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How to write a grant proposal: a step-by-step guide
Bethany Fagan Head of Content Marketing at PandaDoc
A grant proposal is a request for funding that organizations submit to grant-making bodies.
Generally, a grant proposal outlines a project idea, explains why the organization needs grant money, and provides evidence that demonstrates the need and worthiness of the project.
In grant proposals, organizations usually describe their mission, describe how they plan to use grant funds, provide program goals and objectives, a timeline for completion of the project, and an expected outcome.
However, a grant proposal must also be written in such a way as to convince potential funders of the value and impact of the proposed project.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how you can create stunning grant proposals in record time.
→DOWNLOAD NOW: FREE GRANT PROPOSAL TEMPLATE
- Understand the grant requirements. From the funding organization’s goals to application deadlines – it is essential to understand the grant requirements and guidelines thoroughly.
- Develop a compelling narrative . A successful grant proposal should tell a story that captures the funder’s interest and demonstrates the significance of the proposed project.
- Demonstrate impact . Funders want to know how their investment will make a difference. To make a strong case, grant applicants should demonstrate the potential impact of their project and provide specific examples of how it will benefit the target audience or community.
- Provide a detailed budget . Your plan should include all costs associated with the project.
- Include supporting materials. Depending on the grant, applicants may need to provide supporting materials, such as letters of support, resumes of key personnel, or other documentation.
- Follow-up. After submitting a grant proposal, it is essential to follow up with the funding organization. This can help demonstrate your commitment to the project and answer any questions the funder may have.
Why should you seek grant funding?
When done successfully, grant writing can open doors to vital funding sources needed to make your project a success.
Writing grants can also be a networking opportunity with grant-making organizations , as grant writers often make connections and partnerships that may prove valuable in the future.
Most of all, grant writing is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to its mission and goals, as grant writers must be able to articulate the importance of their vision.
At first glance, grant proposals may only appear to benefit the organization or individual who needs the money, but that’s not exactly true.
For a grant-making organization, investing in a project, initiative, or organization is an investment in positive change that can have a powerful impact on the issues they care about.
Here are some statistics to boost your grant proposal success:
- The United States Government offers thousands of grants that nonprofits may apply for, each providing various amounts for federal projects that will have an impact across the country.
- Many Fortune 500 companies offer matching programs for grants, where companies match monetary donations made by employees to nonprofits.
- Submitting to at least three grant applications puts your chances of winning at least one grant at around 90% .
Before you get started
Before you start writing, take the time to prepare carefully. Consider each of the following.
1. Pursuing grants will incur costs in both time and money
You’ll need to find a grant that matches your initiatives, create a proposal, and participate in the entire selection process.
2. Your grant proposal may or may not be successful
Most organizations rely on multiple sources of funding, and grant opportunities shouldn’t change that.
Remember that grants can be competitive and funding may be limited.
Calculate the award against the time invested before pursuing the opportunity.
3. Be sure to have a strong understanding of your project
Be sure to have a strong understanding of your project including desired outcomes, estimated timelines, and other funding sources before you start writing.
Your proposal will be evaluated by grant-making bodies and committees who may choose to award funds to your competitors or simply choose not to award any funding due to a lack of clarity or credibility.
4. Create the appropriate accounts
You may also need to create the appropriate accounts and go through verification processes before you can submit a grant.
For example, organizations seeking federal funding need to register with the federal grant program before they can ask for a grant .
5. Submit a grant inquiry letter before writing a full grant proposal
In many cases, it may make more sense to submit a grant inquiry letter before writing a full grant proposal.
If the grant-making body approves your letter and sends you a request for a formal grant proposal, you can proceed with writing a detailed RFP response to this prospective investor.
4. Save time by using a document management software
Save time by using document management software like PandaDoc to assist you in this difficult task.
Besides grant proposals, our software tools can handle your quotes, agreements, contracts, and proposals.
With those basics out of the way, let’s move on to the structure of a standard grant proposal you should adhere to.
Step 1. Write a strong cover letter
Your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to capture the funder’s attention and get your foot in the door.
Unlike the rest of your grant application, the letter can be less formal and address the reader more directly.
The key objective of your cover letter is to compel the reader to get to your proposal.
They’ve likely received tens or even hundreds of grant applications and your letter should separate you from the crowd as much as possible.
Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to cover letters:
Here is how a good cover letter can start:
Dear Mr. Jones,
The Pet Care Clinic respectfully requests a grant of $30,000 for our South Boston Health Center Project.
As the largest independent pet hospital in Boston, we are aware of the challenges pet owners in our service area are faced with. We’re particularly concerned about the lack of service quality in South Boston given the fact that the area has the largest amount of pets per capita in the city.
We are committed to solving this issue by growing our community and providing our expertise to the people and animals of Boston by the end of 2021. The South Boston Health Center Project will allow us to provide access…
No fluff and right to the point!
Step 2. Start with an executive summary
Every winning grant should start with a brief executive summary.
Also known as a proposal summary, an executive summary is essentially a brief synopsis of the entire proposal. It introduces your business, market segment , proposal, project goals — essentially, your grant request.
It should have sufficient detail and specifics; get to the point quickly and be pragmatic and factual.
Here are some questions that a good grant writer will answer in their executive summary:
1. What is your mission and history ? What do you do?
2. What is your project’s name and who is it supposed to help?
3. What problem are you solving and why should it matter?
4. What is your end goal and how will you measure whether you achieved it?
5. Why should you get the funds? What are your competencies ?
6. How much money do you need and how do you plan to finance the project in the future ? Do you have other funding sources ?
Step 3. Introduce your organization
Now that you’ve set the stage for the entire proposal, you can start with your business/organization. Share as much relevant information as you can about your infrastructure, history, mission, experience, etc.
Here you include a biography of key staff, your business track record (success stories), company goals, and philosophy; essentially highlight your expertise.
Client recommendations , letters of thanks , and feedback from customers and the general public are must-have things to write in a grant proposal.
Be sure to include all valid industry certifications ( ISO or Quality Certifications ), licenses, and business and indemnity insurance details.
You need to show that your company or organization has the capacity and the ability to meet all deliverables from an execution perspective and also meet all legal, safety, and quality obligations.
You may need to provide solvency statements to prove that you can meet your financial commitments to your staff and contractors.
Step 4. Write a direct problem statement
One of the most important parts of the grant proposal structure is the problem statement.
Also known as the “ needs statement ” or “ statement of need “, this is the place where you explain why your community has a problem and how you can provide the solution.
You may need to do extensive research on the history of the underlying problem, previous solutions that were implemented and potentially failed, and explain why your solution will make a difference.
In a winning grant proposal, the problem statement will heavily rely on quantitative data and clearly display how your organization answers a need.
Here’s how a brief problem statement could look:
A 2017 report from [institution] showed that the town of [your community] has the highest [problem stat] per capita in the state of [your state]. Another study by [institution] confirmed these findings in 2020, highlighting the importance of [potential solution] in dealing with these issues.
There is a need for education and professional services in: [fields and industries] backed by expertise and a strong infrastructure.
To meet this need, [your organization] proposes a [your program] that would, for the first time, address the problem of [problem].
With PandaDoc, you get a free grant proposal template that has all of these sections incorporated!
Grant Proposal Template
Used 10888 times
Legally reviewed by Denis Malkov
Step 5. State your goals and objectives
Another important part of the grant proposal process is clearly stating your goals and objectives.
In fact, many proposals fail because they forget or mishandle this step so all their hard work goes to waste!
Write details about the desired outcome and how success will be measured.
This section is key to providing information on the benefits that the grantee, community, government, or client will see for their investment.
And, although they sound similar, Goals and Objectives should be separated.
Think of Goals as broad statements and Objectives as more specific statements of intention with measurable outcomes and a time frame.
Here is an example of well-formulated goals and objectives.
Goal: Improve the literacy and overall ability of expression of children from inner-city schools in [the community].
Objective: By the end of the 2023 school year, improve the results of reading and writing tests for fourth-graders in [the community] by at least 20% compared to current results (55/100, on average).
Notice how the goal is more optimistic and abstract while the objective is more measurable and to the point.
Step 6. Project design: methods and strategies
Now that the funding agency or grantee knows your goals, it’s time to tell them how you plan on achieving them.
List the new hires and skills, additional facilities, transport, and support services you need to deliver the project and achieve the defined measures for success.
Good project management discipline and methodologies with detailed requirements specified and individual tasks articulated (project schedule) will keep a good focus on tasks, deliverables and results.
Step 7. The evaluation section: tracking success
This section covers process evaluation — how will you track your program’s progress?
It also includes the timeframe needed for evaluation and who will do the evaluation including the specific skills or products needed and the cost of the evaluation phase of the project.
This is one of the most important steps to writing a grant proposal, as all funders will look for evaluations.
Whether we’re talking about government agencies or private foundations, they all need to know if the program they invested in made a difference.
Evaluation can be quite expensive and need to have entry and exit criteria and specifically focused in-scope activities.
All out-of-scope evaluation activities need to be specified as this phase can easily blow out budget-wise.
Once again, solid project management discipline and methodologies will keep a good focus on evaluation tasks and results.
To go back to our child literacy example, here is how an evaluation would look for that project:
The program facilitators will administer both a set of pretests and posttests to students in order to determine to which degree the project is fulfilling the objectives. The periodic tests will be created by a set of outside collaborators (experts in child education) and will take place on a monthly basis for the duration of the program.
