For nonprofits, grants can be their lifeblood; they’re what keeps the lights on and the bills paid. Grant writing, while an art form, is something that you can master with a bit of practice.

Finding grants is getting harder and harder these days, with so many government programs getting cut. Keep in mind, though, that private foundations also give grants, so with a bit of research you can find many that you are eligible to apply for.

Start Your Search

Start with some of the better known grant sites, like and Foundation Center, then move to corporations’ sites for their grants. Filter through the listings for those that are most appropriate. Typically, they are divided into groups, like Education, Arts, Business and so on.

Your nonprofit won’t be eligible for all the grants you find. Read through the criteria to understand what the grant is looking for. For those you qualify to apply for, create a spreadsheet and include:

  • Grant title
  • URL to grant
  • Deadline
  • Special requirements

You’ll want to sort this spreadsheet by deadline so that you have enough time to apply for the ones that close soon. Many will have applications to fill out; for those that don’t, you will need to create a grant proposal.

The Basics of a Grant Proposal

Grant proposals are pretty structured in their formatting, and always contain these elements:

Cover Letter

Just like you would include in a job application, your grant proposal should include a brief cover letter that explains your familiarity with the foundation you’re applying to, and why you’re a good fit for the program. It shouldn’t rehash what’s in the proposal.

  • Cover letters are only necessary for corporate and foundation grants, not for state and federal grants.
  • Your cover letter should be on your organization’s letterhead.
  • It should be no more than three or four paragraphs long.
  • Your letter should be signed by the Executive Director or Board President.

Project Summary

Here, you will summarize the entire proposal in a way that captures the reader’s attention and makes her want to continue reading. Focus on the key points of your proposal at a high level, and don’t go any deeper than that.

  • You may leave the summary to write after you’ve finished the proposal.
  • Identify your organization’s mission and identity in the summary.
  • Discuss briefly the purpose and importance of your project.
  • Keep the summary one page in length and thank the funder for her consideration.

Need Statement

Here you go into more detail about what the need is in terms of what you’re proposing to provide to your community. Who is your target audience? Provide research and data to back your statement, as this section will be what really causes the funder to decide whether your project will provide the intended solution to your audience.

  • Focus on the people you serve, not your organization.
  • Boil it down to simple basics.
  • Use stories and experts to illustrate the need, if possible.


You should be able to boil it down to several objectives or goals for your project. They should be as specific and realistic as possible. Avoid intangible goals, like “make our city a better place,” and focus on those that you can measure against, such as “decrease crime in downtown San Diego by 20% by the end of the year.”

  • Tie your objectives in with what you mention in your needs statement.
  • Give yourself a realistic timeframe to complete the objectives.
  • Determine how you will measure the outcome of your program.


How will you achieve your objectives? In this section, you will address each objective specifically with the method you’ll use to tackle it. The methods should tie in with the funding you’re asking for. For instance, if opening a soup kitchen costs $100,000, list the sources for funding if they’re outside of this grant request.

  • Include your research as to why each method is the best to reach the objective.
  • Give a timeline for each method, especially if you’re staggering the methods over time.
  • Provide realistic methods that fit into both your existing and post-grant budget.


Funders want to know that you will be able to measure the results of your program, so list the ways you plan to do so here. You may need to get feedback from the people you served, as well as statistics on factors related to your objectives.

  • If you need to hire an expert, plan to allot 5-10% of your budget to the evaluation process.
  • Provide qualitative and quantitative evaluation options.
  • Discuss what you will do if evaluations fall short of expectations.


In this section, you factor in all the costs for your project or program. These will include staff, benefits, overhead, travel, equipment and supplies, as well as marketing and operations costs. If you already receive funds from other sources, list them here, and show the amount you lack for the project, which will likely be the amount you are requesting from the grant.

  • Double check your numbers for accuracy.
  • Pour over your expenses with a finetooth comb, and also anticipate expenses you may incur in the future.
  • Make sure all costs are necessary and that no “frivolous” fees are added.

Wrapping it Up

After you’ve dedicated time to writing your grant using a grant proposal template, ask employees or family members to review it for accuracy and simplicity. Someone who is not in your industry should be able to easily understand what you do in the proposal.