A grant proposal is a request for an investment in your organization, an invitation for a funder to partner with you to achieve positive outcomes in your community. Proposals are typically written with a specific goal in mind, often achieved through a project or program. The proposed “initiative” must be carefully planned and executed, while showing tangible results.

Drafting a grant proposal can be an intimidating task, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. While it is true that creating proposals takes time and dedication, the process can be simplified by using a practical system, as most veteran grant writers will confirm. Based on many years of grant writing experience, we have created the Grantli writing system, a 14-step process divided into 4 distinct phases.

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For today’s purposes, we will focus on the written narrative portion of a proposal. The KNOW & WRITE sections of the Grantli writing system (specifically steps 1 and 4-12 — see image above) form the majority of our narrative. Let’s look at these steps in more detail.

Mission and Philosophy

Before you waste your time searching for grants or even learning how to best search for grants, you have to be armed with the knowledge of whom your organization is and what exactly it is that you do, have done, and are planning to do in the future. It is important to have a clear understanding of your organization’s mission. Expanding upon that, explore your philosophy and approach. What is it about your execution that makes you unique or different from other entities with similar missions? Demonstrate your expertise and how you can solve the problems of your community.

Statement of Need

A solid statement of need is the soul of any proposal. Ask yourself what problem you want the funder to help you address, what potential collaborations will facilitate addressing the problem, and the results of not effectively addressing that problem. Demonstrate a need for your solution within the larger context of the community. Regardless of what you are seeking funding for, the need must be framed within a larger context.

Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes

Your proposal should state exactly what you hope to accomplish through your proposed project (goal or goals) and spell out the specific results (objectives/outcomes) you expect to achieve. Using the SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) is an effective way to create objectives.

Project/Program Design: Methodology

Every proposal must have a clear description of the proposed project and describe the methods involved to achieve specified objectives. Answering the basic questions of who, what, when, where, and how will describe how funds will be spent to reach the stated goal(s), if the grant is awarded. This clear description of how the organization plans to achieve the desired outcomes, with a timeline and detailed work plan, is essential in any successful proposal.

Project Management

While this section often will fall under the program design, we separate it out in order to clearly detail all organizations and individuals involved in implementing the program. This section should describe all staff involved, as well as any volunteers. This is also where you will detail the role of partners within the project (if applicable). Such roles might include providing services that are complementary to those of the applicant organization. If any contractual services are required to effectively implement the project/program, those activities will also be described in this section of the proposal.

Evaluation

Accountability to funders and stakeholders is crucial, particularly for organizations that are recipients of grant funds. All successful grant proposals describe the process to be used to evaluate the program and measure success in achieving desired outcomes. In this section of the proposal, funders look for evidence of a thorough evaluation plan, including establishing benchmarks, providing updates, and using evaluation results to improve project implementation and demonstrate overall project results. Oftentimes organizations will hire an outside evaluator to get an objective assessment of the project’s progress. The cost of this evaluator and any data collection carried out as part of the evaluation process should be included in the budget.

Sustainability

Organizations seek grant funds to help achieve their goals. However, successful grant proposals will clearly highlight the organization’s ability to continue providing services/interventions/programs after a grant ends. Funders (especially foundations) do not want to be the sole source of dollars for a project. Explore and describe potential funding mechanisms that will be in place to support your program well beyond the life of the grant. This might include community fundraising, partner contributions (monetary or in-kind), or other approaches (brainstorm with the project team, including external partners). Long term sustainability is very attractive to funders and demonstrates an organization’s competence and value.

Putting It All Together

Every potential grant will have its own specific requirements. It is important to provide just enough information to fulfill those requirements. Including superfluous information in a proposal can be just as damaging as failing to include requested elements. Follow directions ‘to a T’ and structure each proposal according to the specified requirements. Use the power of prose, but know your audience (the funder) and make sure your proposal narrative matches the style and tone of that funder.

The Budget

The budget is an integral part of the proposal and should not be viewed as an afterthought. Research and evaluate actual expenses for the project and make sure costs included in the budget support the proposal’s narrative. Ask only for the amount you need in each budget section. Do not leave out major sections and do not assume your numbers will make sense without detailed explanations. Funders do not have the time to fact-check your budget, but many will be familiar with realistic budgets and will know if something seems impractical.

Summary (Abstract)/Appendices

The summary covers the overall goal(s), objectives, and key points of the proposal. It is the first part of your proposal, but it is wise to write it last, so that you are best equipped to summarize the project in its entirety. Pick out the key points from each section to encapsulate whom you are, what problem you are addressing, your proposed solution, how you plan to carry it out, and the amount of your request. Pay close attention to any required attachments (appendices), such as proof of non-profit status, letters of support, an organizational budget, a listing of board members, or other requested documents.

Writing a strong grant proposal entails providing all required information in a way that demonstrates your passion for the work you do and enables the funder to envision the project. Grantli’s systematic approach for developing the narrative provides a workable blueprint to craft any proposal. By simply focusing on the KNOW and WRITE sections of the Grantli writing system, you will be able to develop the full proposal narrative. To summarize, you will begin by describing your organization and identifying the need to be addressed. Then you will present the proposed solution (project, program, new approach, etc.) to address the identified need, followed by the goals/objectives/outcomes of the project. You will also describe how the project will be implemented (activities and personnel, to include any partnerships) and specify plans to evaluate and sustain the project. Finally, you will include a clear summary (to be placed at the beginning of the proposal), provide a detailed budget, and attach required documents. The use of such a practical progression to fully explain your project will result in a cohesive, concise, and compelling grant proposal.