After each session, we will ask participating teachers to write a qualitative evaluation in order to identify areas of improvement and generate feedback […]
Step 8. Other funding sources and sustainability
Your founders won’t like the idea of investing in a short-term project that has no perspective.
They’ll be much more willing to recognize a long-term winner and reward a promising project that can run on a larger scale.
That’s why you need to show how you can make this happen.
This section of your grant proposal is for funding requirements that go beyond the project, total cost of ownership including ongoing maintenance, daily business, and operational support.
This may require you to articulate the projected ongoing costs (if any) for at least 5 years.
An accurate cost model needs to include all factors including inflation, specialist skills, ongoing training, potential future growth, and decommissioning expenses when the project or the product reaches the end of its life cycle.
Step 9. Outline a project budget
Of course, one of the most important grant proposal topics is budgeting . This is the moment when you go into detail about exactly how you’ll be using the resources from an operational standpoint.
Provide full justification for all expenses including a table of services (or service catalog) and product offered can be used to clearly and accurately specify the services.
Remember that the project budget section is the true meat of your grant proposal.
Overcharging or having a high quote can lose you the grant and even be seen as profiteering.
Underquoting might win you the business but you may not be able to deliver on your proposal which could adversely impact your standing with the grantee.
Many grantors underquote in the hope of hooking the reader and then looking for additional funding at a later stage.
This is a dangerous game to play and could affect your individual or company’s brand, community standing, or industry reputation.
Here’s how a project budget would look for a fictional grant for a cross-country research study:
Below a table like this, you can further clarify any key points, like what a research assistant will do and why they’re needed for the study.
You can also explain how you intend to use a specific piece of software to save time or money.
For example, PandaDoc can help you create forms and templates so that you can gather precise information in a uniform way.
Schedule a demo here and see for yourself how PandaDoc can expedite your grant proposal process. With PandaDoc, you’ll enjoy:
- A robust document builder.
- Seamless, paperless delivery.
- Document analytics and tracking.
- Hundreds of customizable templates.
- Content libraries for text and media snippets.
- And much more.
If filling out forms and gathering information is a key component of your research study, you’ll need a tool that can help you capture data quickly and easily without breaking the bank.
Frequently asked questions about grant proposals
What is the difference between a grant proposal and a grant letter.
It’s quite easy to confuse a grant proposal with a grant letter.
But a grant proposal contains all the sections we mentioned: the project’s summary, a cover letter, problem statement, etc. and is typically pretty long.
Some companies or individual investors consider this document too long and prefer a grant letter, which is a shorter, much more streamlined document. A grant letter typically doesn’t exceed 3-4 pages although it has a similar structure.
How do you write a scientific grant proposal?
Here you should emphasize the significance of your project and its contribution to science if implemented successfully.
Back it up with relevant statistics, scientific facts, and research data on the subject. It’s important to use simple terms comprehensible to the prospective Grantee.
Also, explain why you are the one who can finish this project: provide some proof of your expertise to make your proposal stronger.
How do you write a grant proposal for education?
Besides the project description, you need to mention how it will improve the education system.
Detail how your project will improve student’s productivity, increase their knowledge, and make their overall learning process better.
Educational projects usually involve a team of people who will put the idea into practice. Provide more information about each team member and why this person can perform their duties.
How to write a grant proposal for art?
Even though the inspiration can’t be forced, an art project should be time-specific. Mention the start and end date of your activity.
Otherwise, a prospective grant may not take it seriously.
Primarily you should convey your message to the grant-making organization, even if they don’t know much about the kind of art you create. Explain the idea in the simplest way so anybody can understand it clearly.
How do you write a grant proposal for a non-profit organization?
Unlike other organizations, an NGO needs to drill down to the key community issues and show how deeply its work can affect the people it’s meant to serve.
Given the democratic and often local nature of NGOs, their work will be viewed more through an altruistic lens.
An NGO also needs to pay special attention to demonstrating the sustainability of the project over time, since that’s a unique problem to NGOs and something that commercial businesses have already dealt with.
How many pages should a grant proposal be?
There isn’t a strict rule when it comes to grant proposals — their length will always depend on the complexity of the issue it covers and the amount of research behind it.
Typically, a grant proposal should be up to 25 pages , although different funding institutions will often put this in their “ Rules ” section — so read those carefully!
How many hours does it take to write a grant proposal?
Proposal writing is slightly different from regular writing: it needs to follow a specific structure and rules.
Add to that all the research and argumentation needed to write a good proposal, and you’ll be looking at hours, days, or even weeks if you’re really a perfectionist.
As a rule of thumb, you should devote one week to writing a proposal. Although you might finish earlier, it’s good to have enough time to cover everything.
Originally was published March 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness in April, 2023
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How to Write a Grant: A Comprehensive Step-by-Step Guide
August 14, 2022
Table of Contents
Obtaining a grant for a project you are passionate about can be very rewarding, but grant writing can be a difficult, complex, and long process.
So how do you write a grant proposal that really stands out and wows the evaluators?
In this article, we’ll explore the basics of what your grant proposal needs, tips and tricks to set your proposal apart, and resources you can use to continue building your grant writing skills.
Main Insights for Writing Grants
If you only have a couple minutes to spare, here’s what you need to know about writing effective grants.
In this comprehensive guide, you will not only learn what a grant proposal is and how to write one, but you’ll also walk away with:
- A list of key components to include in your grant
- Where and how to find the best grant opportunities
- A step-by-step outline for writing your proposal
- Extra tips to make your grant proposal stand out
Let’s get started!
What Is a Grant Proposal?
Let’s begin with the basics: What is a grant proposal?
There are billions of dollars currently being awarded through grants each year in the U.S. to nonprofit organizations. This funding usually comes from government agencies, for-profit corporations, and foundations.
To win this funding, a nonprofit has to submit a grant proposal, which is essentially a case for support that outlines why your organization deserves the grant and how you would use the funding to advance your charitable mission.
A grant proposal is almost always a written document, but sometimes opportunities will allow you to submit the proposal as a video or other alternative media formats. Ultimately, a grant proposal should outline your strategic plan for how you will address an identified need with the grant funding.
For example, if you run a nonprofit food bank and you have a project in mind that will increase your capacity to serve more people in your local community, you could create a grant proposal that includes:
- the identified need (i.e., food insecurity in your community)
- how your project will address the need
- the ways your organization is uniquely situated to administer the project
- how you will utilize funds in a fiscally responsible way to administer the project
- how the project ultimately works to solve the identified need
Overall, learning how to write an effective grant proposal means knowing how to organize a detailed, comprehensive, and persuasive document . This is because the ultimate goal of a grant proposal is to convince the funder you are the right choice for their grant monies.
We will continue to explore the fundamentals of a grant proposal in the following sections, but if you feel like you’re in a place where you would benefit from an in-depth beginner’s guide to grant proposals, check out: What is a Grant Proposal: Grant Writing 101 .
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Why Is It Important to Know How to Write a Grant?
As noted above, billions of dollars are awarded through grants every year .
Nonprofits rely on fundraising to operate, and grants can be a great way to raise money for your organization.
Though they vary in size, it’s not uncommon for grants to be for tens of thousands of dollars, which could possibly cover a nonprofit’s entire new program. You can also develop long-term relationships with grant funders, which might allow you to secure more funding in the future.
Grant funding can help your nonprofit diversify its revenue streams so that it's not just relying on the same individual donors each year.
Key Example to Learn From: The Lutheran Braille Workers had a handleful of donors supporting them each year. To hedge against risk, they diversified their funding sources by finding grants they were competitive for, but had never pursued. This helped them find new sources of funding for their work.
So while grants are critical to fundraising, knowing how to write a grant proposal can make or break your chances of obtaining funding for your project.
What Are the Key Components to Include When Writing a Grant?
Every grant application will look different, which is why you should always read the guidelines of a grant to make sure you understand how to organize and frame your grant proposal.
We suggest first building an outline with each section and then filling in the blanks—if you hit each proposal element one by one, it should make the process less intimidating.
With that being said, there are some key components that should be included in almost every grant proposal. Below, we have listed the main elements you should include in a grant proposal and tips to help you successfully develop each one.
Provide a Brief Overview of the Proposal
The proposal summary (sometimes called an executive summary or an abstract) should provide a brief overview of your entire proposal.
The key word here is brief—this overview should describe the most important features of your proposal in as few sentences as possible (maybe just a paragraph or two). This summary should explain who you are, the purpose of your proposal, the need you’re fulfilling, and your expected outcomes.
Essentially, someone should be able to read your proposal summary and understand the main idea of your entire proposal without having to read the rest of the document.
Understanding the Organization's History and Mission
Your grant proposal should also include information related to your organization’s history and mission.
That is, what does your organization do and why? A grant funder might not be familiar with your nonprofit, so it’s important to provide them with some organizational context.
This is also where you can highlight your organization’s expertise and past accomplishments. That way, the funder can clearly see why your nonprofit is deserving of grant funding.
Assessing Organizational Capacity
You will also need to provide details on how your organization will actually complete the project or program you are proposing.
Do you have the right amount of staff to work fully on the project? Can you meet the timeframe documented by the funder? This is where you show the funder you have the organizational capacity to use to grant funds purposefully and responsibly.
