CTA Classroom: Writing Proposals

The topic for today’s post comes from a reader. This reader is about to embark on a major system upgrade. He’s done his homework, knows what he wants and is now ready to present the information to senior leadership. But how to go about it? He writes...

My next challenge is the presentation. Do I just print out my Excel sheet and give it to them, or do i type it out in Word with some brief explanations of each piece? I also can't get too technical because my senior pastor's eyes start to glaze over if I start going deeper than how to turn on the computer and I will also have to present it to the entire church for their approval.

This is an excellent question. I think most of us can relate; and it’s something we as TDs need to learn to do—communicate effectively with non-technical people. Now if he were to compile a stack of spec sheets for the various pieces of gear and give it to the pastor with a spreadsheet with the costs, he would be communicating the necessary information. However, it would not be done in a way that makes any sense to the pastor.

What I think we need to do is align our request for funds for new equipment with the mission and direction of the church. If we can show how ministry will be enhanced or improved with the addition of this equipment, the requests get significantly more attention. It’s important to remember that senior leaders typically don’t care about what equipment we put in. They just want to know what will happen once it’s installed. They want to know how ministry will be improved. Communicate that, and you’re golden.

I have a standard proposal format that I follow when writing up proposals. But before I get to that, let’s consider the background. Before asking for new equipment, we need to know why. What needs are not being met right now that will be with this new gear? What takes too long, is not volunteer-friendly or is not creating the desired environment on the weekend? How does this piece of equipment further us on our mission? Who will be using it, and what do they need it to do? Will it be easy for the users to operate? All these questions and more need to be sorted out (by you) before you even start investigating equipment. Once you have all of that information, here’s an option for presenting it.

My proposals are built around four key elements, and three optional ones. Always included are The Challenge, The Solution, The Cost, The Timeline. Optional sections, if needed and applicable are Additional Benefits, Options and Executive Summary. Let’s look at them one at a time.

The Challenge
In this section, you would break down what is wrong or missing from your current system. In the examples included in this post, I tell our team why the current speaker system in our community room is inadequate. They typically know this information (it’s often what leads to the request for you to look into fixing something), but I like to restate it so they know I’ve paid attention to the pain points. This section says, “Here’s why what we have doesn’t work,” and it leads us to the next section...

The Solution
Here is where I briefly and generally describe what we’re going to buy to fix the challenge. I will tend to use model names that are only as detailed as they need to be. For example, I said I wanted new speakers from Electro Voice or QSC, I didn’t specify ELX115Ps or K12s or full-range speakers and subs. That information is not important (and they don’t know what it means anyway). We’re not being intentionally vague; we’re insulating them from details that make their eyes glaze over. This section says, “We need replace this old piece of equipment with this new piece of equipment,” or “We need this new piece of equipment.” Keep it simple. If they have further detail questions, you can always talk about it (but they’ll never ask).

The Cost
I usually do the cost in a paragraph, rather than a spreadsheet. Again, they don’t need to know that the wall control for the Symetrix Jupiter is going to cost $385. They need to know what the total system costs. I also like to find a way to offset the costs with savings or the sale of old gear. Even if you can’t save a lot, it’s still worth the effort to point it out. I always have a spreadsheet that I use to calculate the cost of an upgrade and can provide it if necessary. However, after you do this once or twice successfully, you will never be asked for it. By the way, successfully means fixing the problem and staying in budget. Don’t miss those points.

The Timeline
I learned the hard way to include this. Sometimes, you put together a proposal that you don’t think will get green-lighted for a few months. Then suddenly, the pastor has all kinds of energy around it and wants it done next week. If you can’t pull it off, it’s a problem for you (even if it is legitimate; you can’t start a PA upgrade during Easter week!). So, put in a timeline that you can live with. In my video system upgrade, I say we can handle it after Easter. We need it now, but even if I got approval this week, I can’t pull it off before Easter. So be clear with that.

Additional Benefits
This is an optional section, if it applies. If upgrading the speaker system in one room also nets you a nice portable system so you don’t have to rent one anymore, point it out. These can be the finer points that help sell a proposal.

Options
If you have a few options on the table and really need leadership to choose between them, point them out. Normally, I like to go in with either a really solid proposal for a single solution or three proposals, low, medium and high. Make sure the one you want is the medium one, and put enough questions about the low one’s ability to really do what you need that they won’t pick it. It’s not manipulation if you’re doing what’s best for the church (well, maybe it is a little...).

Executive Summary
For really long proposals (my proposal to upgrade FOH and Monitors was 5 pages long), I include a summary. This gives elders and others who are really voting yea or nay a quick read on what’s going on. This paragraph quickly outlines the problem, the solution and the cost. Details follow.

That’s how I format proposals. I vary the process occasionally depending on what I’m doing, but this is my overall model. The longer I’ve been at Coast Hills, the more brief my proposals are becoming. That’s largely because I’ve banked enough trust that when they ask me to solve a problem, I do it well and cost-effectively. They trust me to get the right stuff in place, and they don’t need all the details. I always have supporting documentation ready, along with rationales and have typically talked through much of this with my boss before turning in the proposal. Once you do it well a few times, it gets a lot easier.

Examples:
Speaker System Upgrade

Video System Upgrade

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