Writing a Grant Proposal…

Some pre-thoughts to keep in mind

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Writing a grant proposal can be as simple as following the directions in the application packet.  The agency will send you one per your request.  The rules vary so be sure to read each application. Thoroughly.  One mistake can cause your request to be rejected.


It is important that your proposal application is neat and professional.  Reference letters are a plus. The more you have the better your application looks.  Remember that there may be others applying for the same grant so make yours stand out.


When requesting grant money, make sure you state the need for your ideal or project, state why you are the best, and how this will benefit yourself and your community.


Be sure to list the program that you are requesting the grant for: Education, business, financing, debt consolidation, medical bills, financial assistance, etc.


Contact the grant source and request an application and any information that they make available to prospective applicants.  This should include brochures, literature of any kind or any instruction booklets.


It is good to consult your local library or bookstore for additional information on writing Grant Proposals. Any background information on writing proposals and the understanding of the process will help increase your chances of securing the money you are looking for.


Find out if there is a specific contact person who can answer your questions and direct your proposal to!  Make friends with them. Find common ground. It never hurts to get inside information from someone that knows the ropes.


It is a good idea, if the agencies are local, to go and meet the person who will be reviewing your proposal.  It is easier to remember a face with a smile.


If you are in business as a sole proprietor, partnership or corporation the proposal should be submitted in writing on your letterhead and signed by the signing officer.  If an individual, be sure to write your name, address and phone number at the top of the page.












A successful grant proposal is one that is well prepared, thoughtfully planned, and concisely packaged. The potential applicant should become familiar with all of the pertinent program criteria related to the Catalog program from which assistance is sought. Refer to the information contact person listed in the Catalog program description before developing the proposal.  Obtain information such as whether funding is available, when applicable deadlines occur, and the process used by the grantor agency for accepting applications.  Applicants should remember that the basic requirements, application forms, information and procedures vary with the Government Agency or Private Foundation making the Grant Award.


Individuals without prior Grant proposal writing experience may find it useful to attend a grantsmanship workshop.  A workshop can further amplify the information presented here. Applicants interested in additional readings on grantsmanship and proposal development should review the various publications available at public and governmental libraries.


Initial Proposal Development


1.     Developing Ideas for the proposal


When developing an idea for a proposal it is important to consider if the idea has been considered in the applicant’s locality or state. A careful check should be made with legislators, area government agencies and related public and private agencies, which may currently have Grant awards or Contracts to do similar work.  If a similar program already exists, the applicant may need to reconsider submitting the proposed project, particularly if duplication of effort is perceived. If significant differences or improvements in the proposed projects goal can be clearly established, it may be worthwhile to pursue Federal assistance.  When applying to Private Foundations more emphasis is placed on the need for the Grant rather than the originality of an idea.


2.     Community Support


Community support for most proposals is essential. Once the proposal summary is developed, look for individuals or groups representing academies, political, professional, and lay organizations that may be willing to support the proposal in writing.  The type and caliber of the community support is critical in the initial and subsequent review stages. Numerous letters of support can be persuasive to a grantor agency.  Do not overlook support from local Government Agencies and public officials.  Letters of endorsement detailing exact areas of project sanction and commitment are often requested as part of a proposal to a Federal agency.  Several months may be required to develop letters of endorsement since something of value (e.g., buildings, staff, services) is sometimes negotiated between the parties involved.


Many agencies require, in writing, affiliation agreements (a mutual agreement to share services between agencies) and building space commitment prior to either Grant approval or Award. A useful method of generating community support may be to hold meetings with the top decision makers in the community who would be concerned with the subject matter of proposal. The forum for discussion may include a query into the merits of the proposal, development of a strategy to create proposal support from a large number of community groups.  When applying to Private Foundations, letters of support from doctors, clergy, or friends can be of help.


