5. Proposal Design

Proposal writing is a critical function in an emergency to raise funds from private and institutional donors for the response, and to provide a clear design document that project managers can use to implement activities and report against. Emergencies require a very high number of proposals to be written within a short amount of time. Failure to meet proposal writing demands will limit CARE’s ability to raise funds to meet the demands of the response and can damage to CARE’s reputation with key donors.

1.1 CI roles and responsibilities for proposal writing

1.2 Role of the proposal writer


  • Ensure there is sufficient, experienced and dedicated proposal writing capacity in place to produce a large quantity of good quality proposals within very short time frames.
  • Understand that the proposal is an important project design, management and accountability tool, as well as a fundraising tool.
  • Coordinate effectively with other emergency team members, including assessment teams and support units to secure inputs to the proposal and budget.
  • Coordinate with the supporting CARE Member to seek guidance on donor requirements and the proposal submission processes.
  • Make efficient and effective use of the support available from the CARE Member
  • Together with the relevant CARE Member, manage donor relations carefully to make sure proposal requirements are clear and to present CARE’s project positively.
  • Align all proposals with the programme strategy to ensure funding is directed to highest priorities.
  • Circulate brief, general concept papers as quickly as possible to help with fundraising.
  • Use the correct donor formats for proposals (as well as needed annexes) and follow the instructions closely.
  • Follow good design principles to ensure the proposal represents an appropriate and quality intervention that is relevant to the humanitarian needs.
  • Clearly identify the needs for co-funding.
  • Ensure the proposal is well presented and demonstrates CARE’s capacity.
  • Prepare budgets, check for accuracy and ensure all necessary programme (implementation, monitoring and evaluation), support and administrative costs are included.
  • Ensure coherence between the different documents (budget, proposals and annexes).
  • Submit proposals on time  in coordination with the supporting CARE Member. Also, in accordance with both the Lead Member and supporting member, review and approve policies.
  • Track proposals using the project pipeline matrix so that information about their status and the overall pipeline is available.
  • Ensure that the Proposal Writer documents and files all critical information, and provides a handover to the implementation team


Proposals are key documents in CARE’s emergency response programmes. While the primary purpose of the proposal is to help secure funding for CARE’s interventions, it is important to understand that the proposal document has other critical functions and that proposals need to be of a good quality to serve all of these. The functions of the proposal are:

  • Fundraising– Proposals secure CARE’s funding. The proposal must convince the donor that the need that CARE has identified is important, and that CARE has the capacity and the right approach to address the needs and achieve good results, and to ensure accountability. A poor quality proposal, or a proposal that misses the submission deadline, may result in CARE missing out on important funding opportunities.
  • Design– The proposal documents the design of a project. Good quality outcomes depend on good quality project designs, and on a needs-based approach so the proposal must be more than just a sales pitch. The proposal must represent an appropriate design (activity and budget design) that will help CARE to have a positive impact on humanitarian needs as well as consider the longer-term implications of its interventions to support the recovery of the affected population (see section 7.2 for good design principles).
  • Implementation-The proposal serves as a key management tool for the implementation of projects. The proposal and budget should follow a clear logic, and provide adequate description of activities and expected outputs to help a project manager implement the project. It also assists with identifying staff required to carry out project activities. The expected outputs and outcomes must be clear and achievable.
  • Accountability-The proposal is the document that CARE will be held accountable against in terms of what CARE has delivered. The project manager will need to report against what CARE stated in the proposal, so it is critical that the content is feasible programmatically and financially, and achievable within the approved time frame.

The proposal development process requires good coordination within the CO team, between the CO and the supporting CARE International Member, and with the donor. This is important to ensure time is not wasted, the correct documents are submitted and urgent deadlines are not missed. This coordination should be led by the Proposal Writer.

For internal CO coordination, ensure:

  • The CO has the correct proposal and budget format.
  • The CO is aware of what is activities are eligible for the funding application including needs for co-funding.
  • The submission process and deadline are known.
  • The GO/NOGO process is respected
  • Ensure the design of the proposal has been agreed with the ACD Programme and is line with the overall response strategy.
  • The CO is clear about government requirements for project submission and implementation.
  • All team members are clear about what is required from them and when it is required, including
    • assessment and field team members-assessment data and project design inputs
    • logistics-inputs about how the logistics of the project will be managed, what is required in terms of logistics equipment, staff and costs (for example, warehousing, transport)
    • human resources-information on staffing costs (national and expatriate) including salary and benefits and positions
    • procurement-provide advice on the costs of items to be procured
    • administration-information about administrative support requirements to include in the budget
    • finance-budget and financial tracking requirements (exchange rate, inflation risk, …).

For coordination with the CARE International Member, ensure the following:

  • Key contact people in the CO and the CARE International Member are clear about liaison, including contact details and out-of-office hours arrangements
  • CO and the CARE Member agree on who will complete what parts of the proposal. Often, a CARE Member will be able to help the CO with parts of the proposal preparation during an emergency but will still require key inputs from the CO.
  • Agree on the review and submission process, including timetable and deadlines.

