A grant proposal is a request for funding that organizations submit to grant-making bodies.
Generally, a grant proposal outlines a project idea, explains why the organization needs grant money, and provides evidence that demonstrates the need and worthiness of the project.
In grant proposals, organizations usually describe their mission, describe how they plan to use grant funds, provide program goals and objectives, a timeline for completion of the project, and an expected outcome.
However, a grant proposal must also be written in such a way as to convince potential funders of the value and impact of the proposed project.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at how you can create stunning grant proposals in record time.
Why should you seek grant funding?
When done successfully, grant writing can open doors to vital funding sources needed to make your project a success.
Writing grants can also be a networking opportunity with grant-making organizations, as grant writers often make connections and partnerships that may prove valuable in the future.
Most of all, grant writing is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to its mission and goals, as grant writers must be able to articulate the importance of their vision.
At first glance, grant proposals may only appear to benefit the organization or individual who needs the money, but that’s not exactly true.
For a grant-making organization, investing in a project, initiative, or organization is an investment in positive change that can have a powerful impact on the issues they care about.
A bit of stats to benefit:
- The United States Government offers thousands of grants that nonprofits may apply for, each providing various amounts for federal projects that will have an impact across the country.
- Many Fortune 500 companies offer matching programs for grants, where companies match monetary donations made by employees to nonprofits.
- Submitting to at least three grant applications puts your chances of winning at least one grant at around 90%.
Before you get started
Before you start writing, take the time to prepare carefully. Consider each of the following.
1. Pursuing grants will incur costs in both time and money
You’ll need to find a grant that matches your initiatives, create a proposal, and participate in the entire selection process.
2. Your grant proposal may or may not be successful
Most organizations rely on multiple sources of funding, and grant opportunities shouldn’t change that.
Remember that grants can be competitive and funding may be limited.
Calculate the award against the time invested before pursuing the opportunity.
3. Be sure to have a strong understanding of your project
Be sure to have a strong understanding of your project including desired outcomes, estimated timelines, and other funding sources before you start writing.
Your proposal will be evaluated by grant-making bodies and committees who may choose to award funds to your competitors or simply choose not to award any funding due to a lack of clarity or credibility.
4. Create the appropriate accounts
You may also need to create the appropriate accounts and go through verification processes before you can submit a grant.
For example, organizations seeking federal funding need to register with the federal grant program before they can ask for a grant.
5. Submit a grant inquiry letter before writing a full grant proposal
In many cases, it may make more sense to submit a grant inquiry letter before writing a full grant proposal.
If the grant-making body approves your letter and sends you a request for a formal grant proposal, you can proceed with writing a detailed RFP response to this prospective investor.
4. Save time by using a document management software
Save time by using a document management software like PandaDoc to assist you in this difficult task.
Besides grant proposals, our software tools can handle your quotes, agreements, contracts, and proposals.
With those basics out of the way, let’s move on to the structure of a standard grant proposal you should adhere to.
Step 1. Write a strong cover letter
Your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to capture the funder’s attention and get your foot in the door.
Unlike the rest of your grant application, the letter can be less formal and address the reader more directly.
The key objective of your cover letter is to compel the reader to get to your proposal.
They’ve likely received tens or even hundreds of grant applications and your letter should separate you from the crowd as much as possible.
Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to cover letters:
|Keep it short. Three to four paragraphs max. Get to the point quickly and state your intentions right away without too much fluff.||Get too emotional. You shouldn’t write a heartfelt story about your mission or organization. Convey your message in a less formal manner but stay focused on your arguments.|
Say what you need. At the very beginning, mention how much money you need and what for. Don’ be afraid to be direct — you deserve this grant so make sure the reader knows it.
Mention your competition. No need to compare yourself with others. Just state your own desired outcome and try to make a good first impression without mentioning anyone else.
Avoid repeating yourself. This isn’t the place to just recap what you said in the proposal. Feel free to go a little off-course and provide something of value.
Make a connection. Show that you understand the funder and draw a straight line from their mission and funds to your proposed project.
Here is how a good cover letter can start:
Dear Mr. Jones,
The Pet Care Clinic respectfully requests a grant of $30,000 for our South Boston Health Center Project.
As the largest independent pet hospital in Boston, we are aware of the challenges pet owners in our service area are faced with. We’re particularly concerned about the lack of service quality in South Boston given the fact that the area has the largest amount of pets per capita in the city.
We are committed to solving this issue by growing our community and providing our expertise to the people and animals of Boston by the end of 2021. The South Boston Health Center Project will allow us to provide access…
No fluff and right to the point!
