How to Write a Grant Proposal
Contrary to what the guy in the funny suit on late night TV might say,
true grants are very difficult to find. It may not be easy to find the
right grant, but when you do, properly completing the grant application
will be your biggest challenge. Most grant applications ask for the same
information, but they often have different formats. Some will have a list
of questions. Others will ask for a ¡°narrative¡±¡ªthe story of your
project. Whether it's for a business or organization, writing a grant
proposal is a skill that you can learn. We'll show you some tips to help
1Read the grant application carefully. Highlight all questions you must
answer and materials you have to include. Underline key words or phrases
you might want to use.<Before you start writing¡ªbrainstorm. What are the
strong points of your organization? Your program? What are your best
arguments and examples? These ideas give you a place to start writing.
2Write a summary statement. Start by writing a one-paragraph description
of your request. This will help you start with the big picture¡ªthe rest
is filling in the details. You may be able to use this summary in the
proposal, or as the first paragraph of your narrative. It should
include:Who you are
What your project is
How much you¡¯re asking for
3Create an outline. It should describe each step of your plan.Expand each
point as needed to fully explain each section.
Use the funders RFP or criteria as the basis. The outline should follow,
painstakingly, the sequence and terms prescribed by the funder.
4Determine if your proposal is what the funder actually funds. Don't
assume that just because there is a significant amount of money
available, that they will fund just anything.The truth is that funders
are usually very specific in what they are looking for (and sometimes a
bit odd, but that's their choice), and will rarely deviate from their
You may have the very best purple widget in the world, but if the grant
is only for the producers of red widgets, you won't get the grant.
Write Your Proposal
1Write the first draft. It doesn't have to look good, just get your ideas
down on paper¡ªyou can polish them later.Look at your brainstorm ideas,
and start with the questions that you have the most answers for. If you
get stuck on one question, work on another one for a while.
Focus on the parts of your project that they¡¯ll like best¡ªuse their
guidelines for clues. For example, if they're partial to environmental
responsibility, and part of your project is using renewable resources for
energy, make that stand out.
2Clearly lay out specific goals. Your grant proposal should describe what
the money will be used for, and the clearer you are in describing your
goals, the more likely the outcome of your proposal will be positive.If
you say, for example, "I want this grant so that I can help the
community," you won't get nearly the credibility as you would by saying
"This grant will allow us to buy two new computers, and create two part-
time paid staff positions in an area where jobs for high school students
are very difficult to find."
3Make it shine. When you¡¯re done with your draft, go through it
carefully and polish it up. Make sure the ideas are clear and the
delivery concise. Read it out loud to see how it flows. You will probably
need to rewrite a lot¡ªthat¡¯s okay.You can use the key words and phrases
you underlined in the application. But don¡¯t worry about getting
fancy¡ªjust say what you have to say, briefly and clearly.
Review your original summary. Make sure it exactly reflects the proposal
you've actually written¡ªyour ideas might have changed!
4Review the proposal and the requirements. Before you proofread, read and
re-read the requirements instructions carefully. Every grant has rules
and procedures that must be followed exactly as written. Make sure your
proposal has followed all the rules.If it says that the grant must be
submitted via the online form, don't even bother to ask if you can send
it via fax.
Unlike employment applications, where it sometimes pays to be original,
grant committees have rules in place for a specific reason, and they
expect them to be followed to the letter. To do otherwise may mean that
your application will be disqualified before it ever gets read.
5Proofread carefully. Show the funding committee that you take the
proposal seriously by carefullyproofingyour proposal for spelling,
typing, and grammatical errors.Take time to have at least two people
proofread your proposal before you submit it¡ªand then read it out loud
to yourself to make sure. Some say reading something from back to front
is a good way to catch errors you might otherwise miss, but do whatever
you must to make certain you are submitting a flawless document.
6Do a reality check. Have at least two other people outside of your
organization read the proposal, and then ask them questions about your
concept. If they cannot explain what you are trying to do, chances are
the grants committee won't either. And they won't fund what they can't
Add Required Support Documentation
1Define the project's budget. Don't guess about the numbers. Instead,
take the time to research and evaluate the actual expenses you've got to
manage. Don't estimate. Use real numbers, not amounts that end in
000.00.In a grant proposal, guessing won¡¯t make it. If a grant reviewer
suspects that your financial sheet is not accurate, they don't have
either the time or the inclination to do the research¡ªyou just lost the
Find out exactly what kind of equipment, labor, and anything else you are
going to need, and exactly what the cost will be, then spell it out in
the proposal. There are usually two types of budget documents funders
require:A budget summary that summarizes personnel expenses by category
such as salary and fringes, purchased services, supplies, occupancy
related expenses, communications, travel, equipment, printing, capital,
indirect costs, etc. Do not use a line called "other expenses" unless you
fully explain it. Typically, you will allocate the summary across several
columns of information: total project cost, amount sought from the
funder, and the matching funds you are contributing. Funders are more
likely to consider proposals that show the applicant is also has a stake
in the outcome.
A budget justification that provides numerical detail explaining how you
arrived at the amounts in the summary. In all circumstances, make sure
your amounts balance out, meaning that everything adds up to the same
numbers throughout the proposal.
2Show that your participation matters. Letters of support and newspaper
articles document your success and your partnerships with other
organizations, and go a long way toward establishing your validity.
3Add other documents as required. For example, a 501(c)(3) letter of tax-
exemption; an audit or financial report, and a list of the board of
directors. Make a file with several copies of each, so you have them
ready whenever you write a proposal.
Before You Send It
1Add a cover letter. This should include a summary of your request.
2Proofread everything¡ªagain. You may think it's been proofread within an
inch of its life, but do it again anyway. It's not unusual for a word to
be misspelled and have nobody catch it. It might be something like "there
instead of their," an "it's" that isn't "it is," or a word that is
commonly mispelled [sic].
3Double check everything. Make sure you answered all the questions and
are sending all the required materials.
4Make a copy for your files.
5Make sure you mail or deliver it in time to meet the deadline.
1Give it a little time. About a week after mailing, call to make sure it
arrived and is complete (this is also an opportunity to talk a bit with
the grant maker).
2Keep the grantor informed. During the review period, if you have a major
success, send a letter and let them know. If you get an article in the
paper or online, send them a copy or the URL.
3Be patient. The review process can take a long time.
Give yourself enough time. Don't throw the proposal together in order to
meet the deadline because it shows. A good proposal package takes time to
assemble and research properly. If you really want the money, then spend
the time to put it together correctly, without shortcuts.
How to Write an Investor Proposal Letter
How to Write a Compensation Proposal
How to Start a Grant Making Foundation
How to Write Your Own Last Will and Testament
How to Apply for a Grant
How to Prepare a Proposal
How to Hire a Contract Grant Writer
How to Find Grants
How to Write an Indirect Proof
Sources and Citations
Courtesy of WomensNet.Net, serving the online community of Women
Entrepreneurs since 1998, and home of the Amber Foundation Grants for
The United Nations