For coordination with the donor, ensure the following:

  • There is agreement with the relevant CI Member about who in the CO and in the CI Member is responsible for communicating with the donor and at what levels.
  • Agree at the CO level who the primary point of contact for the donor is.
  • Meetings with donors at the field level are arranged, and CARE is appropriately represented and able to present a good concept or proposal. Many donors will expect CARE senior staff to meet with their field representative to discuss or present the proposal.
  • Confirm instructions and guidance from the donor about the proposal and budget requirements, activities eligible for consideration, available funding amounts and deadlines for submission.

Additional guidelines for managing the proposal submission process are available in the Chapter on Donor contract management.

Proposals must be aligned with CARE’s emergency response programme strategy. For guidelines on programme strategy, see the Chapter on Programme Strategy . CARE’s strategy should set programme objectives, key interventions and overall fundraising targets. See Annex 8.3 Initial Appeal and Strategy Document.

In the early stages of an emergency, funding is unfortunately often accepted for activities that may be inappropriate or of a low priority if a clear strategy is not in place, or if there has not been a deliberate alignment of proposals with that strategy. This can lead to implementation problems or simply inefficient use of funding. It can also lead to under- or over-funding of a response if proposals are not tracked against the overall fundraising targets (see also the Chapter on Funds mobilisation).

To ensure proposals are aligned with the programme strategy:

  • share the initial appeal and strategy document with CARE Members as soon as possible
  • the ACD programme should clearly outline the funding priorities based on the strategy
  • the Proposal Writer should match funding priorities identified in the strategy with the available funding opportunities. See Annex 8.4 Potential Funding Targeting Matrix
  • proposals for activities that are not included in the strategy should not be submitted by the CO or CARE International Members unless specifically agreed with the ACD programme or Country Director/Team Leader
  • progress against fundraising targets should be tracked by key activities, to ensure that proposal development supports the fundraising development process and particular activities are not over- or under-funded (see Annex 8.5 Funding Matrix).

Initial project concept papers should be prepared and circulated via ERWG as quickly as possible. This allows CARE International Members to approach donors for potential interest. Generic concept papers, which can be used with a range of donors, are particularly useful for fundraisers to pitch CARE’s programme to donors, both private and institutional.

The first document shared should be the initial appeal and draft strategy document, followed by a basic project concept paper for the overall programme or project-specific concept papers (see the Chapter on Programme Strategy , and the Chapter on Funds mobilisation).

Some donors will require a concept paper to be submitted before inviting NGOs to submit a full proposal. In this case, there will usually be specific guidelines to follow, and advice from the CARE Member or donor should be sought about requirements. A format for a generic concept paper and sample concept papers are available at:

Annex 8.6 Concept Paper Format
Annex 8.7 Sample Concept Papers and Generic Proposals

7.1 Proposal formats

7.2 Tips for proposal writing

Detailed guidelines on budget preparation are available in the Finance Chapter. For contractual issues to consider at this stage, see also Chapter on Donor contract management.

Programme, finance and programme support staff needs to be involved in preparing budgets. Usually, the Proposal Writer will prepare the initial draft of the budget by entering the line items, with advice from the programme support staff about what support items will be required. The Finance Manager should assist with the costs, accounting and checking of the budget.

All budgets should be reviewed and approved by the CO Finance Manager before submission. A pre-submission review of the budget should ensure that items in the annexed budget checklist are covered and that the correct donor format has been used. The supporting CARE International Member should check that all required member-related costs (ICR/ADRET, monitoring, desk officer recoveries) are included.

8.1 Emergency response quick budget checklist

The Proposal Writer should manage and track the submission of all proposals.

The submission of proposals is subject to the review and approval policies of both the Lead Member and the supporting CARE International Member. Members have different approval requirements, so these should always be checked with the Lead Member and the submitting member before submission.

Proposals will usually be formally submitted by the CARE Member rather than the CO, except where there is no relevant CARE Member for a donor. However, in many cases, proposals will need to be submitted by the CARE Member to the donor headquarters and by the CO to the donor field representative at the same time. Country Offices should not submit proposals directly to a donor of a CARE Member country without checking with the CARE Member first. Where no relevant member for a donor exists, the CO should submit directly to the donor.

For contractual issues that should be considered at the proposal submission stage, see also the Chapter on Donor contract management.

All proposals should be tracked so that their status (in development, submitted, approved, declined) is known and so that the overall pipeline can be monitored. Annex 8.15 Proposal Pipeline Matrix, should be maintained by the Proposal Writer and annexed to the sitrep for the information of CARE International Members.

If the proposal is approved, arrangements must be made to contract and implement the project. Detailed guidelines on this stage are available at Chapter 10 Donor contract management.

It is important that there is a clear handover between the Proposal Writer and the programme implementation team. These will often be different team members, and the Proposal Writer may only be in the country for a short time. The proposal writer must ensure that:

  • the implementation team has the final donor approved version of the proposal
  • the implementation team clearly understands the detail of the proposal and the deliverables required
  • any background or context behind the proposals is explained
  • the costings and working papers used to determine the budget are handed over, and the implementation team understands the available budget.

CARE website for donor guidelines