On the 14th of April 2022, several organizations joined online for a Zoom webinar that focused on guiding them on how to choose, write, and coordinate project proposals in line with the calls for funding requested by bodies of the European Union. The meeting was hosted by the Intercultural Dialogue Platform (IDP), introduced by its Executive Director Mehmet A. Bayrak as a non-profit civil society organization based in Brussels, focused on achieving a mutual understanding and harmonious coexistence amongst individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. So far, it has conducted three large scale and successful Horizon projects. Following this, Mehmet introduced the main speaker of the webinar, Ludmila Malai, the IDP EU Project Manager. She is educated in politics and international law, and for the last few years has coordinated projects around extremism, identity building, and cultural dialogue.
A Call for Proposals
Ludmila started by explaining that, to find new calls for proposals, one must view the European Commission’s website under the ‘Find call for funding – by topic’ section, using the platform to search for projects that are of interest to an organization, choosing from calls that are either still open or forthcoming in the criteria options. This will still result in too many visible calls, so she suggested adding further criteria by programme type such as: Citizens, Equality, Rights, and Values (CERV), Horizon 2020, EU External Action, Digital Europe Programme, Connecting Europe Facility, Gender Equality, calls coming from the European Parliament, Asylum Migration & Integration Fund; Erasmus+ Programmes, Creative Europe, and so on. As a sidenote, she explains that, although Horizon 2020 programmes are at the forefront of EU projects, it is highly research-based and requires a firm background in the chosen topic or a consortium of partners that can achieve innovative outcomes, a factor that is further expanded on below.
Since the current trend for European programmes has shifted to increasingly involve not only public authorities but also civil actors, she decides to use CERV as the primary example for civil society organizations seeking to submit proposals in line with their values or mission statement, such as the current ‘Call for Proposals to Protect & Promote the Rights of the Child’. From this call, it is crucial that any organizations firstly check the deadline model, which can either be a single-stage submission that requires submitting just the ‘Project proposal – Technical description (Part B)’ or a multiple-stage process which requires an organization to submit various documents at different stages. In the case of this call, the deadline model is of a single-stage, and has a deadline of approximately a month until the submission process closes on the 18th of May 2022. Ludmila recommended that, to draw up a proposal document, one should leave approximately between 6-8 weeks, as a month is too tight and complicated to submit a well-drawn up proposal. The next section examines the budget overview which displays an indicative (total) budget available of €3,010,000 to fund all the projects that end up accepted, giving any organization a good indication about what can be reasonably proposed and allows for better preparation.
The Call Document
After viewing these details, Ludmila emphasises that, prior to writing a proposal, an organization should rigorously study what is known as the ‘Call Document’. The document provides clear guidelines to match projects with what the European Commission will ultimately grant funding towards. Continuing with the call document of children’s rights, one should start by looking at the ‘Eligibility’ criteria, namely: that your organization is a legal entity of a public or private nature; it is established in particular regions or countries of the EU or non-EU countries associated with the CERV programme or countries which are in ongoing negotiations for an association agreement and where the agreement enters into force before the grant signature; that, if the organization is profit-oriented, then it must submit applications in partnership with public entities or private NPOs; that the proposed project can be either be conducted in a national or transnational context (in the case of the latter, it requires that at least two different European countries are participating in the project – one of whom may be the organization coordinating the project as was required in this case); that the EU grant applied for cannot be lower than €75,000 (the minimum budget being asked for any proposal being submitted); and that the beneficiaries and affiliated entities must register in the ‘Participant Register’ before submitting the proposal and will have to be validated by the Central Validation Service.
When asked about the right budget (in this case beyond the €75,000 minimum budget and the maximum indicative budget of €3,000,000), Ludmila replied that it is all about how cost-effective the project activities are and suggested that organizations should not ask too much nor too little, but that it remains context-dependent (on the goals of the project). For example, creating a guide, toolkit, or handbook would require a certain amount of calculation for the different features included, but is independent from the other proposed actions, like implementing 20 training sessions for youth workers may require you to ask for €100,000. It may even be the case that you propose an action that requires €2,000,000 to implement a policy of school meals to tackle food security, in line with the proposal.
By satisfying these requirements, the organization can then move on to reading the content of the call, consisting of its background, objectives, the themes and priorities, the appropriate activities, and the expected impacts of any activities or deliverables that form a core part of your proposed project. Ludmila explained what these sections involve in turn.