3.     Identification of a Funding Resource


Review the Catalog program the Grant agency sends you. Special emphasis should be placed on the Objective and Uses and Use Restrictions sections of the Catalog program.  The description can point out which programs might provide funding for an idea. Do not overlook the related programs as potential resources.  Both the applicant and the grantor agency should have the same interests, intentions, and needs if a proposal is to be considered an acceptable candidate for funding.


Once a candidate grantor agency is identified, call the contact phone number identified in Information Contacts and ask for suggestions, criticisms, and advice about the proposed projects.  In many cases, more agency personnel know about proposal, the better the chance of support and of an eventual favorable decision. Sometimes it is useful to send the proposal summary to a specific agency official in a separate cover letter, and ask for review and comment at the earliest possible convenience.  Always check with the Federal agency to determine its preference if this approach is under consideration.  If the review is unfavorable and differences cannot be resolved, ask the examining agency or the official to suggest another department or agency that may be interested in the proposal.  A personal visit to the agency’s regional office or headquarters is also important. A visit not only establishes face-to-face contact, but also may bring out some essential details about the proposal or help secure literature and references from the agency’s library.


 Government agencies are required to report funding information as funds are approved, increased or decreased among projects within a given State depending on the type of required reporting. Also, consider reviewing the Federal and State budgets for the current and budgeted fiscal years to determine proposed dollar amounts for particular budget functions.


You should carefully study the eligibility requirements for each Federal or State Government program under consideration (see the Applicant Eligibility section of the Catalog program description).  The applicant may learn that he or she is required to provide services otherwise unintended such as a service to particular client groups, or involvement of specific institutions.  It may necessitate the modifications of the original concept in order for the project to be eligible for funding.  Questions about eligibility should be discussed with the appropriate program officer.


Deadlines for submitting applications are often not negotiable.  They are usually associated with strict timetables for agency review.  Some programs have more than one application deadline during the fiscal year.  Applicants should plan proposal development around the established deadlines.




Getting Organized to Write the Proposal


Throughout the proposal writing stage keep a notebook handy to write down ideas. Periodically, try to connect ideas by reviewing the notebook.  Never throw away written ideas during the Grant writing stage. Maintain a file labeled “Ideas” or by some other convenient title and review the ideas from time to time.  The file should be easily accessible.  The gathering of documents such as articles of incorporation, tax exemption certificates, and bylaws should be completed, if possible, before the writing begins.






At some point after the first or second draft is completed, seek out a neutral third party to review the proposal working draft for continuity, clarity and reasoning.  Ask for constructive criticism at this point, rather than wait for the Federal grantor agency to volunteer this information during the review cycle.  For example, has the writer made unsupported assumptions or used jargon or excessive language in the proposal?




If the proposal is made by an institutions nonprofit organization or business, signatures of the chief administrative officials are required. Check to make sure they are included in the proposal where appropriate.  If you are applying as an individual make sure you have signed the proposal.




Proposals should be typed, collated, copied, and packaged correctly and neatly (according to agency instructions, if any). Each package should be inspected to ensure uniformity from cover to cover.  Binding may require either clamps or hard covers.  Check with the government agency to determine its preference.  A neat, organized and attractive proposal package can leave a positive impression with the reader about the proposal contents.  With all the tools available today there is absolutely no reason not to have a professional packaged proposal product.







A cover letter should always accompany a proposal.  Standard U.S. Postal Service requirements apply unless otherwise indicated by the Government agency.  Make sure there is enough time for the proposals to reach their destinations.  Otherwise, other arrangements may be necessary.  Always coordinate such arrangements with the Government Grantor agency project office (the agency which will ultimately have the responsibility for the project), the Grant office (the agency that will coordinate the Grant review), and the Contract office (the agency responsible for disbursement and Grant awards notices), if necessary.








