All grant proposals, sometimes referred to as requests for proposals (RFPs), vary slightly. Some funders prefer a Letter of Inquiry while others ask for a full proposal submitted by a deadline. Some specify number of pages allowed, types of attachments required, and the amount of detail needed about program staff. The most important factor to remember is to follow the funder’s instructions.
Here are some basic guidelines for the sections most commonly requested in grant proposals.
Letter of Inquiry
The Letter of Inquiry is used by funders to determine whether the proposed idea meets their priorities and if a full proposal is of interest to them for funding consideration.
The letter of inquiry should
- Be in business letter format.
- Be limited to two or three pages.
- Include a summary with the most important details of the proposed program.
- Promote and clearly define your goal(s) and objectives and the benefits the program offers to the target audience.
The cover letter should introduce the agency, its mission, why the proposal is being submitted, and acknowledgement of any priorities you share with the funder.
The cover letter should
- Be in business letter format with proper spelling and grammar. Remember this will be their first impression of your organization.
- Be one page in length.
Table of Contents
Include a table of contents if needed.
The table of contents should
- Be in professional format.
- Be precisely aligned (i.e., page titles and page numbers should be aligned).
- List contents/appendices/attachments in the order they are included.
The summary or abstract is a brief overview of your grant proposal according to funder’s specifications.
The summary/abstract should
- Be written last—after the proposal is complete and you have a realistic program designed for providing quality services. This is where you “sell” the program and your agency’s competence to the funder.
In the introduction or agency background, share the history of organization, mission statement, and organizational highlights.
The introduction/agency background should
- Include a history of services provided and for whom.
Problem Statement/Needs Statement
The problem statement or needs statement explains the nature and focus of the problem your program addresses.
The problem statement/needs statement should
- Establish the program’s timeliness, need, and relevance to the community and the funder.
- Focus on the condition(s) that need to change to benefit the clientele you will serve.
- Use facts, not opinions, and support key statistics and reputable quotes by citing your sources.
In the goals section, state what you intend to accomplish realistically in the next year.
The goals statement should
- State it in one sentence what you hope to achieve.
- Use action words.
Establish an after-school program in the urban core to provide youth ages 10–15 with competent educational tutoring, computer training, and directed fun activities that teach good citizenship.
Objectives are steps you will use to achieve your goal(s).
Outcomes are the quantitative and/or qualitative measurements used to evaluate the program and show the positive changes that occur. (See the evaluation section for more details.)
The objectives/outcomes section could vary from funder to funder. A potentional funder may ask you to complete both an objective section and an outcome section.
Others may ask that you only complete an objective section.
The objectives/outcome section should
- Use active verbs.
- Include measurable forms of concrete evidence to determine program success. Measures may be quantitative and qualitative.
- Avoid overstating what you can accomplish.
Objective: To create an advisory committee of at least 10 people, including students from urban–core schools and community agencies to oversee the structure and operations of an effective after-school program that serves 35–50 youth, ages 10–15.
Outcome: At least 90% of the committee serve for a minimum of one year and assists in designing/testing performance measures for the program.
Objective: To seek a minimum of 10 volunteers qualified in the areas of reading, general math, algebra, science, social studies, and computers to serve as tutors in a daily after-school program.
Outcome: A minimum of 50% of the students improve school performance as reported by classroom teachers.
Objective: To arrange monthly activities.
Outcome: At least 75% of the youth participate in the fun while learning and practicing good citizenship roles and responsibilities.
The program description states the program design and activities. If a timetable is required, a monthly or quarterly schedule may work best.
The program description should
- Be in logical sequence with clear descriptions that lead to achievement of the goal and objectives with measurable outcomes.
- Explain the program staff roles.
- Identify who is responsible for guiding the various steps or activities to completion.
In the evaluation, explain how you will measure success of the program. Know if an independent evaluator is required. If so, check with local colleges for qualified external evaluators. The fee can be included in most program budgets.
The evaluation should
- Show positive changes in the knowledge base, behavior, and attitudes of participants. This is critical to achieving social improvements and self-sufficiency.
- Conduct an ongoing process of measurement in numbers and information that allows staff and funders to identify what parts of the program work, what needs to be improved or discontinued, and what the anticipated outcomes are for participants.
- Identify measurement tools under consideration for collecting such information. Examples include formal test instruments, staff observation in written records, student/participant attendance and improved performance, student self-reports, anecdotal records, and community feedback.
- Be precise and punctual in all reporting to the board, advisory committee, and funders.
The key personnel section lists key staff who will be working on the programs funded by the potential funder. If training is required for volunteers, be sure to specify that information.
The key personnel section should:
- Identify the staff members required for the program.
- Provide position or job descriptions and qualifications important to the program (e.g., educational background, special skills, etc.).
- Confirm your personnel's credibility to manage the proposed program successfully.
Budget and Budget Justification
The budget and budget justification section provides the program budget and describes how you determined your budget. Double and triple check your math in this section.
The budget and budget justification should
- Figure carefully the costs of doing the program well, without overstating or underestimating anticipated expenses.
- Provide a line item budget and be sure all columns of figures are aligned properly.
- Assure the funder accountability for their dollars by giving justification for expenses.
Program coordinator’s salary 50% FTE $15,000
Assistant $10/hr x 15 hr/week x 40 weeks $ 6,000
Books $5 @ x 50 books x 2 times/year $ 500
In-kind contributions are non-financial ways for partners to invest in the program they want funded. For example: volunteers provide time that is valued and listed, the church may provide space and utilities that have a dollar value, and partners may offer their staff to teach classes free to you. All three examples are acknowledged in a budget as in-kind contributions.
Occasionally potentional funders will ask for supporting documents, including
- Collaborators. You will need to list collaborating agencies, corporations, and schools. Convince the funder of the program’s continuation by showing partnerships that can help sustain the program for the future. Use the funder’s money as leverage for asking other grantors to partner in coming program years.
- Letters of support. Letters of support are written by partners or collaborating agencies. They should show what each organization involved in the program brings to its success, whether financial or in-kind.
- Appendices of support materials. These support materials may include a sample program schedule, lesson plan, or an organizational chart, which are often helpful.
After Submitting Your Grant
If You Receive Funding
Write a thank you letter or note to the funder. Keep funders “in the loop” regarding the program’s progress. Mistakes can usually be corrected when you discuss alternatives together.
If You Don’t Receive Funding
If you are not awarded a grant, ask for feedback. Funders receive more requests than they can finance, so it does not mean your request was not a good one. Read the guidelines, write, revise, edit, and invite them to be a partner in a program that will benefit others.