This section refers to the context that the call is founded upon, in terms of why such a call was proposed, its origin, and what main issues are tackled. Ludmila emphasises that it is crucial for a proposal to be centred around the needs and assessment of the call background, which proves that the project really understands the field of the call itself and ensures it is in line with any particular documents that are drafted by the European Commission, such as, in this case, the ‘EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child’.
The scope of the objectives for any proposal should be to support, advance and implement a set of comprehensive policies that aim to protect and promote the rights of the child and policies, as well as making sure once again that these objectives fit the initiatives supported in the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child.
Theme & Priorities
Ludmila explains the importance for organizations to carefully choose what you want to tackle in terms of the proposal’s priorities. The sentence structure could look like: ‘This call for proposals will contribute to’, for instance, ‘protecting children against exploitative behaviour’, or ‘expanding the access of children to social services, health, a safe environment of work and play, a quality education’ and so on. This shows that a proposal has conducted a clear reading of the major themes and priorities being addressed within the call document and is structured to match the document throughout the proposal.
Ludmila noted that it is easy to come together as an organization or consortium to brainstorm a number of activities to conduct during a project’s lifecycle; however, you may come up with a good activity which does not match the activities that will be funded within the call document, so it is highly advisable to adapt to what the call is asking for, which, in this case, comprises mutual learning, teaching activities, capacity building, cooperation, identifying good practices, and awareness raising activities. The main drawback to suggesting activities that do not accomplish what the call document is describing is a loss of points in the proposal evaluation process, which will be discussed further below.
After outlining the activities, they must be accompanied by the positive, tangible, and visible impacts that your project expects to see, bridging the connections to other actions within the project and the call document. Once again, you can propose good actions which do not generate the expected impacts in line with the call document, resulting in a risk of failure of the proposal. A major factor connected to this section is the time required for these impacts to emerge. If the impacts surpass the project’s lifecycle, which usually lasts between two to three years, then it is best to review the proposal and ensure that the actions result in impacts of a timely manner.
Evaluation of Proposals
Following the submission of a proposal, it will be evaluated to meet the threshold of points against three main elements, which may vary depending on the given call but which, in this case, are listed as 70 points to be awarded approval. The three elements are as follows:
- Relevance (40 points) which requires that a proposal can accomplish exactly what is expected from what is included in the call document and centred around the EU’s strategic and legislative contexts; the eligibility criteria; the use of results from other projects, studies, or national programmes; the level of replicability of your project in other contexts and domestic settings; the appropriate inclusion of gender perspectives; and whether the proposal has a transnational dimension. Therefore, it is essential to adhere to this element, especially because it can destabilise a proposal given the fact that out of all three elements, relevance requires any proposal to attain 25 points out of the total 40 for the funding to be granted.
- Quality (40 points) means that a proposal should be well written in terms of the logical links to identified problems, needs, and solutions mentioned in the call document. This requires the development of what is called a logical frame concept. It includes the chosen methodology for implementing the project; incorporating a gender perspective; maintaining a firm coherence throughout the proposal; acknowledging ethical issues; showing a high rate of visibility in terms of the time proposed for impacts; and considering a coherently reasonable proposed budget results in the best value for money.
- Impact (20 points). Here, Ludmila explains that European projects are usually funded for a maximum of two or three years, so they usually have a short lifecycle that may lead to a limited amount of publicity for chosen projects. This why any project should establish platforms or pathways that extend the lifecycle of the project beyond their completion, buttressing the project with strong elements of sustainable end goals that can be easily replicated in other contexts, as well as incorporating open access mechanisms for methods and data that are freely accessible to others.
These elements are critical to any project being awarded funding. Ludmila concludes that given the increased inflation of proposals being submitted for calls, a proposed project must visibly show a high quality that stands out amongst other proposed projects. Therefore, it pays off to spend as much time and effort on drawing up a proposal that captures the attention of the evaluators because it fits all the criteria, aims to provide deliverables, activities, and impacts in line with the call document, and goes the extra mile by incorporating mechanisms that sustains the effective outcomes of the projects for other future projects that can springboard off its results.