Identifying Needs and Problem Statement
One of the most important sections of a grant proposal is the needs and problem statement . This is where you will give the specifics about why your community has a problem, what their needs are, and how you will solve them.
You should definitely include some research here on the background of the problem. Data and statistics are a great way to show the magnitude and urgency of the need you are aiming to meet.
Crafting a Comprehensive Program/Project Plan
Every grant proposal will include a section where you explain what your organization is planning to accomplish with the grant money.
This is where you develop your comprehensive program or project plan, which will describe how you will meet or solve for a specific need in your community.
When drafting this section, think of the 5 W’s and H that are used in journalism:
- Who will complete what
- When will they do their work
- Why are they the best fit
- How will they achieve results
You should provide enough detail here about the specific activities of your project. This is also where you will discuss any partnerships with other entities that may help complete the project in a timely manner.
For more grant narrative tips, check out this guide .
Defining Clear Goals, Objectives, and Expected Outcomes
The most effective grant proposals have clear goals, objectives, and expected outcomes.
Consider using the “ SMART ” acronym to ensure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound .
- What are the Specifics of your activities?
- How will you Measure the achievements?
- Is your project even Achievable?
- Is it Relevant to your mission?
- Can you meet the funder’s Timeline?
If you cannot answer yes to the SMART acronym bullets above, you may not want to answer the funder’s grant request.
Developing an Evaluation Plan for Assessment
You know what objectives you want to achieve, so now you can discuss how you will evaluate your proposed project or program.
This is one of the most important sections of your proposal because you are letting the funder know how you will evaluate success.
An evaluation plan is important to funders because it shows them your commitment to achieving impact and measurable change with the grant funder.
In addition, an evaluation plan will also help you determine what worked, what did not work, and how you can improve your project in the future.
Budgeting for Your Grant Proposal
Almost all grants will require a proposal budget .
You will need to detail your expenses to illustrate that you can realistically address the need and problem at hand.
This section should not be estimated; instead, you need to specify both the direct and indirect expenses of your proposed project.
Everything from staff and operational costs, promotion materials and supplies, and even rent and travel costs should be accounted for so that the funder knows you can work within the budget.
Ensuring Sustained Impact and Long-term Success
Your grant proposal cannot be short-sighted. It needs to focus on the long-term successes, implications, and impact of your project.
Ensuring that your grant proposal has a sustainable impact and long-term success is key. This is also the section where you should discuss any collaborations or ongoing support that the project will have to sustain itself well into the future.
Where Can You Find the Best Grant Opportunities?
Finding the best grant opportunities can be a laborious process on its own. Yes, you can find grants through a Google search, but that is a lengthy and time-consuming process.
Thankfully, there are dedicated grant databases available online that you can search through to find funding opportunities that align with your nonprofit’s mission and needs.
Instrumentl’s Comprehensive 990 Finder
Instrumentl’s Comprehensive 990 Finder is the most comprehensive source of funders for nonprofits and provides deep funder insights that can make finding grants much faster.
This tool has data from more than 270,000 private foundations, along with information on corporate and government funders. Instrumentl’s 990 snapshots make it easy for nonprofits to search for funders by location, focus area, and more.
For an in-depth resource into finding grants and then tailoring your proposals to them, check out our free comprehensive guide to mastering grants .
Save Time Finding Good-fit Grants
Instrumentl also has a database of active grants that you can search through with filters to help you find active funding opportunities for your organization.
For example, Hamna Khuld, a grant writer for Oasis–A Haven for Women and Children, saved 83% of her time using Instrumentl to vet funders that aligned with her nonprofit’s mission and funding needs.
And Daniel Jenkins, President of Lutheran Braille Workers, was submitting three to six grant applications per year before signing up for Instrumentl. Now they are submitting two per month using Instrumentl’s key features .
Using a dedicated grants database makes finding grants and good-fit funders much easier and more efficient.
Step-by-Step Outline For Writing Your Grant Proposal
Now that you understand the purpose of each section of a grant and where to find them, the following guide is a step-by-step outline that you can use to write your own grant proposal.
This is a good place to start with a boilerplate proposal, however, for each of these sections, you should be prepared to cut and lengthen your content as necessary to meet character and/or word counts unique to each opportunity. This is one of the most important aspects of writing your grant proposal. Many funders will not allow you to submit—or will even completely reject—proposals that don’t follow their guidelines.
As noted above, you will first start with your proposal summary , which should provide a high-level overview of the entirety of your grant proposal. You should briefly cover the most important aspect of each section of the longer proposal, including: history/mission, needs statement, project plan, budget, and evaluation.
Length: 1-2 paragraphs (about ½ page).
This section introduces your organization and its mission. You should write out your nonprofit’s mission in its entirety, as well as a brief history and major milestones in your organizational timeline.
If you work in many areas, you should hone in on the content that most illustrates your organization’s ability to administer the project that you are writing the grant for so that it illustrates a strong fit with the funder’s mission and needs.
Length: 1 paragraph.
Your organizational capacity is the section where you highlight your accomplishments. You should also detail why you are a strong candidate for funding and include things like major press highlights and successful similar projects you have administered.
Again, if your work spans a number of areas, you should hone in on the content that most illustrates your organization’s ability to administer the project that you are writing the grant for.
Your needs statement , also called a problem statement, should outline the data that you have collected that illustrates the need for your program. It should reference both qualitative and quantitative data. You should collect both general data about the area you are serving and data that is specific to your project.
Length: 1-3 paragraphs.
The program/project plan should be the core of your proposal. This is where you should explain your methodology, program dosage, and key staff who are involved in its implementation.
You should also highlight any key partners who are involved, and how you plan to collaborate with external stakeholders. This is the core of your “pitch” to the grant maker on what they are buying into in supporting your work.
Length: 4-7 paragraphs.
Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes
Metrics are critical for grant proposals. Therefore, this category of your grant functions as a high-level overview of what you seek to accomplish in your project. Remember what we mentioned earlier: a good rule to follow here is to make your goals, objectives, and outcomes SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Length: 1-2 paragraphs, or a bulleted outline list of 3-5 goals with corresponding objectives and outcomes.
The evaluation section is often overlooked when creating grant proposals, but it is one of the areas that grant makers will look at the most closely.
Evaluation should be built into your program operations and timeline, and should reflect how you will measure the goals, objectives, and outcomes from the previous section. Evaluation plans should detail things like relationships with external auditors, how you will use measurement tools, and how you plan to improve your program based on the data that you gather.
Length: 1-2 paragraphs.
The budget section is often intimidating to individuals who are unfamiliar with grant writing, but once you get a hang of it, you will see that it is a natural extension of your project plan. Each part of your project plan should correspond with a portion of your project budget.
Length: The length and detail required for a budget will vary based on each application, but it is a good habit to have a budget overview on file that can be captured in one spreadsheet.
What is your ultimate vision for what will be accomplished through your project? This is the section where you describe what happens when your project has a successful impact in the target area.
You can accomplish this section in collaboration with supporters, and make sure to explain where the grant funder you are applying to fits into that network of support.
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Tips for Making Your Grant Proposal Shine
Here are a few things that you can do to help take your proposal to the next level and stand out from the crowd:
Read the Directions!
You might remember that we mentioned this once before, but it’s so important it warrants a second section.
The absolute most important thing you can do to make sure your grant proposal is effective is to read through the funding guidelines. The #1 reason why proposals are rejected is because the grant funder’s rules were not followed when the proposal was submitted.
Establish a Realistic and Detailed Project Management Plan for Submission
Writing a grant becomes much simpler when you create a plan for the who, what, when, where, and why of submission. In collaboration with your grants team, game out who is responsible for each task/section of the grant, and decide when the deadline is for that task as you work to your ultimate goal.
Utilize Current Data About Your Programs
The more recent your data is, the more efficient your proposed project looks.
For example, don’t use U.S. Census data from 2010 when there is 2020 U.S. Census data available that is more updated and accurate. This is important to pay attention to when you utilize “boilerplate” or “evergreen” information about your programs—note which sections are dated each time that you submit, and update them with current data.
Research Grant Funders You’re Applying To
Read through the mission and priorities of the grant funding organization you are applying to. You have the best chance of being funded for your project if you can illustrate the alignment between your mission and the mission of the funder you are applying to.
Research Previous Grant Recipients
In addition to researching the grant funding organizations, you can also research the projects that they have funded in the past. By looking to see what trends they have in funding, you can determine if the opportunity would be a good fit for your organization too!
Instrumentl has an awesome feature that allows you to get insights like a grant maker’s giving patterns over multiple years, past grantees by location, openness to new grantees, and average & median grant amounts (see below!).
Find a Good Proofreader
One of the easiest ways to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes in writing your proposal is to find a talented editor to read through your proposal to submit.
Grant applications can be very long and complicated, and it can be easy to get lost or drop the ball. A “peer reviewer” can read through your proposal and offer input to make it more readable and clean up any errors you might have missed.
Never Stop Learning: Dive into Instrumentl’s Wealth of Webinars
There are a ton of guides and supplemental materials available online that can help you transform your next grant proposal from sufficient to truly good.
Here are a few resources to help you continue learning how to write a grant successfully.
A Glimpse Into Instrumentl’s Educational Resources
Instrumentl is your one-stop-shop for all things grant writing.
