’ll have to rely upon the skills and expertise of many members of your organization, including: folks in your finance department to help pull together your budget; researcher(s) to document a compelling story of unmet need that your program will address; program managers to design the program methodology and approach; and more. How will you successfully collaborate with your team to pull together all of the required documents and program narrative before the submission deadline?

A proposal management process and plan can help by providing your team a clearly defined process and timeline that will guide you to success.

What is a proposal manager’s role?

Often in small to mid-size not-for-profit organizations, lead grant writers will also serve as proposal managers, affectionately known as “cat herders,” shepherding the process of proposal development for on-time submission of grant applications.

Starting with the end in mind, a proposal manager will develop a proposal management plan, essentially a “road map,” guiding the proposal team through the timely development of required documents and/or sections of documents that are required for the full application. The international consulting firm, Shipley Associates, describes the “Proposal Management Plan” as a process that “. . . documents the roles, responsibilities, tasks, schedules, and deadlines before contributors start developing proposal sections, volumes, and ultimately the complete proposal.”1

What are proposal management plan considerations? 

In addition to thinking through what tasks can be run simultaneously and what tasks have to be performed sequentially (after another task or series of tasks have been performed), there are several considerations that help inform the proposal management plan, timeline, and process:

  • External deadlines/dates—Key dates in the funding opportunity announcement, such as Letter of Intent, Applicant Informational or Technical Assistance Webinar, Applicant/Bidder Questions (if applicable), Application Deadline (date and time and time zone)
  • Proposal team and roles—Subject matter expert content contributors, graphic artist for graphics, finance/budget development staff, proposal writer(s), etc.
  • Amount of time estimated to complete each task—Creating templates (project narrative, project workplan/timeline, logic model, staffing plan), research to develop “need statement,” etc.
  • Strategic Partners and/or Consultants—Define role(s) on project, secure documentation of commitment (Letters of Support, Letters of Commitment, Memoranda of Understanding, etc.)
  • Review/Approval timeline and process—Is final review/approval required for proposal, proposed budget, signature on key application forms, etc.
  • Final Production of proposal package—Converting documents to PDF, compiling documents into single package, etc.

How do you develop timelines and navigate holiday schedule interruptions? 

As an example of how the above considerations help inform the development of the proposal management plan, consider the following scenario:

Monday, May 30 is the kick-off date for when the team is starting their preparation, and the proposal submission deadline is 6 weeks away, Monday, July 11. In this scenario, imagine that:

  • The production manager on the proposal team needs 1 day to complete document conversions and compilation of the proposal into a singular PDF document for submission.
  • Prior to production, the executive leadership needs 2-3 days to review and approve the proposal prior to submission. 
  • The team generally allows for 1 day for final edits as directed by executive leadership.

By when do you need the entire “near final” documents completed? Using this scenario, the entire “near-final” document needs to be available no later than End of Day Monday, July 4 (at least 5 days prior to the submission deadline). But July 4 is a holiday – suggesting you need to complete the proposal by Monday, June 27.

In this same scenario, consider that the funder requires letters of commitment from each of your three strategic partnering organizations. The requirements of the letters of commitment are that the letters must be on organizational letterhead, dated, recent (applicable specifically to this funding opportunity), contain language specifying how the organization will partner with you on this proposed project (what their project role is, what resources will be leveraged for the project, etc.) and be signed by someone who has the authority to commit the organization to these responsibilities. If the letters take on average 2 weeks to receive, from date of your request and supplying the template, and your internal deadline for near-final application is June 27, perhaps the week of June 13 would serve as a good target date range for getting your request out to your partners.

How does the proposal management plan help the proposal management process? 

Once the proposal management plan (PMP) has been developed, it is ready for use to help manage the proposal development process. The proposal manager distributes the PMP at the kickoff meeting with the proposal team for their review and discussion to ensure everyone has clarity about their respective proposal roles and expectations regarding deliverables and interim timelines.

The proposal manager keeps the PMP current, with regular status updates from team members with respect to progress and/or completion status on assigned tasks, and manages the process according to the plan. The proposal manager references the updated PMP during regular meetings and has discussions with team members if any task is at risk for not meeting the interim deadline(s) so they can address and resolve the barrier(s) that might place the task, and thus the proposal, at risk. Using this process—managing the proposal development process with the end in mind,—the proposal is developed and submitted on time.

(For more information, tips and resources, check out the Association of Proposal Management Professionals and the Grant Professionals Association.)

This project was supported, in part by grant number 90CSSG0048 from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.


1. Shipley Associates. Proposal Management Plan. Found on the internet at