Step 2. Start with an executive summary
Every winning grant should start with a brief executive summary.
Also known as a proposal summary, an executive summary is essentially a brief synopsis of the entire proposal. It introduces your business, market segment, proposal, project goals — essentially, your grant request.
It should have sufficient detail and specifics; get to the point quickly and be pragmatic and factual.
|Limit the summary to two pages. You need to provide just enough information that the grantee can read only this part and get a solid idea of who you are and what you need the money for.||Address the funder directly. The only place to do this is the cover letter. Now that we’ve started writing a grant application, things need to get more formal.|
|Include resources. Mention the funds you’re requesting and briefly explain your methodology when it comes to spending them.||Give out too much. Don’t go too deep into the project description, you will have space for this later.|
|Introduce your organization. Although you will go into detail about this later, don’t be afraid to tell the grantee about your history, mission, and objectives.|
Here are some questions that a good grant writer will answer in their executive summary:
1. What is your mission and history? What do you do?
2. What is your project’s name and who is it supposed to help?
3. What problem are you solving and why should it matter?
4. What is your end goal and how will you measure whether you achieved it?
5. Why should you get the funds? What are your competencies?
6. How much money do you need and how do you plan to finance the project in the future? Do you have other funding sources?
Step 3. Introduce your organization
Now that you’ve set the stage for the entire proposal, you can start with your business/organization. Share as much relevant information as you can about your infrastructure, history, mission, experience, etc.
Here you include a biography of key staff, your business track record (success stories), company goals, and philosophy; essentially highlight your expertise.
Client recommendations, letters of thanks, feedback from customers and the general public are must-have things to write in a grant proposal.
Be sure to include all valid industry certifications (ISO or Quality Certifications), licenses, and business and indemnity insurance details.
You need to show that your company or organization has the capacity and the ability to meet all deliverables from both an execution perspective but also meet all legal, safety, and quality obligations.
You may need to provide solvency statements to prove that you can meet your financial commitments to your staff and contractors.
|Be objective. It’s easy to start patting yourself on the back a little too much and try to convince the grant reviewers that you’re the best of the best. Try to avoid this trap and stay factual.||Go into too much detail. You don’t need to list all of your employees by name. Provide biographies of key staff (like the executive director) and just mention your total number of employees.|
|Provide a backstory. When was the company/organization started and why? Try to connect your mission to that of the grantmaker as naturally as possible.||Stray from the point. This entire section should be formulated to make the point that you’re the best organization to get the funding, not anyone else. Don’t get too descriptive and forget about this fact.|
Step 4. Write a direct problem statement
One of the most important parts of the grant proposal structure is the problem statement.
Also known as the “needs statement” or “statement of need“, this is the place where you explain why your community has a problem and how you can provide the solution.
You may need to do extensive research on the history of the underlying problem, previous solutions that were implemented and potentially failed, and explain why your solution will make a difference.
In a winning grant proposal, the problem statement will heavily rely on quantitative data and clearly display how your organization answers a need.
|Use comparable data. Rely on the results of other communities that already implemented your solution and got satisfactory outcomes.||Make it about you. It’s not your organization that needs the grant funding, it’s the community.|
|Highlight urgency. Underline that it’s essential this project is started now rather than later.||Use circular reasoning. Don’t formulate the problem as “The city doesn’t have a youth center –> We can build a youth center”. Why does the city need a youth center in the first place? That should be the thought behind your writing process.|
|Focus on the main problem. Try not to get sidetracked by other phenomena that are contributing to the key problem you’re addressing.|
Here’s how a brief problem statement could look:
A 2017 report from [institution] showed that the town of [your community] has the highest [problem stat] per capita in the state of [your state]. Another study by [institution] confirmed these findings in 2020, highlighting the importance of [potential solution] in dealing with these issues.
There is a need for education and professional services in: [fields and industries] backed by expertise and a strong infrastructure.
To meet this need, [your organization] proposes a [your program] that would, for the first time, address the problem of [problem].
With PandaDoc, you get a free grant proposal template that has all of these sections incorporated!
Grant proposal template
Step 5. State your goals and objectives
Another important part of the grant proposal process is clearly stating your goals and objectives.
In fact, many proposals fail because they forget or mishandle this step so all their hard work goes to waste!
Write details about the desired outcome and how success will be measured.
This section is key to providing information on the benefits that the grantee, community, government, or client will see for their investment.
And, although they sound similar, Goals and Objectives should be separated.