Whether you’re interested in grant writing classes , webinars , or guides , our resources can help you become a grant writing pro.
Here’s just a glimpse of some of our top resources:
- 15 Components of a Good Grant Proposal
- Successful Grant Proposal Examples: The Ultimate List for 2023
- Winning Grants Together: A Blueprint for Nonprofit Team Success
We hope you find our educational resources useful when learning how to write a grant and beyond.
Why Continuous Learning Matters
Continuing learning is essential for nonprofit professionals.
The fundraising and grant writing world is constantly changing. Continuous learning ensures you will stay up-to-date with the latest trends , strategies, and funding opportunities.
One of the best ways to invest in continual learning is to learn from and network with other nonprofit professionals. We offer numerous live grant writing classes hosted by expert grant writers that you can sign up for here .
Wrapping Up: The Art and Science of Successful Grant Proposals
In the competitive grant environment, it is important that each grant proposal is a fine-tuned example of what your nonprofit programs do. If you do your research and give yourself time to plan and write each section of your proposal using the techniques we covered, you will have a quality submission!
A final tip on writing good grant proposals is to always spend some time checking out what is new and improved in the grant writing universe so you can incorporate new techniques into your writing.
The Instrumentl blog is a great bookmark to keep on file so you can continue to learn more about how to write grant proposals . It’s also an awesome tool to use to research grant opportunities and funders to get the ball rolling in identifying where you can submit your good grant proposal.
So, congrats on taking this step in your grant writing journey, and good luck with your next step too!
Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.
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What separates successful grants from grants that get rejected.
Explore the essential elements that transform your grant proposal from good to outstanding. Learn what sets successful grant applications apart from the rest and maximize your chances of securing funding.
How to Leverage Impactful Letters of Support For Your Grant Applications
Maximize your grant success with impactful letters of support. Discover expert tips and strategies in our comprehensive guide on leveraging letters of support for your grant applications.
How To Optimize Your Team For The Grant Application Timeline Cycle
From research to post-award management, master nonprofit grant application timelines with our comprehensive guide.
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How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal
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Although grant proposals are far from a slam dunk or an answer to a funding emergency , they do have a role to play in supporting most charities. How much depends on your overall goals and existing basket of income .
Some charities rely heavily on grants; others do not at all. Most charities try not to rely totally on grants simply because they are time-bound and limited in scope. Also, applying for grants requires expertise and time.
Grants , to be successful, should be part of your overall fundraising plan , have a calendar , and a dedicated grant writer, either on staff or contracted .
Grants come from a variety of sources such as a foundation , a corporation or a government agency, but most require similar information. There are also at least three different types of proposals , ranging from a letter to a full-blown proposal.
Here are the most common sections of grant proposals, and the information you should include. Even if the proposal you write is not the standard proposal, you will likely need much of the information that does make up the full proposal, but in an abbreviated form.
Although you will write your cover letter last, don't give it short shrift. Think of it as the front porch of your grant proposal. How the funder feels about your nonprofit depends on this first impression.
You'll want to address your letter to a particular person, briefly state what your proposal asks for, and summarize your program. Keep in mind that this will be your first opportunity to connect with the people who can fund your grant. Make them care about your mission.
The executive summary comes after your cover letter. It helps the grantor to understand at a glance what you are asking. The summary can be as short as a couple of sentences, but no longer than one page. Aim to be complete but brief. The summary gives a taste of the proposal to come and should entice the reader to keep going.
The statement of need is the meat of your grant proposal . You must convince the funder that what you propose to do is essential and that your organization is the right one to do it.
Never assume that the reader of your summary knows much of anything about the issue. Use your expertise to explain it, but make it simple to understand.
Don't fall victim to the curse of knowledge . Remember what it's like to be a novice and write your need statement accordingly. Explain why the issue is essential, and what research you did to learn about possible solutions.
Goals and Objectives
Your goals and objectives explain what your organization plans to do about the problem. State what you hope to accomplish with the project (goals) and spell out the specific results (objectives) you expect to achieve. Think of goals as general outcomes and objectives as the particular steps you'll take to get to those outcomes. Brush up on SMART objectives.
Methods, Strategies or Program Design
Walk the grantor through exactly HOW you will achieve the goals and objectives you've set out earlier. You may be required to provide a logic model in this section which explains graphically just how the parts of your proposal work together to achieve what you hope to accomplish. Be as detailed as you can with a timeline and specifics about who will do what and when.
How will you assess your program's accomplishments? Funders want to know that their dollars had an impact . So decide now how you will evaluate the outcomes of your project.
Include what records you will keep or data you will collect, and how you will use that data. If the data collection costs money, be sure to include that cost in your budget. Many organizations hire an outside evaluator to get an objective assessment.
Other Funding or Sustainability
Have you received funding from other sources? Or have you asked other sources? Most funders, such as foundations , do not wish to be the sole source of support for a project. Be sure to mention in-kind contributions you expect, such as meeting space or equipment. Is this a pilot project with a limited timeline? Or will it go into the future? If so, how do you plan to keep funding it? Is it sustainable over the long haul?
Information About Your Organization
In a few paragraphs explain why the funder can trust you to use its funds responsibly and efficiently. Give a short history of your organization, state your mission , the population you serve and provide an overview of your track record. Describe or list your programs.
Be complete in this part of your proposal even if you know the funder or have gotten grants from this organization before. Never take for granted that the person reading this proposal knows your history.
How much will your project cost? Attach a short budget showing expected expenses and income. The expenses portion should include personnel costs, direct project costs, and administrative or overhead expenses. Income should include earned income and contributed income such as donations.
Funders are likely to want to see the following:
- IRS letter proving that your organization is tax-exempt.
- List of your board of directors and their affiliations.
- A budget for your current fiscal year.
- The budget for your next fiscal year if you are within a few months of that new year.
Putting it All Together
If you're submitting a proposal by mail, put everything together with your cover sheet and a cover letter.
You may need to have your CEO and the Board President sign the cover sheet or letter. You do not need a fancy binder, but it should all be neatly typed and free of errors. Online grant applications have become quite popular with many funders. But take equal care with those as well.
The most comprehensive collection of grant samples may be at Grants Space by Candid . It has downloadable sample grant proposals, cover letters and more.
- Grant Writing Tips From Prospecting to Avoiding Mistakes
- 19 Essential Samples and Templates for Nonprofit Organizations
- Writing the Organizational Background Section for a Grant Proposal
- How to Develop a Grant Proposal Writing Process
- How to Write Goals and SMART Objectives for Your Grant Proposal
- How to Write an Effective Grant Proposal Cover Letter
- How to Write a Successful Executive Summary for Your Grant Proposal
- How to Write the Methods Section of Your Grant Proposal
- Which Type of Grant Proposal Should You Write?
- How to Write a Letter of Inquiry to a Foundation
- How to Write the Evaluation Section of Your Grant Proposal
- What Are Grant Letters of Support?
- How Long Does It Take to Get a Grant Proposal Approved?
- How to Write the Sustainability Section of Your Grant Proposal
- How to Make a Grant Proposal to a Small Family Foundation
- How to Talk About Nonprofit Impact from Inputs to Outcomes
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How to write a winning grant proposal
- Stephen Robertson (he/him)
- February 7, 2023
Writing a proposal for a project grant can feel like a daunting task, but with the right guidance, it doesn’t need to be a bewildering endeavor. Like climbing a mountain, it helps to have a path to follow to reach its summit, or in this case, a map of sorts to guide you to your desired destination—a compelling proposal that unlocks funding to advance your mission-driven work. In this blog, we will share the key elements of a typical project proposal and best practices for how to approach drafting each section to help you secure the grant you seek.
Key elements of a grant proposal
Executive summary .
Often, your executive summary will be the first spot funders look to decide if they want to continue reading the entire proposal. Although an executive summary is typically included at the beginning of your final grant proposal, it’s best to tackle writing this section last given its importance. Your executive summary provides a snapshot of your overall proposal and often includes:
- The problem or need you’re seeking to address, or your proposal’s need statement.
- A brief description of the project, including your goals and objectives.
- Information about your organization and its experience addressing your proposal’s key need or problem.
- How much money that you are asking the funder to consider granting you.
Your need statement is where you’ll convince your prospective funder of the urgency of addressing your proposed problem or need in one page or less. In this section, do your best to succinctly peak the prospective funder’s interest in your specific project by incorporating data-driven insights and human stories that bring your need to life. Once completed, it should seek to answer these questions: If your project is funded, how will it be better and for whom, and why should this particular funder care?
Given you are competing with other applicants, don’t forget to align your need statement with your funder’s objectives. After all, the best way to get a funder to care about your solution is to explain how it overlaps with the focus areas of their foundation.
Your project description should delve deep into the specific activities of your project and how they will benefit your target demographic. This section should include a detailed outline that explains exactly how, when, and by whom the project will be executed and completed. An additional tip for success: Consider emphasizing any collaborations and partnerships with other organizations on similar efforts to boost your credibility.
Project goals and objectives
When it comes to grant proposals, it is important to understand the difference between goals and objectives. Goals are typically broad, general statements of need, while objectives are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound ( S.M.A.R.T. ). It is also important to discuss whether the issue is currently being addressed, and how your solution or organization will be better than the status quo.
