Anecdotes, Statistics, and Studies: How to Draft Executive Proposals

Executive proposals posit an argument, position, or recommendation through conclusions drawn from research.  An effective proposal relies on three kinds of research: anecdotal evidence, statistical evidence, and expert testimony.

Anecdotal evidence is a personal account, narrative, or detailed perception of the subject.  Although little empirical data may be provided, testimony can add personable credibility that raw numbers cannot.  Anecdotal evidence can imply a real experience of the data to be presented, thus providing a persuasive “human face” to the proposal.

I had my first test writing an executive proposal while I was Student Body President and Loyola University Chicago.  At the time, the university did not have a centralized student center.  As Student Body President, I commissioned a survey of nearly one-fifth the entire student population, and electronically interview nearly one-third of the campus’ student leaders.  The survey answers showed that large majorities of the student demographics desired a centralized student center and allowed their stories and experiences to argue that point.  “We need a space for us,” many students said.  This anecdotal evidence helped convince the Board of Trustees to undertake the development.

Statistical evidence is the opposite of anecdotal evidence; it relies on data comparisons with numerical significance.  A persuasive proposal will compare numbers or sets of numbers to provide empirical testimony for its argument.  This type of data is collected through exact measurement.  Although it can lack the personality of anecdotal testimony, numerical statistics provide an argument that is, at least apparently, less bias.  This credibility is intrinsic to an effective proposal.  Numerical data can be difficult to construct in prose, so bullet points may be used.

Six executive proposals were presented over the last six years (1:1), five of which (83 percent) were for financial allocation.  The first of which was written for and presented to the Board of Trustees of Loyola University Chicago (2009).  The second of which was authored for the Board of Directors of the Edgewater Community Council (2010).  The third report was drafted for the Cook County Board of Commissioners (2011).  The forth and fifth proposals were formatted as executive summaries prepared for Representatives and Senators of the Illinois General Assembly (2012, 2013).  The sixth set of proposals were written to institutional funders for political non-profits (2014-15).  The allocation proposals were:

  • To Board of Trustees at LUC: secured $100 million capital campaign
  • To Board of Directors at ECC: secured $5,000 for community initiatives
  • To the Illinois General Assembly: secured $1.5 million for state grants
  • To the Illinois General Assembly: secured $1 million for state grants
  • To large donors of political nonprofits: secured $75,000 for advocacy campaigns

With five allocation proposals drafted and five allocations secured, the success rate is 100 percent, with $102.58 million earned over five proposals.

Expert testimony may be anecdotal or statistical, but it provides credence to a report because it provides an agreeing position made by a source who is not the author.  The testimony is provided by an expert on the subject, adding to the legitimacy of the author’s proposal.  A good citation establishes the expert’s credentials, and then utilizes the expert’s words to fortify the author’s own argument.

George A. Hazelrigg of the National Science Foundation is the author of Systems Engineering: An Approach to Information-Based Design.  As a program director, he has reviewed over 3,000 proposals and has participated in the review process of nearly 10,000 proposals.  “Through this experience,” Hazelrigg writes, “I have come to see that often there are real differences between winning proposals and losing proposals.  The differences are clear.  Largely they are not subjective differences or differences of quality; to a large extent, losing proposals are just plain missing elements that are found in winning proposals.”

Effective proposals then summarize a conclusion affirmed by the previously stated evidence.  The conclusion makes the final argument, or “pitch.”

As shown, successful proposals are the composition of effective elements.  This report contains each of those necessary factors: it provides individual testimony of the writer’s experience, empirical data outlining the writer’s successes, and concurring expert opinion of the writer’s hypothesis.  These elements construct a clear thesis: this author excels at drafting proposals and would be an asset in any professional drafting setting.