How to Write a Grant Proposal in 8 Steps
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.
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.
How to Write a Grant Proposal
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
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.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He is considered one of the top product influencers in the world by Product School and one of the top technical writers. He has been writing software tutorials, manuals, handbooks, and white papers for over eight years. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.