In your grant proposal, you should provide more information about your organization. This is where you can showcase your mission, organizational history, as well as the impacts of your other programs and/or services. In this section, you can highlight your nonprofit’s accomplishments, staff’s expertise, and track record of success in your community. When approaching writing this section of your proposal, aim to include details that help the funder see why your organization is best suited to solve the problem or need at hand, if awarded the grant. If you are wondering how to get started, consider showcasing the information in your Candid nonprofit profile .
Here you’ll get down to the dollars and cents required to address your need or problem. Your project budget will ideally mirror the associated direct and indirect costs of the items outlined in your project description, such as staffing, rent, supplies, promotion, and the like. In this section, you will also want to detail the revenue sources you are planning to use to fund the project. Another tip for success: Be sure to explain how you will continue to support and sustain the project—beyond the specific grant you are seeking. For a more in-depth understanding of how to create a project budget, be sure to check out this free training on the topic.
With this roadmap to guide your efforts, you’re ready to begin writing a successful grant proposal. If you’re interested in some additional tips and pointers, be sure to also consider the following best practices:
- Start with an outline to help you better prepare, organize your thoughts, and guide your efforts.
- Do your research to understand who you are approaching and what their priorities are by exploring the information on their website, the types of nonprofits and issue areas they fund using Foundation Directory , and the like.
- Focus on the funder’s objectives and use your powers of persuasion to make them understand that your approach is in their best interest.
- Always follow the funder’s guidelines and keep your language clear and concise.
- Tap into the power of your colleagues’ feedback, and don’t forget to revise and edit your proposal before submitting it.
To learn even more, visit learning.candid.org where you can find free resources and sample documents or join us for our three-week, in-depth Proposal Writing Bootcamp to help you craft a winning grant proposal.
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About the author
Stephen lives to create order out of chaos by developing people-centered systems and training programs that maximize efficiency and impact. Coming from four-generations working in the social sector, Stephen experienced in university the positive power of business to shape people’s lives – empowering them to develop a growth mindset and providing them with the tools and social support to lift themselves out of poverty.
Stephen started his career at Enactus, a global network of students, academicians, and business executives committed to using business acumen for societal progress. In his roles as Regional Program Manager and Director of United States Programs, Stephen created direct training and train-the-trainer programs implemented across 500+ universities with over 18,000 students involved in over 3,000 social impact projects and entrepreneurial ventures. Directing the development of the organization’s first online training center providing internal and external constituents with on-demand training modules and resources, Stephen delivered capacity building workshops for staff and external constituents across Africa, Asia, Europe, and Central America.
At Candid, Stephen ideates on ways to better serve the network of over 500+ partner organizations providing tools and resources to nonprofits through the creation of efficient internal systems and processes related to territory management. In addition, Stephen assists in an annual flagship research effort to create financial snapshots of the field and works with individual community foundations to benchmark their performance against peers and perform deep analyses of their own operating models.
Insatiably curious, Stephen spends his free time traveling, specifically to places in nature that inspire wonder or cultures vastly different from his own to expand his mind, listening to science and psychology podcasts, and gardening. He also writes and produces original music, merging his love of R&B/Gospel music with electronic music, fusing global sounds from his travel across six continents and 23 countries.
Stephen holds a B.B.A in Business Management with a minor in Theology and Leadership Studies from Evangel University.
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Quite educative, thanks
Keshini Wijegoonaratna says:
The strategies and key areas indicated are noted. Thank You
Ntahli Griffiths says:
We have a community based organization which like also to empower vulnerable groups of women in community and would like to write a winning proposal.
Christopher L. Lunguya says:
Very important and useful information, Well done.I cannot express my thanks to Candid
Very important information, thank you so much
Nestor Ogarro says:
Nice and credible
Very good and reliable
Miatta T. Sawyer Davis says:
Kate, digital communications manager, candid says:.
That depends a little on what information you want! Head to our Contact Us page for information on how to reach us for different products or for educational resources.
R. White says:
How can I reach you
Louis Mwewa says:
I have the article very interesting and educative.
We have lots of resources to help you write a grant proposal! Get started here: How do I write a grant proposal?
Gerard Foisape says:
Can I know how to write a proposal
Help me how can writte a propsol
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How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal: A Step-by-Step Guide to Securing Funding for Your Project
Securing funding through grant proposals can be a game-changer for individuals and organizations looking to turn their innovative ideas into reality. However, writing a winning grant proposal requires careful planning, persuasive storytelling, and a compelling case for support. In this comprehensive guide, we will provide a step-by-step approach on how to craft a successful grant proposal that stands out to funders. By following these tips, you can significantly increase your chances of obtaining the necessary financial support to bring your projects to life and make a positive impact on your community and the world.
- Identify the Right Grant Opportunity: The first step in writing a winning grant proposal is to identify the most suitable funding opportunity for your project. Research various funding sources, foundations, and organizations that align with your project’s objectives and values. Look for opportunities that have funded similar projects in the past or have a specific interest in your field of work. Ensure that your proposal fits the eligibility criteria and objectives of the funding opportunity to maximize your chances of success. Take the time to understand the funding organization’s mission, vision, and values. Tailor your proposal to address the specific interests and priorities of the granting entity, demonstrating your understanding of their goals and the potential alignment with your project. This tailored approach will show that you are invested in the success of the partnership and not merely seeking funds from any available source.
- Understand the Guidelines: Before delving into the proposal writing process, carefully review the grant guidelines and requirements. Pay close attention to the submission deadline, formatting, and any specific questions or sections you need to address. Familiarize yourself with the evaluation criteria, as this will help you structure your proposal effectively. Funders often provide valuable insights into what they are looking for in a proposal, and following their guidelines demonstrates your ability to follow instructions accurately. Ensure that you adhere to word limits and provide all necessary attachments, such as budget breakdowns, letters of support, and relevant documentation. Some funders may have specific formats or templates to be used, so make sure to comply with their submission requirements. Submitting a well-organized and complete proposal shows that you respect their time and are committed to delivering the information they need.
- Develop a Compelling Narrative: A winning grant proposal tells a compelling story that resonates with the reader. Craft an engaging narrative that captures the essence of your project and highlights the problem or need it seeks to address. Start by introducing your organization and its mission, providing a brief background of your work. Then, clearly explain the objectives, activities, and anticipated outcomes of your proposed initiative. Use real-life examples, anecdotes, and data to illustrate the potential impact your project will have on the target beneficiaries or the community at large. Incorporate stories of individuals who have been positively affected by your past work, showcasing your organization’s track record in creating meaningful change. Use language that is clear, concise, and persuasive throughout your proposal. Avoid jargon or technical terms that might be unfamiliar to the reviewer. Be mindful of the reader’s time and aim to keep them engaged by presenting your ideas in a compelling and easy-to-understand manner.
- Clearly Define Your Goals and Objectives: Be specific and concise when outlining your project’s goals and objectives. Clearly state what you aim to achieve and how you will measure success. Use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) criteria to set realistic targets for your project’s outcomes. Break down your objectives into smaller, manageable tasks, illustrating a well-thought-out plan for project implementation. Show how each objective contributes to the overall success of the project. Additionally, provide a timeline that outlines the key milestones and deliverables to give the funder a clear understanding of your project’s progression. Including measurable indicators and impact metrics demonstrates that you have carefully considered how to measure the success of your project. This not only helps funders evaluate your proposal but also provides a basis for you to monitor and evaluate your project’s progress throughout its implementation.
- Demonstrate Your Capacity and Expertise: Funders want to support projects that are likely to succeed and have a positive impact. Showcase your organization’s expertise, experience, and past successes in similar initiatives. Highlight the skills and qualifications of your team members, underscoring their relevance to the project’s objectives. Provide information about any strategic partnerships that add value to your project. Partnerships with other organizations or stakeholders can demonstrate your ability to collaborate and leverage additional resources for the project’s success. Such collaborations also show funders that your project has support from a broader network of stakeholders. Share any relevant awards, accolades, or certifications that demonstrate your organization’s credibility and commitment to excellence. Be sure to include testimonials or endorsements from past beneficiaries, partners, or community members to add credibility to your proposal.
- Create a Detailed Budget : A well-structured budget is a critical component of a winning grant proposal. It serves as a financial roadmap that outlines how the grant funds will be utilized to achieve the project’s objectives. Ensure that your budget is accurate, detailed, and aligned with the project’s objectives and activities. Clearly explain how the funds will be allocated and justified. Provide detailed line items for all relevant costs, such as personnel, equipment, travel, and other direct expenses. Demonstrate that you have considered cost-efficiency and have allocated funds strategically to maximize impact. Funders want to see that their investment will be used responsibly and effectively to achieve the desired outcomes.
- Address Potential Challenges and Risks: Acknowledge and address potential challenges and risks in your proposal. Being upfront about the potential obstacles demonstrates that you have thought critically about the project’s implementation and have a plan to overcome or mitigate challenges. Show that you are prepared to handle unforeseen circumstances and have considered alternative strategies. This proactive approach gives funders confidence in your ability to navigate any roadblocks that may arise during the project’s execution. Clearly communicate the steps you will take to manage risks and explain how you will monitor the project’s progress to identify and address any emerging issues. This level of preparedness highlights your organization’s resilience and adaptability, which are essential qualities in successfully implementing a project.