Think of Goals as broad statements and Objectives as more specific statements of intention with measurable outcomes and a time frame.
|State objectives as outcomes. An objective is something you want to achieve, not do.||Be too ambitious. Make sure your goals are attainable and don’t get too ahead of yourself.|
|Make your objectives SMART. You can’t really track your progress if your objectives aren’t SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.||Mistake goals for processes. Goals are always stated as results and measurable outcomes with a deadline, not as processes.|
|Connect goals and objectives to the audience. The final result of your project should always be the betterment of your community expressed in a measurable way.|
Here is an example of well-formulated goals and objectives.
Goal: Improve the literacy and overall ability of expression of children from inner-city schools in [the community].
Objective: By the end of the 2023 school year, improve the results of reading and writing tests for fourth-graders in [the community] by at least 20% compared to current results (55/100, on average).
Notice how the goal is more optimistic and abstract while the objective is more measurable and to the point.
Step 6. Project design: methods and strategies
Now that the funding agency or grantee knows your goals, it’s time to tell them how you plan on achieving them.
List the new hires and skills, additional facilities, transport, and support services you need to deliver the project and achieve the defined measures for success.
Good project management discipline and methodologies with detailed requirements specified and individual tasks articulated (project schedule) will keep a good focus on tasks, deliverables and results.
|Connect to the objectives. Your methods and strategies absolutely need to be connected to the objectives you outlined, as well as the needs statement.||Assume things. Don’t approach the topics like the reader is well-versed in the field. Be specific and introduce your methodologies as though you’re talking to someone who knows nothing about your organization or propositions.|
|Provide examples. If you can, find examples of when these same methods worked for previous projects.||Forget about your audience. You need to demonstrate that the particular strategies you chose make sense for the community.|
|Demonstrate cost-effectiveness. Make sure that the grantmaker realizes that your methods are rational, well-researched, and cost-effective.|
Step 7. The evaluation section: tracking success
This section covers process evaluation — how will you track your program’s progress?
It also includes the timeframe needed for evaluation and who will do the evaluation including the specific skills or products needed and the cost of the evaluation phase of the project.
This is one of the most important steps to writing a grant proposal, as all funders will look for evaluations.
Whether we’re talking about government agencies or private foundations, they all need to know if the program they invested in made a difference.
Evaluation can be quite expensive and need to have entry and exit criteria and specifically focused in-scope activities.
All out-of-scope evaluation activities need to be specified as this phase can easily blow out budget-wise.
Once again, solid project management discipline and methodologies will keep a good focus on evaluation tasks and results.
|Obtain feedback. However you imagine your evaluation process, it needs to include some sort of feedback from the community taking part in the project.||Be vague. You need to clearly outline the measurement methods that will tell both you and your funders how the program is doing. No room for vagueness here.|
|Decide between internal and external evaluation. One of the most important variables here is whether you’ll be doing the evaluation with your staff or hire an external agency to do it independently.||Neglect time frames. It’s not just about measuring success, it’s about measuring success across time. So, make sure your evaluation strategies are periodic.|
To go back to our child literacy example, here is how an evaluation would look for that project:
The program facilitators will administer both a set of pretests and posttests to students in order to determine to which degree the project is fulfilling the objectives. The periodic tests will be created by a set of outside collaborators (experts in child education) and will take place on a monthly basis for the duration of the program.
After each session, we will ask participating teachers to write a qualitative evaluation in order to identify areas of improvement and generate feedback […]
Step 8. Other funding sources and sustainability
Your founders won’t like the idea of investing in a short-term project that has no perspective.
They’ll be much more willing to recognize a long-term winner and reward a promising project that can run on a larger scale.
That’s why you need to show how you can make this happen.
This section of your grant proposal is for funding requirements that go beyond the project, total cost of ownership including ongoing maintenance, daily business, and operational support.
This may require you to articulate the projected ongoing costs (if any) for at least 5 years.
An accurate cost model needs to include all factors including inflation, specialist skills, ongoing training, potential future growth, and decommissioning expenses when the project or the product reaches the end of its life cycle.
|Have a strong blueprint. Most grant reviewers will know a thing or two about business plans so you need to show a viable blueprint for sustainability. Exactly how will you generate revenue and keep the project going?||Leave anything out. Don’t leave space for speculation or filling in the blanks. Everything needs to be outlined and you need to show — without a doubt — that your program can run even after the initial resources are gone.|
|Mention other funding. If you plan to get more government funding, this is the place to mention it. Don’t think that this isn’t a good long-term strategy.|
Step 9. Outline a project budget
Of course, one of the most important grant proposal topics is budgeting. This is the moment when you go into detail about exactly how you’ll be using the resources from an operational standpoint.