The Basic Components of a Proposal


There are eight basic components to creating a solid proposal package: (1) the proposal summary; (2) introduction of organization; (3) the problem statement (or need) (4) project objectives; (5) project methods or designs; (6) project evaluation (7) future funding; and (8) the project budget.  The following will provide an overview of these components


1.     The Proposal Summary: Outline of Project Goals


The proposal summary outlines the proposed project and should appear at the beginning of the proposal.  It could be in the form of a cover letter or a separate page, but should definitely be brief – no longer than two or three paragraphs.  The summary would be most useful if it were prepared after the proposal has been developed in order to encompass all the key summary points necessary to communicate the objectives of the project.  It is this document that becomes the cornerstone of your proposal, and the initial impression it gives will be critical to the success of your ventures.

In many cases, the summary will be the first part of the proposal package seen by agency officials and very possibly could be the only part of the package that is carefully reviewed before the decision is made to consider the project any further.







2.     Introduction:  Presenting a Credible Applicant or Organization


You should gather data about yourself, your organization or business from all available sources.  If an organization, most proposals require a description of an applicant’s organization to describe its past and present operations.  Some features to consider are:


·        A brief biography of board members and key staff members, or, yourself if applying as an individual.

·        The organization’s goals, philosophy, track record with other grantors, and success stories on your own goals, success stories etc.

·        The data should be relevant to the goals of the Government grantor agency and should establish the applicant’s credibility or detail an individual need that a Government agency or Foundation is equipped to aid.  Remember different Foundations offer Grants for different purposes.


3.     The Problem Statement:  Stating the Purpose at Hand


The problem statement (or needs) is a key element of a proposal that makes a clear, concise, and well-supported statement of the problem to be addressed.  The best way to collect information about the problem is to conduct and document both a formal and informal needs for the program in the target or service area.  The information provided should be both factual and directly related to the problem addressed by the proposal.


Areas to document are:


  • The purpose for developing the proposal or need.
  • The beneficiaries – who are they and how will they benefit.
  • The social and economic costs to be affected, i.e. reduced need for government social agencies.
  • The nature of the problem (provide as much hard evidence as possible)
  • How you or the applicant organization came to realize the problem exists, and what is currently being done about the problem.
  • The remaining alternative available when funding has been exhausted.  Explain what will happen to the project and the impending implications.
  • Most importantly, the specific manner through which problems might be solved.  Review the resources needed, considering how they will be used and to what end.


There is a considerable body of literature on the exact assessment techniques to be used.  Any local, regional, or State government planning office, or local University offering course work in planning and evaluation techniques should be able to provide excellent background references.  Types of data that may be collected include; historical, geographic, quantitative, factual, statistical, and philosophical information, as well as studies completed by colleges, and literature searches from public or University libraries.  Local colleges or universities which have a department or section related to the proposal topic may help determine if there is interest in developing a student or faculty project to conduct a needs assessment.  It may be helpful to include examples of the findings for highlighting in the proposal.


4.     Project Objectives:  Goals and desired Outcome


Project objectives refer to specific activities in a proposal.  It is necessary to identify all objectives related to the goals to be reached, and the methods to be employed to achieve the stated objectives.  Consider qualities or things measurable and refer to a problem statement and the outcome of proposed activities when developing a well-stated objective.  The figures used should be verifiable.  Remember, if the proposal is funded, the stated objectives will probably be used to evaluate program progress, so be realistic.  There is literature available to help identify and write program objectives.


5.     Program Methods and Program Design:  A Plan of Action


The program design refers to how the project is expected to work and solve the stated problem.  Sketch out the following:

·        The activities to occur along with the related resources and staff needed to operate the project (inputs).

·        A flow chart of the organizational features of the project.  Describe how the parts interrelate, where personnel will be needed, and what they are expected to do.  Identify the kinds of facilities, transportation, and support services required.

·        Explain what will be achieved through 1 and 2 above (outputs); i.e. plan for measurable results.  Project staff may be required to produce evidence of program performances through an examination of stated objectives during either a site visit by the Federal grantor agency and or Grant reviews which may involve peer review committees.