Structuring Your Proposal
When necessary, another crucial factor is for the coordinating organization to search for other partner organizations, establishing what is called a consortium that displays a clear capacity of implementing the proposed project, asking which organizations can add a high quality of value to your project. These may be civil society organizations that address specific issues, public bodies, institutions, schools, centres and so on. In this sense, partners that have experience in the topic of choice, will directly impact the credibility of the project by helping to achieve its goals, needs, and effects. Likewise, during the search, the organization should target partners located in other countries that vocalise the issues addressed in the call document. For example, if the call addresses antisemitism, then the countries that the organizations ought to look at would be France, Germany, or Poland. The key is to aim for diversity, because the more variety there is in the consortium network, the more likely it would be to instil a variety of experiences and activities that can generate amazing work packages that will show positive results.
The next step should be forming a solid definition of the problem the project will tackle, engaging in research analysis of what current gaps exist in recent research, finding a methodology which matches the call, conducting brainstorming sessions for activities, developing a visual idea of the project plan, creating a timetable, consulting with the whole team, and engaging in feedback channels that ensure no elements are left out from the overall plan.
The submission document itself requires a name, a technical outline that clearly describes the proposed project, a project summary, the elements of relevance, quality, communicating the expected impacts, the chosen methodology, background, and so on. It will also require a management plan that explains how the coordinator will establish quality control, such as by adopting high standards and monitoring mechanisms that measure the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of impacts that will display the success of the project. Other measures include the avoidance of producing unknown facts from project activities through risk management procedures that link actions with security measures that show how these elements are addressed in a smooth manner, as well as possibly drawing up a work plan for the work packages set with a timetable that outlines a realistic timeline to implement actions.
Nearing the end of Ludmilla’s presentation, a dedicated time for questions and answers led to her providing a few extra tips to further guide the writing and submission process of the proposal:
- Always keep in mind the project objectives – It is easy to run ahead when generating ideas and having a lot of enthusiasm, but it may end up with taking a wrong turn in the process or providing a project that is not coherent with your objectives.
- Avoid complicated sentences – It is better to stick to clear ideas and keeping the proposal simple, through devoting time in evaluating the project to ensure that is it of good quality. Formulating it in an uneasy way may lead to a loss of points because evaluators might get tired of reading your proposal and ideas. Clarity can be accomplished through using bullet points for objects, activities, or any particular points that may need to be emphasised. Even difficult issues can be explained easily, even when avoiding simple vocabulary. It is encouraged to use necessary academic terms, especially in the case of Horizon 2020 projects, but ensuring that they are included in the proposal text in a way that does not tire the reader.
- Initially, every process seems complicated – Along the various sections, the project will gradually become easier because, by integrating information, a routine will become established. This will naturally guide the choices and answers of what will be the most important information that you need to include, and, with time, you learn what you need to pay attention to and what you should prioritise. The process is meant to be an interesting experience of acquiring new information on topics that are currently relevant in society.
- Proofreading – It is advisable that, if an organization would like to present a draft copy of the proposal to any external parties for proofreading, it should be ready two weeks before submitting the proposal to ensure that there is ample space and time for feedback and to make any necessary corrections. Likewise, if the organization is simply planning to share the draft with an external party that is already familiar with the proposed project, then a week suffices, but it is always optimal to have it ready in advance. It is also a good idea to finish the first draft in advance and take some time to relax after writing before returning to it after a few days. This will clear the head and potentially help you find new elements to include or remove.
- Evaluation – Lastly, Ludmila mentioned that after submitting a project proposal, it takes between 4 to 6 months before the application results in an award. It is thus a lengthy process.
Written by Karl Baldacchino
Edited by Olga Ruiz Pilato
 More information can be found on their website at Dialogue Platform, ‘About – Dialogue Platform’. Available online from : https://dialogueplatform.eu/about-dialogue-platform/ [Accessed 16/04/2022].
 European Commission (2021a), ‘Funding and Tenders Portal – Call for proposals to protect and promote the rights of the child’. Available online from: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/portal/screen/opportunities/topic-details/cerv-2022-child [Accessed 16/04/2022].
 European Commission (2021b) ‘Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV) – Call for proposals to protect and promote the rights of the child – CERV-2022-CHILD’. Available online from: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/docs/2021-2027/cerv/wp-call/2022/call-fiche_cerv-2022-child_en.pdf [Accessed 16/04/2022].
 European Commission (2021b), p. 17.