INSIDE Chico State
0 March 9, 2000
Volume 30 Number 15
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico




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Sponsored Programs

Creating Your Cake and Selling It Too

The February 20, 2000 Inside Chico State contained side-by-side articles by Provost Scott McNall and Bob Bakke from the Office of Sponsored Programs. Bakke's article relayed the good news that federal program funding increased substantially, from 7 percent for the National Science Foundation to 67 percent for the Gear Up program. He encouraged faculty to send proposals and do it soon.

The provost's article reflected on challenges faculty face in fulfilling the university's mandate to combine teaching, research, scholarship, creative activity, and service to the community. He compared the job to that of a master chef in its "demands for exceptional skill and an ability to balance many different and competing tasks."

The master chef image applies to proposals as well. A chef must know basic terms and rules that apply to cooking in general. If you don't know the difference between sautéing and poaching, you won't get the desired results. In proposal writing, you need to know what your potential funders mean when they require direct and indirect costs on the budget page, and you must follow their rules for page limitations and line spacing.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) is like a cookbook. Reading it carefully before you begin will help you create a proposal that fits the funder's tastes; ignoring it will probably get your creation thrown into the dumpster.

The RFP also provides you with a list of ingredients that you'll need to write and submit a proposal. Do you already have the personnel, materials, students, and laboratories that you need to complete the work you're proposing, or are these the things you need from the funder? If so, will the funder pay for those things, or will you have to get them some other way?

Knowing the terminology and rules of proposal writing alone does not guarantee a unique proposal. Funders want fresh ideas and creative approaches. If what you're proposing has been done before, or the approach you're taking has been tried and proven to work (or not), most funders will shove your offering aside. Sometimes proposal writers include too much fat and not enough meat. Or, in an attempt to be creative, they use too many garnishes, masking the true flavor of the project. Or, even though they create fabulous offerings, they can't stay within the budget. It is truly a balancing act to create clear, interesting, affordable proposals with just enough sauce to make them outstanding.

Finally, even the greatest chef has to try dishes more than once. If the soup is too salty or the cake is too sweet, the chef will have to make some changes. Feedback from staff and customers will help the chef create something better. That's true of proposals, too. Because writing proposals takes time, faculty and staff get discouraged if they aren't accepted the first time they're served to the funder. But perceptive comments by reviewers can be helpful in getting the flavor of the proposal just right. Then, when it's presented again, the funder is happy to pay the bill.

Successful proposals, like good food, are the results of knowing the terms, following the rules, and then putting them together in irresistible ways. Just keep in mind that you don't have to do it alone. All great chefs have staff supporting their efforts. Office of Sponsored Programs staff are here to provide that support of your proposal-writing efforts, from budgeting to editing to mailing. For more information, contact the Office of Sponsored Programs at 898-5700, or visit our Web page at

-- Diane M. Johnson, Development Specialist, Sponsored Programs


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