Writing a winning grant proposal requires careful preparation, persuasive storytelling, and attention to detail. By following the step-by-step approach outlined in this guide and tailoring your proposal to the specific needs of funders, you can significantly increase your chances of securing the funding needed to bring your projects to life and make a positive impact on society. Remember, grant writing is an iterative process, and seeking feedback and incorporating suggestions can further enhance the quality and effectiveness of your proposal. By approaching grant writing as an opportunity to showcase your passion and dedication to creating positive change, you can inspire funders to join you in your journey towards a better and brighter future.
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Grant Proposals (or Give me the money!)
What this handout is about.
This handout will help you write and revise grant proposals for research funding in all academic disciplines (sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts). It’s targeted primarily to graduate students and faculty, although it will also be helpful to undergraduate students who are seeking funding for research (e.g. for a senior thesis).
The grant writing process
A grant proposal or application is a document or set of documents that is submitted to an organization with the explicit intent of securing funding for a research project. Grant writing varies widely across the disciplines, and research intended for epistemological purposes (philosophy or the arts) rests on very different assumptions than research intended for practical applications (medicine or social policy research). Nonetheless, this handout attempts to provide a general introduction to grant writing across the disciplines.
Before you begin writing your proposal, you need to know what kind of research you will be doing and why. You may have a topic or experiment in mind, but taking the time to define what your ultimate purpose is can be essential to convincing others to fund that project. Although some scholars in the humanities and arts may not have thought about their projects in terms of research design, hypotheses, research questions, or results, reviewers and funding agencies expect you to frame your project in these terms. You may also find that thinking about your project in these terms reveals new aspects of it to you.
Writing successful grant applications is a long process that begins with an idea. Although many people think of grant writing as a linear process (from idea to proposal to award), it is a circular process. Many people start by defining their research question or questions. What knowledge or information will be gained as a direct result of your project? Why is undertaking your research important in a broader sense? You will need to explicitly communicate this purpose to the committee reviewing your application. This is easier when you know what you plan to achieve before you begin the writing process.
Diagram 1 below provides an overview of the grant writing process and may help you plan your proposal development.
Applicants must write grant proposals, submit them, receive notice of acceptance or rejection, and then revise their proposals. Unsuccessful grant applicants must revise and resubmit their proposals during the next funding cycle. Successful grant applications and the resulting research lead to ideas for further research and new grant proposals.
Cultivating an ongoing, positive relationship with funding agencies may lead to additional grants down the road. Thus, make sure you file progress reports and final reports in a timely and professional manner. Although some successful grant applicants may fear that funding agencies will reject future proposals because they’ve already received “enough” funding, the truth is that money follows money. Individuals or projects awarded grants in the past are more competitive and thus more likely to receive funding in the future.
Some general tips
- Begin early.
- Apply early and often.
- Don’t forget to include a cover letter with your application.
- Answer all questions. (Pre-empt all unstated questions.)
- If rejected, revise your proposal and apply again.
- Give them what they want. Follow the application guidelines exactly.
- Be explicit and specific.
- Be realistic in designing the project.
- Make explicit the connections between your research questions and objectives, your objectives and methods, your methods and results, and your results and dissemination plan.
- Follow the application guidelines exactly. (We have repeated this tip because it is very, very important.)
Before you start writing
Identify your needs and focus.
First, identify your needs. Answering the following questions may help you:
- Are you undertaking preliminary or pilot research in order to develop a full-blown research agenda?
- Are you seeking funding for dissertation research? Pre-dissertation research? Postdoctoral research? Archival research? Experimental research? Fieldwork?
- Are you seeking a stipend so that you can write a dissertation or book? Polish a manuscript?
- Do you want a fellowship in residence at an institution that will offer some programmatic support or other resources to enhance your project?
- Do you want funding for a large research project that will last for several years and involve multiple staff members?
Next, think about the focus of your research/project. Answering the following questions may help you narrow it down:
- What is the topic? Why is this topic important?
- What are the research questions that you’re trying to answer? What relevance do your research questions have?
- What are your hypotheses?
- What are your research methods?
- Why is your research/project important? What is its significance?
- Do you plan on using quantitative methods? Qualitative methods? Both?
- Will you be undertaking experimental research? Clinical research?
Once you have identified your needs and focus, you can begin looking for prospective grants and funding agencies.
Finding prospective grants and funding agencies
Whether your proposal receives funding will rely in large part on whether your purpose and goals closely match the priorities of granting agencies. Locating possible grantors is a time consuming task, but in the long run it will yield the greatest benefits. Even if you have the most appealing research proposal in the world, if you don’t send it to the right institutions, then you’re unlikely to receive funding.
There are many sources of information about granting agencies and grant programs. Most universities and many schools within universities have Offices of Research, whose primary purpose is to support faculty and students in grant-seeking endeavors. These offices usually have libraries or resource centers to help people find prospective grants.
At UNC, the Research at Carolina office coordinates research support.
The Funding Information Portal offers a collection of databases and proposal development guidance.
The UNC School of Medicine and School of Public Health each have their own Office of Research.
Writing your proposal
The majority of grant programs recruit academic reviewers with knowledge of the disciplines and/or program areas of the grant. Thus, when writing your grant proposals, assume that you are addressing a colleague who is knowledgeable in the general area, but who does not necessarily know the details about your research questions.
Remember that most readers are lazy and will not respond well to a poorly organized, poorly written, or confusing proposal. Be sure to give readers what they want. Follow all the guidelines for the particular grant you are applying for. This may require you to reframe your project in a different light or language. Reframing your project to fit a specific grant’s requirements is a legitimate and necessary part of the process unless it will fundamentally change your project’s goals or outcomes.
Final decisions about which proposals are funded often come down to whether the proposal convinces the reviewer that the research project is well planned and feasible and whether the investigators are well qualified to execute it. Throughout the proposal, be as explicit as possible. Predict the questions that the reviewer may have and answer them. Przeworski and Salomon (1995) note that reviewers read with three questions in mind:
- What are we going to learn as a result of the proposed project that we do not know now? (goals, aims, and outcomes)
- Why is it worth knowing? (significance)
- How will we know that the conclusions are valid? (criteria for success) (2)
Be sure to answer these questions in your proposal. Keep in mind that reviewers may not read every word of your proposal. Your reviewer may only read the abstract, the sections on research design and methodology, the vitae, and the budget. Make these sections as clear and straightforward as possible.
The way you write your grant will tell the reviewers a lot about you (Reif-Lehrer 82). From reading your proposal, the reviewers will form an idea of who you are as a scholar, a researcher, and a person. They will decide whether you are creative, logical, analytical, up-to-date in the relevant literature of the field, and, most importantly, capable of executing the proposed project. Allow your discipline and its conventions to determine the general style of your writing, but allow your own voice and personality to come through. Be sure to clarify your project’s theoretical orientation.
Develop a general proposal and budget
Because most proposal writers seek funding from several different agencies or granting programs, it is a good idea to begin by developing a general grant proposal and budget. This general proposal is sometimes called a “white paper.” Your general proposal should explain your project to a general academic audience. Before you submit proposals to different grant programs, you will tailor a specific proposal to their guidelines and priorities.
Organizing your proposal
Although each funding agency will have its own (usually very specific) requirements, there are several elements of a proposal that are fairly standard, and they often come in the following order:
- Introduction (statement of the problem, purpose of research or goals, and significance of research)
- Project narrative (methods, procedures, objectives, outcomes or deliverables, evaluation, and dissemination)
- Budget and budget justification
Format the proposal so that it is easy to read. Use headings to break the proposal up into sections. If it is long, include a table of contents with page numbers.
The title page usually includes a brief yet explicit title for the research project, the names of the principal investigator(s), the institutional affiliation of the applicants (the department and university), name and address of the granting agency, project dates, amount of funding requested, and signatures of university personnel authorizing the proposal (when necessary). Most funding agencies have specific requirements for the title page; make sure to follow them.
The abstract provides readers with their first impression of your project. To remind themselves of your proposal, readers may glance at your abstract when making their final recommendations, so it may also serve as their last impression of your project. The abstract should explain the key elements of your research project in the future tense. Most abstracts state: (1) the general purpose, (2) specific goals, (3) research design, (4) methods, and (5) significance (contribution and rationale). Be as explicit as possible in your abstract. Use statements such as, “The objective of this study is to …”
The introduction should cover the key elements of your proposal, including a statement of the problem, the purpose of research, research goals or objectives, and significance of the research. The statement of problem should provide a background and rationale for the project and establish the need and relevance of the research. How is your project different from previous research on the same topic? Will you be using new methodologies or covering new theoretical territory? The research goals or objectives should identify the anticipated outcomes of the research and should match up to the needs identified in the statement of problem. List only the principle goal(s) or objective(s) of your research and save sub-objectives for the project narrative.
Many proposals require a literature review. Reviewers want to know whether you’ve done the necessary preliminary research to undertake your project. Literature reviews should be selective and critical, not exhaustive. Reviewers want to see your evaluation of pertinent works. For more information, see our handout on literature reviews .
The project narrative provides the meat of your proposal and may require several subsections. The project narrative should supply all the details of the project, including a detailed statement of problem, research objectives or goals, hypotheses, methods, procedures, outcomes or deliverables, and evaluation and dissemination of the research.
