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How to Write a Grant Proposal

The Fundamentals of Nonprofit Funding

Every year, foundations award billions of dollars in grants, doled in amounts ranging from $100 to well beyond $1 million. In 2016, for instance, Charity Navigator reported private foundations gave just over $59 billion. Such figures create fierce competition, and to stand out, your nonprofit staff must know how to write a grant proposal.

Assuming you understand how to find nonprofit grants using free online resources, these tips will give you a solid understanding of how to write a grant proposal that foundations will notice.

How to write a grant proposal that wins 8 steps

You’ve found what looks like a strong grant prospect, and you’re confident your nonprofit has a responsible mindset toward grants. Now it’s time to win the prospective grant.

1) Research the grant requirements thoroughly.

Know the grant’s mission statement and guidelines inside and out, and be sure your proposal fits. Grants tend to be exacting in their requirements, from geographical area to font size.

2) Keep the focus clear.

Be clear in the problem you want to solve, who will benefit, and how you will use the grant to achieve those goals.

3) Create a sense of urgency.

Your problem statement needs to show the foundation how the current problem impacts your community, why help is needed, and why you need to take action right now.

4) Back your statements up with evidence.

Eye-opening statistics, stories from the community, forecasts, and more should be woven throughout your proposal. Doing so is a critical step in learning how to write a grant proposal. It demonstrates you understand the problem, which will gain the funder’s trust—whether you’re an established organization or just getting started.

5) Research the foundation and past grant winners.

Reading up on the history of the foundation, looking over past grant recipients, and even looking at recent IRS Form 990-PFs (publicly available for all private foundations, ProPublica is great resource) can help you tailor your proposal.

How did previous winners categorize their proposals, and what did they focus on or do very well? How did they come to the research they’re presenting? Also, seeing the foundation’s assets and range of giving can give you a good idea of how much to ask for.

6) Be fascinating.

Storytelling is a great way to do this. It stirs empathy and encourages action now rather than later. A compelling proposal, one that elicits an emotional connection to your cause, has a greater chance of being remembered.

7) Follow the application rules.

Failing to do this is probably the number one reason grants are rejected. Remember from above: Grants tend to be exacting in their requirements. If the application rules specify 12 pages, don’t cram in another page (or seven) by reducing the font. If the rules specify two copies of each document, make two copies of each.

8) Proofread, and then proofread again.

Make sure your math adds up. Make sure your words flow smoothly in addition to being grammatically correct. A mistake-free proposal commands attention.

The do’s and don’ts of submitting a grant proposal

Now that you understand the basics of how to write a grant proposal, it’s important to understand the submission process requires just as much attention to detail.

The do’s

Do talk about funding important causes that will deliver results.

Funders, like investors, want to see positive returns. Before you submit it, make sure your proposal articulates how you will use the grant to positively impact the community.

Do be clear about your goals and plans for the funding.

Think like a journalist. Did you answer all of the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions related to the grant? Charities need to feel confident that you will maximize their funding.

Do demonstrate that you understand how to spend the funds efficiently.

For example, some grants come with requirements attached. If you don’t currently have the resources to meet them, make sure you articulate how you will. Otherwise, the administrative costs of implementing the grant may be too great.

Do ask someone with relevant experience to look over the proposal.

Especially if it’s for a major grant. Ask your fundraising manager, executive director, or someone else who can provide a fresh perspective.

The don’ts

Don’t send multiple copies.

It’s confusing, unprofessional, and creates extra work for you and the foundation.

Don’t write a general proposal for multiple foundations.

You should absolutely know your nonprofit’s key information. It may even make sense to lift language straight from your updated strategic plan. But always tailor your proposal.

Don’t apply for all of a foundation’s grants in hopes of winning one.

Winning grants is about quality, not quantity. Submitting 20 well-prepared proposals is better than submitting 50 rushed ones.

Don’t wait until the last minute.

Most proposals sent near the deadline are too late, and have an extremely low chance of even being viewed. Be early, and you’ll already be more likely to win.

After you’ve submitted a grant proposal

As foundations receive enormous volumes of grant applications, it commonly takes 6-12 weeks before hearing back.

If you win a grant

Track the project the grant funds, and keep the funder updated on its progress. Also, use those opportunities to again say thank you. Maintaining strong relationships with foundations, charities, and other funders will help you secure more grants in the future.

If you get a rejection letter

Continue to stay in touch with the funder, and thank them for their time. It can take a few tries with the same foundation before you’re successful, but always follow through and maintain a pleasant demeanor in your communications. Just like in sales and fundraising, nurturing relationships is key to long-term success.


This blog is a revision of “How to Write a Grant (And Win!)” originally published on ClickTime. Click here to read the original article.

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