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How to Write a Project Plan for European Funding

An Economic Impact how-to guide for organisations funded by ESIF

This is your guide to writing a good project plan in anticipation of completing an application for European funding. A strong project plan will help you to write a good application and work effectively with other organisations.

Project planning takes time but is important. There is often a short turnaround between the launch of European funding calls and the closing date. By having a project plan ready to go you will be in a better position to write a strong application or an expression of interest (EOI) to potential lead providers.

Upcoming funding calls

We do not know when calls will be released or what will be in the specifications. However, we know which theme the calls will focus on from the European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF) Strategy.

European Social Fund (ESF) programmes focus on helping those furthest away from the labour market, supporting them to overcome barriers to employment and progress into further education, training and employment.

We can also look at what has already been funded through ESF and identify gaps in provision that could be funded in the future. You can learn more about the different Investment Priorities in the ESIF Strategy and currently funded projects by:

    • Attending an Economic Impact Network
    • Receiving the Economic Impact Newsletter
    • Asking for support from the Economic Impact team
    • By creating a generic project plan that will help those furthest from the labour market, you should be able to adapt your activities to the relevant specifications when they come up.

Navigate the guide

1. What do we mean by ‘Project’ and ‘Project Plan’?
3. The Project Planning Cycle
4. The Six Parts of a Project Plan
5. Establishing Need
6. Methods of Demonstrating Need
7. Set Your Aims
8. Define Outcomes
9. Describe the Project’s Outputs
10. About Monitoring and Evaluation
11. Successful monitoring and evaluation
12. Resources and support

1. What do we mean by ‘Project’ and ‘Project Plan’?

In this guide, when we say ‘project’ we mean a series of activities that take place over a pre-arranged period of time to achieve a specified aim. A project will be planned from beginning to end and have set targets.

Organisations can run more than one project at any one time with each project working towards its own aims and objectives.

A project plan is an ongoing process to bring about positive change that has SMART objectives.


At the end of your project planning process, you should be able to account for all five requirements of SMART objectives. SMART objectives are defined as goals that are:

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Realistic
    • Time-bound


From gathering information about need to describing what you will achieve, you need to be specific about your project. You should always avoid generalisation.

For example, when stating need, “The Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership’s ESIF Strategy has found that the youth unemployment rate in Leicester City is 5.3% compared to 5.1% nationally,” is better than saying “There are a lot of unemployed young people”.


You need to explain in your application how you are going to measure success.

For example, your project plan should not simply say “We will provide vocational courses to young people who are not in education or training” because that statement is difficult to measure.

Instead, you should include details such as how you’ll support young people, how many events you will hold and how many people you expect to attend such as:

“We will run 12 monthly IT courses for young people who are currently not in education and training or employment. Each course will be two 1 hour sessions a week for four weeks and we can take up to 10 students on each course”.

This makes your plan measurable.

Achievable and Realistic

Be sure to be consider honestly whether your plans are achievable and realistic. You should base this evaluation on your group’s past work and the resources you will have available.


All European funded projects have a specific date in which all project activities will end. Your project plan needs to be realistic about what you can achieve within this timeframe.

3. The Project Planning Cycle

Project planning is a continuous process starting with research and planning and ending with reviewing the project’s effectiveness.

4. The Six Parts of a Project Plan

A project plan has six parts.

    • Need: Your plan should demonstrate how your project meets the identified needs of the target group you are aiming to help.
    • Aims: Aims describe the overall changes and benefits that you want to achieve.
    • Outcomes: Outcomes lay out the specific differences that you want to make.
    • Outputs: Outputs describe the activities and services your project will deliver to achieve your outcomes.
    • Inputs: Inputs describe what you need to deliver your project. This includes a budget.
    • Monitoring and Evaluation: Monitoring and evaluation describes what information you are going to collect throughout the project, how it will be collected and how it will be used to evaluate whether or not the project was a success.

The rest of this guide will help you develop all six parts of your project plan.