For the project narrative, pre-empt and/or answer all of the reviewers’ questions. Don’t leave them wondering about anything. For example, if you propose to conduct unstructured interviews with open-ended questions, be sure you’ve explained why this methodology is best suited to the specific research questions in your proposal. Or, if you’re using item response theory rather than classical test theory to verify the validity of your survey instrument, explain the advantages of this innovative methodology. Or, if you need to travel to Valdez, Alaska to access historical archives at the Valdez Museum, make it clear what documents you hope to find and why they are relevant to your historical novel on the ’98ers in the Alaskan Gold Rush.
Clearly and explicitly state the connections between your research objectives, research questions, hypotheses, methodologies, and outcomes. As the requirements for a strong project narrative vary widely by discipline, consult a discipline-specific guide to grant writing for some additional advice.
Explain staffing requirements in detail and make sure that staffing makes sense. Be very explicit about the skill sets of the personnel already in place (you will probably include their Curriculum Vitae as part of the proposal). Explain the necessary skill sets and functions of personnel you will recruit. To minimize expenses, phase out personnel who are not relevant to later phases of a project.
The budget spells out project costs and usually consists of a spreadsheet or table with the budget detailed as line items and a budget narrative (also known as a budget justification) that explains the various expenses. Even when proposal guidelines do not specifically mention a narrative, be sure to include a one or two page explanation of the budget. To see a sample budget, turn to Example #1 at the end of this handout.
Consider including an exhaustive budget for your project, even if it exceeds the normal grant size of a particular funding organization. Simply make it clear that you are seeking additional funding from other sources. This technique will make it easier for you to combine awards down the road should you have the good fortune of receiving multiple grants.
Make sure that all budget items meet the funding agency’s requirements. For example, all U.S. government agencies have strict requirements for airline travel. Be sure the cost of the airline travel in your budget meets their requirements. If a line item falls outside an agency’s requirements (e.g. some organizations will not cover equipment purchases or other capital expenses), explain in the budget justification that other grant sources will pay for the item.
Many universities require that indirect costs (overhead) be added to grants that they administer. Check with the appropriate offices to find out what the standard (or required) rates are for overhead. Pass a draft budget by the university officer in charge of grant administration for assistance with indirect costs and costs not directly associated with research (e.g. facilities use charges).
Furthermore, make sure you factor in the estimated taxes applicable for your case. Depending on the categories of expenses and your particular circumstances (whether you are a foreign national, for example), estimated tax rates may differ. You can consult respective departmental staff or university services, as well as professional tax assistants. For information on taxes on scholarships and fellowships, see https://cashier.unc.edu/student-tax-information/scholarships-fellowships/ .
Explain the timeframe for the research project in some detail. When will you begin and complete each step? It may be helpful to reviewers if you present a visual version of your timeline. For less complicated research, a table summarizing the timeline for the project will help reviewers understand and evaluate the planning and feasibility. See Example #2 at the end of this handout.
For multi-year research proposals with numerous procedures and a large staff, a time line diagram can help clarify the feasibility and planning of the study. See Example #3 at the end of this handout.
Revising your proposal
Strong grant proposals take a long time to develop. Start the process early and leave time to get feedback from several readers on different drafts. Seek out a variety of readers, both specialists in your research area and non-specialist colleagues. You may also want to request assistance from knowledgeable readers on specific areas of your proposal. For example, you may want to schedule a meeting with a statistician to help revise your methodology section. Don’t hesitate to seek out specialized assistance from the relevant research offices on your campus. At UNC, the Odum Institute provides a variety of services to graduate students and faculty in the social sciences.
In your revision and editing, ask your readers to give careful consideration to whether you’ve made explicit the connections between your research objectives and methodology. Here are some example questions:
- Have you presented a compelling case?
- Have you made your hypotheses explicit?
- Does your project seem feasible? Is it overly ambitious? Does it have other weaknesses?
- Have you stated the means that grantors can use to evaluate the success of your project after you’ve executed it?
If a granting agency lists particular criteria used for rating and evaluating proposals, be sure to share these with your own reviewers.
Example #1. Sample Budget
Jet travel $6,100 This estimate is based on the commercial high season rate for jet economy travel on Sabena Belgian Airlines. No U.S. carriers fly to Kigali, Rwanda. Sabena has student fare tickets available which will be significantly less expensive (approximately $2,000).
Maintenance allowance $22,788 Based on the Fulbright-Hays Maintenance Allowances published in the grant application guide.
Research assistant/translator $4,800 The research assistant/translator will be a native (and primary) speaker of Kinya-rwanda with at least a four-year university degree. He/she will accompany the primary investigator during life history interviews to provide assistance in comprehension. In addition, he/she will provide commentary, explanations, and observations to facilitate the primary investigator’s participant observation. During the first phase of the project in Kigali, the research assistant will work forty hours a week and occasional overtime as needed. During phases two and three in rural Rwanda, the assistant will stay with the investigator overnight in the field when necessary. The salary of $400 per month is based on the average pay rate for individuals with similar qualifications working for international NGO’s in Rwanda.
Transportation within country, phase one $1,200 The primary investigator and research assistant will need regular transportation within Kigali by bus and taxi. The average taxi fare in Kigali is $6-8 and bus fare is $.15. This figure is based on an average of $10 per day in transportation costs during the first project phase.
Transportation within country, phases two and three $12,000 Project personnel will also require regular transportation between rural field sites. If it is not possible to remain overnight, daily trips will be necessary. The average rental rate for a 4×4 vehicle in Rwanda is $130 per day. This estimate is based on an average of $50 per day in transportation costs for the second and third project phases. These costs could be reduced if an arrangement could be made with either a government ministry or international aid agency for transportation assistance.
Email $720 The rate for email service from RwandaTel (the only service provider in Rwanda) is $60 per month. Email access is vital for receiving news reports on Rwanda and the region as well as for staying in contact with dissertation committee members and advisors in the United States.
Audiocassette tapes $400 Audiocassette tapes will be necessary for recording life history interviews, musical performances, community events, story telling, and other pertinent data.
Photographic & slide film $100 Photographic and slide film will be necessary to document visual data such as landscape, environment, marriages, funerals, community events, etc.
Laptop computer $2,895 A laptop computer will be necessary for recording observations, thoughts, and analysis during research project. Price listed is a special offer to UNC students through the Carolina Computing Initiative.
NUD*IST 4.0 software $373.00 NUD*IST, “Nonnumerical, Unstructured Data, Indexing, Searching, and Theorizing,” is necessary for cataloging, indexing, and managing field notes both during and following the field research phase. The program will assist in cataloging themes that emerge during the life history interviews.
Administrative fee $100 Fee set by Fulbright-Hays for the sponsoring institution.
Example #2: Project Timeline in Table Format
Example #3: project timeline in chart format.
Some closing advice
Some of us may feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for money or promoting ourselves. Often, these feelings have more to do with our own insecurities than with problems in the tone or style of our writing. If you’re having trouble because of these types of hang-ups, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it never hurts to ask. If you never ask for the money, they’ll never give you the money. Besides, the worst thing they can do is say no.
UNC resources for proposal writing
Research at Carolina http://research.unc.edu
The Odum Institute for Research in the Social Sciences https://odum.unc.edu/
UNC Medical School Office of Research https://www.med.unc.edu/oor
UNC School of Public Health Office of Research http://www.sph.unc.edu/research/
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Holloway, Brian R. 2003. Proposal Writing Across the Disciplines. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Levine, S. Joseph. “Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal.” http://www.learnerassociates.net/proposal/ .
Locke, Lawrence F., Waneen Wyrick Spirduso, and Stephen J. Silverman. 2014. Proposals That Work . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Przeworski, Adam, and Frank Salomon. 2012. “Some Candid Suggestions on the Art of Writing Proposals.” Social Science Research Council. https://s3.amazonaws.com/ssrc-cdn2/art-of-writing-proposals-dsd-e-56b50ef814f12.pdf .
Reif-Lehrer, Liane. 1989. Writing a Successful Grant Application . Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Wiggins, Beverly. 2002. “Funding and Proposal Writing for Social Science Faculty and Graduate Student Research.” Chapel Hill: Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science. 2 Feb. 2004. http://www2.irss.unc.edu/irss/shortcourses/wigginshandouts/granthandout.pdf.
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Home › Writing › What is Business Writing? › How to Write a Grant Proposal in 8 Steps
How to Write a Grant Proposal in 8 Steps
Become a Certified Grant Writer
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Finding a genuine grant is challenging in its own right. Once you find a couple of grants, you need to write a grant proposal to get the funding. You’ll likely get only one shot at a grant application. If you fail, it’s back to grant scavenging.
Writing a grant proposal that reflects your project statement, objectives, mission but also clearly defines funding reasons is the key to getting the money. As such, it is the greatest challenge you’ll face.
If you’re interested in learning how to write a grant via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.
In hopes of winning grant funding, you’ll need to write more than just the main grant proposal. You’ll also need a compelling cover letter, budget summary, and likely a statement of need. That’s why larger nonprofit organizations hire agencies and grant writers to write their grant proposals.
But depending on the grant type, grant writing can take up to 100 hours , and a grant writer can cost anything from $40 to $200 per hour.
If you lack the resources, you’ll have to write your own grant proposal that will impress the possible funder. Fortunately, grant writing is a skill you can master, whether you’re applying for private, corporate, or government grant funding.
If you’re unsure of how to write a grant proposal, here are the eight fundamental steps. The tips will help you write a successful grant proposal for different grants and get you the necessary funding for your nonprofit organization’s project.
