How to Write a Grant Proposal

From Summary to Budget
By Joanne Fritz, Guide

Grant proposals are a part of any fundraiser's portfolio. To achieve optimal success your grant proposals should be part of your overall fundraising plan.

Grants may be from a variety of sources (such as a foundation or a government entity), but most require the same information. Here are the most common sections of grant proposals, and the information you should include.

Cover Letter

Although the cover letter is written last, don't give it short shrift. It is the front porch of your grant proposal and will determine how well the rest of the proposal is received. A bad impression here will be difficult to make up later. You'll want to address your letter to a specific person, briefly state what your proposal asks for, and summarize (not repeat) the essence of your program.

Executive Summary

The summary comes after your cover letter. It helps the grantor to understand at a glance what you are seeking. The summary can be as short as a couple of sentences, but no longer than one page. Aim to be complete (touching on the main points of your proposal) but brief. This is a taste of the proposal to come. It should entice the reader to keep going. The summary doesn't need to be wildly inventive, but it should be well-written (to impress), complete (explain what your organization does and its mission), and specific enough (include details of the proposed program) to involve the reader.

Need Statement

This is the meat of your grant proposal. You must convince the funder that what you propose to do is important and that your organization is the right one to do it. Assume that the reader of your proposal does not know much about the issue or subject. Explain why the issue is important, and what research you did to learn about possible solutions.

The need statement must include both stories and data, and be matched to the interests of the granting organization. The goal is to convince the funder that this project solves an important societal problem, and that the funder should be completely interested in supporting it.

Goals and Objectives

Here is where you explain what your organization plans to do about the problem. State what you ultimately hope to accomplish with the project and spell out the specific results or outcomes you expect to accomplish. Think of goals as general and broad outcomes and objectives as the specific steps you'll take to get to those outcomes.

Methods, Strategies or Program Design

This section is where you walk the grantor through exactly HOW you will achieve the goals and objectives you've set out earlier. You may be required to provide a logic model in this section.

Make this section very detailed and logical. Include a timeline and specify who will do what and when.

Evaluation Section

How will you assess your program's accomplishments? Funders want to know that their dollars actually did some good. So decide now how you will evaluate the impact of your project. Include what records you will keep or data you will collect, and how you will use that data. If the data collection costs money, be sure to include that cost in your budget. Many organizations plan to hire an outside evaluator to ensure an objective assessment.

Other Funding or Sustainability

Have you gotten committed funds from other sources? Or have you asked other sources? Most funders do not wish to be the sole source of support for a project. Be sure to mention in-kind contributions you expect, such as meeting space or equipment.

Is this a pilot project with a limited time-line? Or will it go into the future? If so, how do you plan to fund it? Is it sustainable over the long haul?

Organizational Information

In a few paragraphs explain what your organization does, and why the funder can trust it to use the requested funds responsibly and effectively.

Give a short history of your organization, state its mission, the population it serves, and provide an overview of its track record in achieving its mission. Describe or list your programs.

Be complete in this part of your proposal even if you know the funder or have gotten grants from this grantmaker before.


How much will your project cost? Attach a short budget showing expected expenses and income. The expenses portion should include personnel expenses, direct project expenses, and administrative or overhead expenses. Income should include earned income and contributed income.

Additional Materials

Funders are likely to want the following:

  1. IRS letter proving that your organization is tax-exempt.
  2. List of your board of directors and their affiliations.
  3. Financial statement from your last fiscal year.
  4. Budget for your current fiscal year.
  5. Budget for your next fiscal year if you are within a few months of that new year.

Putting it all together

Put everything together with your cover sheet and a cover letter. You may need to have your CEO and/or the Board President sign the cover sheet or letter. You do not need a fancy binder, but it should all be neatly typed and free of errors.

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