Grant Writing: Proposal Tips and Best Practices

For any community organization or project, grants can be a valuable source of funding. Yet, writing a grant proposal can be a challenging process that raises many questions. It is important to note that grants are generally available for discrete periods of time, and you cannot rely on a grant to fund your project or program forever. While grants are available from a wide range of organizations, such as governments, corporations, and international organizations, it is important to evaluate how closely your project aligns with the goals of the funding organization before responding to a grant solicitation. Read on for tips about writing a grant proposal, and check out the Grant Proposal Planning Template [PDF 1 MB] for questions to get you thinking as you start writing a proposal.

Find grants to apply for. Perhaps the most daunting part of writing a grant proposal is finding a grant to apply for in the first place. It is worth keeping a running list of grants that might be applicable to your work. Be sure to look into local funders as well as national or international opportunities. For each grant opportunity, think critically about whether you should apply for it. Evaluate how closely your work aligns with the grant requirements; the amount of money you would receive from the grant; and your likelihood of winning it. Then compare that to the amount of time and other resources it would take you to write the proposal, to decide whether applying for the grant justifies the amount of time required to do so.

Complete a Requirements Matrix. Once you decide to respond to a grant solicitation, put together a table that lists every requirement identified in the request for proposal (RFP). Include everything from required content sections to formatting specifications. Use this as a checklist after you’ve written the proposal to ensure that you have accounted for every requirement. For an example, see the Grant Requirements Matrix Template in the Grant Proposal Planning Toolkit on page 5..

Write a one-page overview. For each grant for which you apply, put together a one-page overview of your program/project and how it aligns with the funding agency/grant in question. Being able to clearly and concisely describe not only your own work but also why the funding agency should be interested in funding it, will be immensely beneficial to justifying your request.

Ask for the “right” amount of money. Some solicitations will identify the target or average amount of money provided by the grant, but many will not. It is important to have a sense of the general size of awards made under this grant, so you can align your request with that amount. Answering this question might require some research into previous grant-funded projects (which might be featured on the website, for example). Ultimately, your requested amount of funding should be as close as possible to the amount the organization intends to award. If you request too little, the organization might feel they could have a bigger impact by funding a larger project; if you ask for too much, you may be out of consideration immediately. Prepare a detailed budget outlining how you would allocate the grant money, and ensure it aligns with the amount the funder is likely to provide.

Tell a compelling story. The review committee will read dozens if not hundreds of grant applications, and it’s important to make sure your proposal stands out. The more you can put a human touch on your proposal, the better. Mentioning the people you have helped through the program, or will be able to help with additional funding, is a way to make sure the reviewers remember your request.

Provide specifics. Aligned with the previous point, reviewers are more likely to fund a project if they have a clear understanding of its impact. Provide specifics, including how you will spend your grant money, whenever possible — such as the number of people you have helped already, the number you will help if you receive the grant funding, or any research findings that support your project methodology. Also be sure to clearly explain your methodology — what audiences you will be reaching, how your project will be run, and more.

Don’t re-use proposals. It can be helpful to have a generic proposal that you tailor towards specific grant solicitations. However, make sure that each proposal you send out is specifically aligned with the solicitation to which it is responding. Reviewers will be able to tell if you have simply sent in an old proposal, and will not be interested in funding your request if it doesn’t look like you have taken the time to align your response with their requirements.

Find more resources by reading Grant Writing: How to develop a grant-winning project and The YALI Network Grant Writing Toolkit.

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