Provide full justification for all expenses including a table of services (or service catalog) and product offered can be used to clearly and accurately specify the services.
Remember that the project budget section is the true meat of your grant proposal.
Overcharging or having a high quote can lose you the grant and even be seen as profiteering.
Underquoting might win you the business but you may not be able to deliver on your proposal which could adversely impact your standing with the grantee.
Many grantors underquote in the hope of hooking the reader and then looking for additional funding at a later stage.
This is a dangerous game to play and could affect your individual or company’s brand, community standing, or industry reputation.
|Pay attention to detail. Everything, and we mean everything needs to be covered. Travel costs, supplies, advertising, personnel — don’t leave anything out.||Do it alone. Especially if you’re not that good with numbers, don’t hesitate to include other people and assemble a team to tackle this task together.|
|Double-check. It can be easy to leave out a zero or move a decimal point and distort everything by accident. Be thorough!||Forget about indirect costs. A lot of grant writers will leave out indirect costs like insurance, utilities, trash pickup, etc. These can stack up, so be careful not to forget them!|
|Round off your numbers. This is just for the readers’ sake. A lot of decimal points and uneven numbers will be harder to track.|
Here’s how a project budget would look for a fictional grant for a cross-country research study:
|Research Assistant||6 months||$500||$3,000|
|Audio cassette tapes||100||$5||$500|
|Automation software||6 months||$20||$120|
|Camera and aux. equipment||1||$2.400||$2.400|
|Office space||6 months||$1.200||$7.200|
|Transportation within country||6 months||$2,000||$12,000|
|Total Project Allowance||$34,260|
|Total Grant request||$34,400|
Below a table like this, you can further clarify any key points, like what a research assistant will do and why they’re needed for the study.
You can also explain how you intend to use a specific piece of software to save time or money.
For example, PandaDoc can help you create forms and templates so that you can gather precise information in a uniform way.
Schedule a demo here and see for yourself how PandaDoc can expedite your grant proposal process. With PandaDoc, you’ll enjoy:
- A robust document builder.
- Seamless, paperless delivery.
- Document analytics and tracking.
- Hundreds of customizable templates.
- Content libraries for text and media snippets.
- And much more.
If filling out forms and gathering information is a key component of your research study, you’ll need a tool that can help you capture data quickly and easily without breaking the bank.
Frequently asked questions about grant proposals
It’s quite easy to confuse a grant proposal with a grant letter.
But a grant proposal contains all the sections we mentioned: the project’s summary, a cover letter, problem statement, etc. and is typically pretty long.
Some companies or individual investors consider this document too long and prefer a grant letter, which is a shorter, much more streamlined document. A grant letter typically doesn’t exceed 3-4 pages although it has a similar structure.
Here you should emphasize the significance of your project and its contribution to science if implemented successfully.
Back it up with relevant statistics, scientific facts, and research data on the subject. It’s important to use simple terms comprehensible to the prospective Grantee.
Also, explain why you are the one who can finish this project: provide some proof of your expertise to make your proposal stronger.
Besides the project description, you need to mention how it will improve the education system.
Detail how your project will improve student’s productivity, increase their knowledge, and make their overall learning process better.
Educational projects usually involve a team of people who will put the idea into practice. Provide more information about each team member and why this person can perform their duties.
Even though the inspiration can’t be forced, an art project should be time-specific. Mention the start and end date of your activity.
Otherwise, a prospective grant may not take it seriously.
Primarily you should convey your message to the grant-making organization, even if they don’t know much about the kind of art you create. Explain the idea in the simplest way so anybody can understand it clearly.
Unlike other organizations, an NGO needs to drill down to the key community issues and show how deeply its work can affect the people it’s meant to serve.
Given the democratic and often local nature of NGOs, their work will be viewed more through an altruistic lens.
An NGO also needs to pay special attention to demonstrating the sustainability of the project over time, since that’s a unique problem to NGOs and something that commercial businesses have already dealt with.
There isn’t a strict rule when it comes to grant proposals — their length will always depend on the complexity of the issue it covers and the amount of research behind it.
Typically, a grant proposal should be up to 25 pages, although different funding institutions will often put this in their “Rules” section — so read those carefully!
Proposal writing is slightly different from regular writing: it needs to follow a specific structure and rules.
Add to that all the research and argumentation needed to write a good proposal, and you’ll be looking at hours, days, or even weeks if you’re really a perfectionist.
As a rule of thumb, you should devote one week to writing a proposal. Although you might finish earlier, it’s good to have enough time to cover everything.
Originally was published March 2014 and has been updated for comprehensiveness in February 2023