5. Establishing Need

All ESF projects are based on research in target areas and on the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership (LLEP)’s ESIF Strategy.

It is important to read these papers to get an understanding of the needs that have been identified in the Leicester and Leicestershire area. You will then be able to shape your project to be able to identify those needs.

Barriers and areas of need

There may be other areas of need or barriers that have been identified, such as high levels of mental health problems in your target group, that your project may want to address.

You may have also picked up on other areas of need within the community from the work you are currently delivering which you may be able to feed in. For this you will need to provide evidence of the need in your application and project plan.

Consider collaboration

When looking at the need of your project, you may also want to consider who else needs to be involved to help address some of the issues identified.

By thinking about organisations that may complement the work that you do, or address an area that you cannot, you can identify organisations you may want to collaborate with.

6. Methods of Demonstrating Need

To provide a strong case that your project is needed and that you are the right organisation to deliver it, you should include feedback from consultations, evidence from research and your past delivery experience.


Consultation involves gathering people’s views on the need you’re exploring. A consultation can be used to both identify problems that need to be addressed and to seek people’s ideas on the best solutions.

Questions you may want to ask during a consultation include:

    • What is the need?
    • What do you think is the solution?
    • Is there a current service offering a solution, or is there a need for a new service?
    • You should consult with both internal and external stakeholders during consultations, especially those who may be accessing your service. Your consultation can involve asking people to complete questionnaires or surveys, attend focus groups or attend workshops.

When the consultation is completed the findings need to be reviewed and used to shape your project.


You can also explore the need for your project through research. Your research should include up-to-date specific facts and figures, not generalisations. This is an important part of meeting SMART requirements.

Finding up-to-date research and statistics on the area you’re exploring could show the need for the project. Key data and statistics can be found on government and local authority websites. You should include a blend of national and local research wherever possible.

Your services will need to link to the ESIF strategy and any other research identified in the specification. You may also want to link your project to a need that another government or local authority has identified as a priority or that fits into local strategies in your area.

Part of your research can also be your own experience.

7. Set Your Aims

Aims should sum up the purpose of the project. You should use your research into establishing need to write your aims. Aims can be quite general and do not, in themselves, need to be SMART.

How to write your aims

To write your aims, start by considering what you want your project to achieve. Then use these phrases to begin sentences describing what you want your project to achieve:

    • To enable…
    • To improve…
    • To increase…
    • To reduce…
    • To maintain…

The number of aims depends entirely on what you want to achieve and the size of your project. For a small project, you may only have one or two aims.

8. Define Outcomes

While your aims describe your project’s overall purpose, outcomes describe the specific changes your project will achieve. These changes should help accomplish your larger aims.

Outcomes can be about tackling a current problem or about preventing something from happening. Your plan can include both short-term and long-term outcomes.

Be sure to consider the time frame on your outcomes. This will help ensure your outcomes meet SMART requirements.

Writing your Outcomes

To describe an outcome you would use words like:

    • To improve…
    • To increase…
    • Less risk of…
    • More confident in…
    • Develop…

Outcomes can occur on different levels. These include:

    • For an individual
    • For the whole family
    • For the community
    • For the organisation
    • For the environment

9. Describe the Project’s Outputs

Outputs describe the detail of activities that you will carry out or services you will deliver to achieve your outcomes.

For ESIF funding there are often set of outputs project must achieve such as:

    • Number of participants engaged with
    • Number of males engaged with
    • Number of females engaged with
    • Number of participants moved in to further education or training
    • Number of participants moved into employment

Make sure you read the programme specification to know the outputs that the project must achieve. You may also want to add more of your own to be able to demonstrate the impact your project may have.

Linking outcomes, aims and outputs

When developing your aims and your outcomes, you must ensure that they are able to meet the outputs that have been outlined in the specification.

The specification may not have any designated outputs; in that case, you must make sure that your outputs are the most effective way to match your aims and outcomes.

You also need to make sure the focus of each output supports your outcomes. If they do not, you may need to question whether they are the right outputs for your project.