1. Research First, Grant Writing Later
There are many examples of an organization itching to write grant applications before doing research. One of the top three rejection reasons is that the project doesn’t sync up with the funding agencies’ goals.
What Type of Grant Proposal Are You Writing
Usually, there are three different grant proposals.
- Letter of Inquiry (LOI)
- Full Proposal
- Letter Proposal
LOI is usually around two to three pages long and goes to a foundation. The goal isn’t to go straight to grant funding. LOI should summarize the plan, funding, and how you plan to achieve your goals.
It’s a way to test the waters and see if you and the funder are a good fit. If you are, you’ll be moving to a full proposal.
The full proposal is what most organizations think of when writing a grant proposal. General full proposals can range anywhere from five to twenty-five pages. There are major grant proposals that can go up to 100 pages.
The format is fairly standard, and it includes a cover letter, project summary, and organization’s budget summary.
The letter proposal is usually for corporations and is usually around three to four pages long. Although similar to LOI, keep in mind that you’re asking for money with the letter proposal, while LOI serves only to check the agency’s interest.
Research Agency Goals
Before you consider even writing a sample grant proposal, research. If you’re not sure where to find grants, visit the government’s grant website .
Let’s say you found a couple of potential grant fundings; what’s next? The answer should be obvious: it’s research.
The core of what each funder is seeking in a grant proposal is the same. You need to answer:
- For what does the organization need the funding?
- What’s the grand project and goal?
- How does the funder fit in the story? But what makes grant writing complex is that every funder has an idea of what makes a great business or nonprofit project. It’s that gray area that can make the grant proposal writing process difficult even for experienced grant writers.
One funder will want the financial data in a neat spreadsheet. The other might ask for a project budget statement with a detailed justification for every cent. The third might not cover direct costs such as travel but has no problem with funding events. And there’s always that one organization that can’t stand grant proposals in Arial 12 text font.
There isn’t a one glove fits all template. Meaning, if you don’t read carefully what the particular funder is looking for, your failures will overpower positive outcomes in a second.
Think of it like playing baseball. Although the general baseball rules are the same no matter which team you play, you still have to prepare for every team separately if you’re hoping to win.
2. Read the Grant Application Carefully
Go through the entire grant application first. Don’t skip. You might feel like you’re saving time, but by skipping, you’ll end up wasting more time because it’s inevitable you’ll have to go back. So read the application carefully.
As you’re reading, underline the following key information:
- Questions you’ll have to answer.
- Materials and data you’ll need to provide.
- Keywords that will help you write a more “pleasing” grant proposal.
- Proposal format guidelines.
Keep in mind that most people are lazy when reading grant proposals. Meaning, your grant proposal needs to be easy to read but also not dumbed down to a 6-year-old level. By not being lazy in your application reading, you can get a good idea of what tone of voice to use to satisfy the reader.
Usually, you want to imagine the reader as a knowledgeable colleague who’s too lazy to have in-debt knowledge.
3. Write Down Each Key Request
After jotting down the essentials, write the proposal outline. The outline should assess the grant’s purpose and how your organization plans to contribute to the said purpose.
If your organization is all about helping the local community, you need to focus on activities that promote education, donations, local improvements, etc.
Try and answer the following questions in the outline:
- Who are you?
- How much do you need, and how do you plan to use the money?
- What makes your organization’s project stand out?
- What’s the narrative behind your project?
- How does your project improve the current status quo? This should give you a strong starting point for writing the grant proposal.
4. Create a General Grant Proposal Outline
Before you dive into each grant’s specifics, create an outline you’ll use for each grant proposal. Although each proposal differs, every grant foundation will ask for the following information in the grant proposal:
- Title Page – The title page should include a brief and direct title, applicant’s institutional affiliation, name and address of the funding agency, project dates, the grant amount, and executive summary (signatures).
- Introduction – A short intro that creates the initial project impression by explaining the project ideas.
- Project Narrative – Provide details such as problem statement, goals, methods, general project process, possible outcomes, research.
- Organization Personnel – Listing the personnel and a short description of the necessity for the given staff. Which staff members are long-term, which are short-term.
- Budget & Time-Frame – Overview of why you need the money, expenses, how you plan to spend funds, and the time frame in which the project will occur. There are many books on grant writing that you can check if you feel like you need a specific template.
5. From The First Draft to the Final Product
Before you write a successful grant proposal, you should write the draft first. The reason for writing the draft isn’t to write a perfect proposal. Instead, it’s to get your ideas down on paper for different grant applications. By not focusing on making it perfect, you’re saving time while creating a solid core for your proposal.
6. Create the First Draft
Go back to your outline and questions and summarize them in a single narrative. Determine the key points that will impress the reviewers and support your project. If you have previous projects and experience that will benefit the evaluation, add that as well.
Don’t ponder on a single question for too long. If you feel you’re hitting a wall, move on to the next question.
Although you don’t want to be too specific, you should still outline the specifics of your mission. If you write “I want to help my community,” you can be sure the reviewer read that line a million times and will ignore your proposal.
Instead, explain how you plan to use different grants to help the community in a couple of sentences. For example: “The grant will help us buy the computers that we need to provide literacy education to community members coming from low-income families.”
Funders don’t care about general ideas. By providing specifics, you’re indirectly proving your competence to achieve the goals.
7. Review the Grant Proposal Draft
After you write a grant proposal draft, it’s time to review. When reviewing drafts for different grants, here are tips that should serve you as a reviewing process guide.
Pinpoint what information will support your cause with the reviewers. Be careful that you don’t accidentally add information that will create implicit bias or acts of prejudice and stereotyping. For example, just because the community you’re trying to help doesn’t have a proper education system, that doesn’t mean the community isn’t knowledgeable.
Grantmakers are looking for a program that’s high quality. During your evaluation, ensure that you have a clearly outlined reporting system for your expenses. Setting up a streamlined communication shows you’re ready to report on your program’s progress and how you distribute the funds.
Your funding request needs to be transparent. Meaning, nonprofit organizations seeking funds should have preestablished rules that explain the spending process.
You can take the further step and create review criteria. This can mean adding a numeric rating scale, objectives, and other metrics that help minimize subjectivity.
Check for any specific request different grants may ask for. Many funders will ask you to submit the grant proposal online. In that case, don’t bother checking if they accept regular mail or fax.
Although you want to be compelling with your request, there are particular elements you want to stick to like glue. Grant providers have evaluation rules, and they will expect you to follow them. Going too much out of the box can result in disqualification before the reviewer even reads your request.
Finally, have at least two to three readers outside your nonprofit organization check the draft. If they don’t understand what your program is about, the chance is the grant reviewer won’t either. Ask them what parts aren’t clear, go back and rewrite. After you finish rewriting, you can ask the same people, or even better, have a different set of readers review your draft and provide tips.
8. Provide Necessary Documentation
People who wonder how to write a grant proposal usually forget that grant writing entails writing a budget summary and a cover letter .
Research estimates that new programs have a success rate of 30 to 40 percent . Meaning, if you want to succeed, you need to make everything count.
Create a Budget Summary
Writing your grant budget summary requires that you clearly streamline where the funding is going. Your mission might be clear and inspiring, but at the end of the day, it’s still business, and funders will want to know how you plan to spend their financial resources.
The key here is not to provide general numbers. Be super specific with your nonprofit organization’s needs. If you want to be successful, don’t round up to $1,000 if the equipment you need costs $1,002.36.
Take your time, research the format in which the funder wants the summary, and provide strong support for each cent you’ll be spending on your project.
Clearly list everything you’ll be spending money on in your organization. This means equipment, staff, business travel, supplies, utilities, building costs, etc. Never have “other expenses” unless you plan to provide detailed support.
Explain why your nonprofit organization needs the resources and how they will support you towards success. Getting grants isn’t easy, but if your project is straightforward and you write honest grant proposals with transparent expenses, you’re bound to succeed.
After providing exact numbers, you need to justify each section. For example, if your nonprofit organization’s program aims to improve primary education in a community, you probably don’t 20 high-end laptops.
After you finish writing the summary, go back to your original draft and ensure numbers sync between different documents. While it’s ok to have different numbers in other proposals since grants vary, a grant proposal for one grant should sync up. There’s nothing worse than writing one number in a grant proposal and the different one in your summary. Inconsistency shows the reader that you weren’t thorough and can minimize your success.
Create a Cover Letter
In grant writing, a cover letter serves to introduce yourself, your nonprofit organization, and the project to the funder. Although a cover letter shouldn’t be more than a single page long, you still need to do basic research for different proposals and grants.
A compelling cover letter is the key to success and ensures that the reader gives maximum attention to your grant proposal.
Not everybody asks for a cover letter. Commonly, corporations and foundations will ask for a cover letter, while federal and state grants won’t want one. Once again, double-check which proposals should include a cover letter before you start grant writing.
Essential tips for the cover letter writing process is:
- Be Brief – You have only one page to share particular ideas
- Don’t Repeat Information – A compelling letter doesn’t repeat the same idea or number twice.
- Match Dates – Although you might have written the grant proposal in June and the letter in August, the dates should always match.
- Add Correct Info – For different proposals, you need to check if you’re addressing the right person and the organization address is the correct one. The idea is to leave the best first impression possible. Introduce yourself and the nonprofit organization without overloading the letter with too much information.
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