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“T” Is For Timely: The SMART Approach to Writing Your Proposal

Timelines. Both the villain and the hero of every project. Though we all love to hate them, we don’t have a hope of success without one. As Gina Raimondo once said:

“The difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline.” 

So true, Gina. So true.

So how do we do it?

How to set up a project timeline

There are many ways to set up a timeline as a visual progress tracker for your team. It can be as simple as using an excel spreadsheet to log tasks, assignees, and dates, or if your team is more tech-savvy or working remotely, there are many online tools with beautiful, easy to use task boards that can integrate team messaging, scheduling, and file sharing all in one place. Regardless of what method you choose, the most important thing is to make sure it has all the relevant information.

What should a timeline include?

An effective timeline must include three basic pieces of information: who will accomplish what and by when. Establishing and communicating these expectations clearly to your team is critical to the success of your project, and your proposal. 

How to determine a realistic schedule

Determining whether or not the timeline for your project is realistic, let alone attainable, can be a daunting task, especially when it involves multiple people and/or departments and has many moving parts. Let’s break it down.

6 Steps to creating a realistic timeline:

1. Create a project brief/overview

Remember your elevator pitch? It can serve you well here too. Use it as a framework to develop an overview of the scope of your project. Be sure to consider:

  • What are the goals?
  • Who is involved?/roles?
  • What is the deadline?
  • What are the key milestones?
  • Make a To-Do List

Once you have an overview of the project, make a detailed list of tasks to make it happen, even small, seemingly inconsequential tasks. Sometimes one small detail getting overlooked is enough to slow down the whole operation.

2. Estimate how long each task will take, then pad it

No matter how straightforward it seems, always, always, always pad in a little extra time to allow for surprise delays! Bad weather, a loss of wifi, or a technical issue has derailed many a well-intentioned plan with too much confidence and not enough time.  

3. Assign the tasks

Once you have a complete list of tasks and a reasonable idea of how long each should take, it’s time to assign them to your team, taking into account who has the time, capacity, and resources for the best possible outcome of each. Take care to ensure that tasks are fairly and evenly distributed and no individual team member is overwhelmed. 

4. Identify Dependencies

Make a special note of which tasks are dependent upon the completion of another. For example, planning a menu is contingent upon choosing a caterer. 

5. Create a timeline

Put it all together in one place that is accessible by all team members, (a wall in the office, a spreadsheet, or an online platform), share it with them, and keep it up to date!

6. Roll with the punches and adapt!

Hiccups and snags and mistakes are inevitable with every project, so it’s important to stay calm and lead your team with grace. After all, this is why we padded in that extra time! Besides, when it comes to expecting the unexpected, if you’re running a non-profit… you’re already a pro!

Pro-Tip: Work backward from the due date to determine appropriate milestone deadlines for your project with “padded time” factored in.

And there you have it! Six easy-peasy steps to creating an effective timeline to inspire and motivate your team for success! 

And this concludes our series on the five essential components of a killer proposal to stand out from the competition and get funders swooning over your amazing non-profit. There’s no stopping you now! 

Check out the other articles in the SMART Approach to Writing Your Proposal series:

“S” Is For Specific

“M” Is For Measurable

“A” Is For Achievable

R” Is For Relevant

“T” Is For Timely

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