Remember that your outputs need to be SMART.

Draft your outputs

When describing outputs, you should consider questions such as:

    • How many sessions or events do you want to deliver?
    • If you want to produce literature, how many copies will you need to print?
    • If you want to recruit volunteers, how many will you recruit?

10. About Monitoring and Evaluation

When delivering a European funded project, you will have to accept that there is a lot of monitoring involved and you are required to do an evaluation. Preparing for the monitoring requirements should make the process for submitting monitoring and claims more straightforward.

About monitoring

Monitoring refers to the process of regularly collecting data and checking to see if everything is on track. If the project isn’t on track, monitoring gives you the opportunity to take action to ensure you meet your outcomes.

You will be required to submit quarterly monitoring to show what you have already achieved along with claiming for the money you have spent. Make sure that you have paper and electronic copies of any invoices, participant information and staff timesheets ready to submit at the end of the quarter. You may want to create spreadsheets and folders to keep on top of the documents you will need to provide.

It is important to factor this in when writing your project plan as the process can be onerous and will require a large amount of staff time. By keeping on top of it throughout the quarter you can save a lot of time.

About evaluation

Evaluation takes place at the end of the project and involves an analysis of the project as a whole. This stage gives you the opportunity to consider whether or not your project met its aims.

European funded projects are no longer accepting a large amount of money to be spent on end of project evaluations. It may be wise to capture feedback and evaluation (especially from participants) throughout the lifetime of the project. This will make the process less time consuming and costly

The benefits of monitoring and evaluation

Strong monitoring and evaluation has many benefits including:

    • The opportunity to learn lessons which may help you develop future projects.
    • Providing all the information you need to record the impact of your project.
    • The opportunity to review your work and identify areas where you could have done better.
    • Being able to report back to the managing authority on the impacts of the money they gave. This will help you build a relationship with your funder and win support for future projects.

11. Successful monitoring and evaluation

You should decide what data you will need to capture and how you are going to record that information before you begin delivering services or carry out activities.

There may be forms that the managing authority want you to complete for monitoring purposes, so bear in mind you may have to complete multiple documents to collect the same data.

If your project aims to change something, you need to record a starting point against which you can measure your impact. You will need to do this regularly to demonstrate the impact on a quarterly basis.

Ways to collect and record data

Collecting accurate and relevant data is key to ESF monitoring and is a requirement of every project. You may need different ways of collecting data for each output.

Examples are:

  • Participant forms
  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Case studies
  • Attendance registers
  • Tests/self-assessments

If you are engaging participants in EU funded projects, you must keep participant records and have proof they are eligible to receive your support.

For example, if you are supporting young people who are NEET you must have proof of age and that they are not in education or training. This could include copies of approved age identifications and any out of work benefits they may be claiming as proof of unemployment.

When submitting an application, make sure that you read all the outcomes/outputs the managing authority expects. You will need to have the means to capture the eligibility requirements record them.

12. Resources and support

You may find the following guides useful when planning your project:

  • Our how-to guides on Budgeting a Direct Spend Programme and Monitoring a Direct Spend Programme
  • ESF Future Open calls research
  • Skills for the future
  • The LLEP ESIF Strategy will help you identify needs in Leicester and Leicestershire as well as the types of work the LLEP is looking to fund
  • The ESF Operational Programme Guidance will enable you to look at what the requirements for delivering European Funded Projects

If you need additional support with planning your project, you can contact James Smalley, Development Officer for Economic Impact team, directly at:
0116 2575025

You can also access the Economic Impact Project via:

  • The e-newsletter, which will give you up-to-date information on new calls for applications, upcoming events and the occasional insightful blog. Sign up for our newsletters
  • Quarterly Economic Impact Forums, which will give you the opportunity to learn new skills regarding EU funding, receive information from the LLEP and network with other voluntary groups, paving the way for collaborative bids. Find the next forum
  • A Read & Review service of any European funding applications you are thinking of submitting. We can give you guidance and suggestions on how to improve your organisation’s bid. Contact us