·        It may be useful to devise a diagram design.  For example, draw a three-column block. Each column is headed by one of the parts (inputs, throughputs and outputs), and on the left (next to the first column) specific programs features should be identified (i.e. implementation, staffing, procurement, and systems development).  In the grid, specify something about the program design, for example, assume the first column is labeled inputs and the first row is labeled staff.  On the grid one might specify under inputs five nurses to operate a child care unit. The throughput might be to maintain charts, counsel the children, and set up a daily routine; outputs might be to discharge 25 healthy children per week.  This type of procedure will help to conceptualize both the scope and detail of the project.






·        Wherever possible, justify in the narrative the course of action taken. The most economical method should be used that does not compromise or sacrifice project quality.  The financial expenses associated with performance of the project will later become points of negotiation with the Federal program staff.  If everything is not carefully justified in writing - in the proposal, after negotiations with the Federal grantor agencies, the approved project may resemble less of the original project. Carefully consider the pressures of the proposed implementation, that is, the time and money needed to acquire each part of the plan.  A Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) chart could be useful and supportive in justifying some proposals.

·        Highlight the innovative features of the proposal that could be considered distinct from other proposals under considerations.

·        Whenever possible, use appendices to provide details, supplementary data, references, and information requiring in-depth analysis.  These types of data, although supportive of the proposal, if included in the body of the design, could detract from its readability.  Appendices provide the proposal reader with immediate access to details if and when clarification of an idea, sequence or conclusion is required.  Time tables, work plans, schedules, activities, methodologies, legal papers, personal vitae, letters of support, and endorsements are examples of appendices. 



6.     Evaluation:  Product and Process Analysis


The evaluation component is two-fold: (1) product evaluation and (2) process evaluation.  Product evaluation addresses results that can be attributed to the project, as well as the extent to which the project has satisfied its desired objectives.  Process evaluation addresses how the project was conducted, in terms of consistency with the stated plan of action and the effectiveness of the various activities within the plan.


Most Federal agencies now require some form of program evaluation among grantees. The requirement of the proposed project should be explored carefully. An internal staff member, an Evaluation Firm or both should conduct evaluations.  The applicant should state the amount of time needed to evaluate, how the feedback will be distributed among the proposed staff, and a schedule for review and comment for this type of communication.  Evaluation designs may start at the beginning, middle or end of a project, but the applicant should specify a start-up time.  It is practical to submit an evaluation design at the start of a project for two reasons:

  • Convincing evaluations require the collection of appropriate data before and during program operations; and
  • If the evaluation design cannot be prepared at the outset then a critical review of the program design may be advisable.





Even if the evaluation design has to be revised as the project progresses, it is much easier and cheaper to modify a good design.  If the problem is not well defined and carefully analyzed for cause and effect relationships then a good evaluation design may be difficult to achieve.  Sometimes a pilot study is needed to begin the identification of facts and relationships.  Often a thorough literature search may be sufficient.


Evaluation requires both coordination and agreement among program decision makers (if known).  Above all the Federal grantor agency’s requirements should be highlighted in the evaluation design.  Also, Federal grantor agencies may require specific evaluation techniques such as designated date formats (an existing information collection system) or they may offer financial inducements for voluntary participation in a national evaluation study.  The applicant should ask specifically about these points.  Also consult the Criteria for Selecting Proposals section of the Catalog program description to determine the exact evaluation methods to be required for the program if funded.


7.     Future Funding:  Long-Term Project Planning


Design a plan for continuation beyond the Grant period, and/or the availability of other resources necessary to implement the Grant.  Discuss maintenance and future program funding if program is for construction activity. Account for other needed expenditures if program includes purchase of equipment.




