Developing a Proposal Concept


Simply having a good idea isn't enough to receive funding.  Good ideas become fundable once you have developed them into a comprehensive proposal.  The trick is putting your idea onto paper. 

A concept paper can assist you in sculpting a comprehensive proposal.  Your concept paper is an outline of your project.  It provides the framework to guide discussions with potential partners, your Sponsored Programs Office, and funding agency program officers.

A concept paper should be brief (1-3 pages) and succinct.  Use strong, forceful language.  Sell your idea, highlight every important aspect of your idea and sell it to your potential reviewers.  A concept paper may include the following sections:


  • Describe the question, problem, or need that will be addressed.  Briefly note any evidence of this need (such as a statistic).
  • Identify how the project will address the need.
  • Identify how the project follows the mission/priorities of the funding agency.

Project description

  • What activities will take place?

o   For example, will you be developing curriculum, developing a research plan, or holding a training workshop?

  • How is your approach unique, inventive, and/or transformative?

o   Distinguish yourself and your method from the other proposals.  Justify why your proposal and your approach should receive funding instead of another method or approach.

  • Who will benefit?

o   This isn't only answering your research question.  Consider the project's potential effect upon students, curriculum, faculty, professional development, the institution's research environment, and society in general.  The broader impacts should be related to your sponsoring agency's goals and mission.

Needs Statement

  • What is the problem you are proposing to solve or what caused you to prepare the proposal.
  • Deal with the issue you are trying to solve and prove your problem is a valid problem.


  • Are specific, measurable outcomes of the program.  Think SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. 
  • Should describe your methods, be descriptive, and tell the activities that will take place in order to achieve the desired results or outcomes.
  • What do you hope to achieve?
  • What are your research questions?


  • Make a general list of what you will require to carry out the project and, if possible, expected expenses.

o   Sponsored Programs can assist you in researching what your needs may be and how to assign appropriate figures to those needs.

  • Consider the following expenditure categories:

o   Personnel

o   Equipment (items greater than $5,000)

o   Supplies (items less than $5,000)

o   Travel

o   Consultants or subcontractors

o   Participant Support (costs paid to participants or trainees for participation in training projects)

o   Physical space