How to write a grant proposal

Securing funding for a new project is never an easy task. It doesn’t matter if you have a well-thought-out plan, laudable objectives, and an experienced and capable team. Without the right grant application, your project will never get off the ground.

Many organizations, no matter their intentions, make a number of fatal mistakes when it comes to crafting their proposals. This causes grantees that may have been eager to back a project to become unsure about whether to award funding.

In this article, we’ll give you a proven structure for putting together your grant proposals. We’ll also define key terms and provide little-known tips that will significantly boost your chances of getting that all-important funding.

What is a grant proposal?

A “grant proposal”, a term sometimes used interchangeably with “grant letter”, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a request for funding from a grant-awarding organization. Many different types of projects can qualify for grants, from scientific research to volunteer work in a third-world country.

Furthermore, awarding bodies also run the gamut of industries and missions. They include academic institutions, governmental departments, private companies, nonprofit organizations, and charitable funds.

Generally speaking (and this is not always the case) a grant will be sought for a project that will have some positive social impact. Examples include grants for new businesses, funding for charitable projects, and scientific research. Funding is only typically provided to projects that align with an organization’s values and goals.

Grants fulfill different functions than research proposals and business proposals. Research proposals are designed specifically to solicit funding for certain kinds of research projects (like a P.h.D. study) and business proposals are sales documents sent to prospective customers.

More often than not, a grant proposal will only seek a certain percentage of the overall funding needed to complete a project. Because of this, multiple grant proposals are usually sent during the funding phase of a project.

How to write a grant proposal

Grant proposals should follow a format similar to the one below. You can see a working example of a grant proposal (that you are free to use) by clicking here.

Make sure you check whether or not the organization you are sending the proposal to has specific requirements or a structure that you must follow.

1. Cover letter

The purpose of a cover letter is to capture the attention of the recipient. In a few paragraphs, you need to give enough information to show that your proposal is suitable for evaluation. Outline in broad terms what your project will entail and how much money you will need. Address the cover letter to a specific individual if possible.

2. Executive summary

In many ways, the “Executive summary” is a continuation of the cover letter. You should cover the most significant parts of your project in more detail. You can also introduce both yourself and the organization you’re with.

3. Table of contents

When evaluating your proposal, your recipient may want to quickly reference certain parts of the document. Adding a table of contents makes it as easy as possible for them to do this.

4. The funding problem (statement of need)

This section, which is the most important, provides an in-depth description of the problem that you will solve. Paint as concrete a picture as possible and don’t over-focus on the negative aspects. It’s essential that the reader sees the potential for positive change along with the severity of the problem.

You may also want to use rich media – images, charts, graphs, etc. – but “informative” is what you should keep in mind. Adding images to your proposal just because is likely to make it difficult to read and navigate.

5. Objectives

Once you’ve outlined the problem, define the objectives you hope to achieve once you’ve acquired funding. Describe goals at this stage, not methods (which will be the focus of the next section). Define your goals in both general and specific terms along with the measurable criteria you intend to use to gauge whether or not you have achieved them.

For example, your big-picture goal may be: “Reforest an area of wasteland and make it habitable to native wildlife.” You can then break this down into definite month-by-month goals like, “By the end of month one, we will have planted two-thousand trees and built a fully-functional irrigation system for the whole area.”

6. Methods

In this section, you should describe how you will achieve the goals described above. While an evaluator may agree with the relevance of the problem you are trying to solve, and the sequence of goals through which you hope to solve it, here you are showing them you have the relevant skills and understanding.

Be as detailed and practical as possible. Along with a description of the biggest problem and your outline of objectives, this makes up another important part of the proposal.

7. Evaluation criteria

What specific metrics will you use to evaluate the ongoing success of your project and hold yourself accountable? Since your recipient will likely be responsible for awarding you with a significant amount of money, it’s important that you have a way to monitor your progress.

8. Budget

Provide a detailed breakdown of how money will be allocated and when it will be spent. You should provide both overall figures – such as the cost associated with specific areas – along with item-by-item costs. Because many projects require funding from multiple sources, your estimates should be for the whole project, but you also need to be clear about where the money will be spent.

9. Organization “Bio”

You may wish to include a detailed “organization bio,” which showcases the individuals involved. The bio also describes the alignment between your values and mission and the institution that you are seeking funding.

10. Contact details

Don’t forget to include all your contact details – including a phone number, email, and physical address – at the bottom of the document. This will make it easy for your recipient to contact you should the need arise. Include a link to this section in the table of contents.

Why not consider software like PandaDoc?

Proposal writing isn’t easy. And repeating the process again and again – as will likely be the case when seeking funding from multiple sources – is even harder. A proposal app like PandaDoc can dramatically streamline your grant writing process. It will also provide you with an array of tools for boosting your chances of receiving an accepted grant.

With PandaDoc, it’s possible to collaborate with team members and grant writers, access a saved library of content and templates to speed up proposal creation. You can also track the activity of documents once they’re sent, seeing when a recipient opens, reads, and approves a document. All of this data can help you make better decisions moving forward.

If you would like to take PandaDoc for a test drive, sign up for a 14-day free trial.