8.     The Proposal Budget:  Planning the Budget


Funding levels in Federal assistance programs change yearly.  It is useful to review the appropriations over the past several years to try to project future funding levels (see Financial Information section of the Catalog program description)


However, it is safer to never anticipate that the income from the Grant will be the sole support for the project.  This consideration should be given to the overall budget requirements, and in particular, to budget line items most subject to inflationary pressures.  Restraint is important in determining inflationary cost projections (avoid padding budget line items), but attempt to anticipate possible future increases.


Some vulnerable budget areas are: utilities, rental of buildings and equipment, salary increases, food, telephones, insurance, and transportation.  Budget adjustments are sometimes made after the Grant award, but this can be a lengthy process.  Be certain the implementation, continuation and phase-down costs can be met.  Consider costs associated with leases, evaluation systems, hard/soft match requirements, audits, development, implementation and maintenance of information and accounting systems and other long-term financial commitments.


A well-prepared budget justifies all expenses and is consistent with proposal narrative.  Some areas in need of evaluation for consistency are: (1) the salaries in the proposal in relation to those of the applicant organization should be similar; (2) if new staff members are being hired, additional space and equipment should be considered, as necessary; (3) if the budget calls for equipment purchases, it should be the type allowed by the grantor agency; (4) if additional space is rented, the increase in insurance should be supported; (5) if an indirect cost rate applies to the proposal,  the division between direct and indirect costs should not be in conflict, and the aggregate budget totals should refer directly to the approved formula; and (6) if matching costs are required, the contributions to the matching fund should be taken out of the budget unless otherwise specified in the application instructions.


While these are the key elements of a proposal you will write get as much help as you need depending on the size of the project.  Obtain as much input from area experts as you need before writing the proposal. They might have excellent suggestions and could play a role in helping you to complete the various activities associated with accomplishing your stated objectives.  They might even be helpful in writing certain aspects of the proposal, especially the details of the work and tasks necessary to meet your objectives.


Do a first draft.  Then – get feedback!  Give it to people who have helped you, or whom you trust to be properly judgmental about it.  The best writing is done during the rewriting phase, so it’s important to have people take a critical look at your first draft.  You’re too close to be thoroughly objective.  That’s O.K.!  Just know that you should get others to help you analyze your initial work in preparation for a second draft.


Go through the same process with your second draft.  This should be shorter and less feedback should come in if you elicited enough comments the first time around.


Make any changes necessary and get it to final draft form.  Then have it proof read and bound into a booklet for submission purposes.  You’re ready to submit!


Remember that the Grant proposal should be written after you’ve obtained the agency’s application and grant guideline forms or after the private foundation has advised you of their requirements.  There are many places to contact for potential grant information, and your decision should be closely allied with your skill and interest.















The letter of appeal is just a summarized version of the proposal.  If a small amount of money (under $2500.00) is requested a letter of appeal is usually suffice.  For a large sum of money ($2500.00 and over) send both.  Send a proposal also if the foundation or government agency requests it.


Your letter of appeal should be typed or printed neatly.  It accompanies the Grant proposal and covers some of the same points.  The main difference is the length.  Your letter of appeal should be brief and to the point.  Lengthy, unorganized letters usually go to the bottom of the pile.  Your letter of appeal should be composed in such a way so as to grab the attention of the reader.  It is your foot in the door and you want to make an impression.  The letter of appeal outlines your program/project in a clear unambiguous and concise way. 

The following would be included in your letter of appeal.


  1. The Proposal
  2. A statement of the need
  3. How the need will be met
  4. Evidence of the need
  5. The total cost of the proposal
  6. The amount requested of the foundation
  7. A complete list of other supporters and proposed supporters
  8. The duration of the program/project
  9. Staff capabilities
  10. Potential future funding
  11. A description of the individual, corporation or organization
    1. How the organization began
    2. How long has it existed
    3. Significant accomplishments
    4. Support received from other organizations


Once completed your Grant proposal and letter of appeal should be mailed or courier to one or more foundations.  Be sure to mark on the envelope  “Grant Request”.