How to write a grant proposal

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How to write a grant proposal

Grant proposals are to be treated as a project with a defined deliverable or end result for the money sought. Projects must show tangible results or funding will not be granted. A successful grant proposal is one that is carefully prepared, planned, and packaged.

So what is a grant proposal? In short, it’s a request for an investment in a non-profit or for-profit project. At first glance, grant proposals bear benefits only to the organization or individual entrepreneur who needs the money. But that’s not exactly true. For Grantees*, it’s not an investment in some random project but an investment in positive change. Thus, they can have a huge impact on issues that concern a company’s morals, values, or culture.

*A Grantee is an individual or organization giving you the money.

PandaDoc is an excellent preparation and packaging tool to create a highly professional look and feel to your grant proposal.

What’s the difference between a grant proposal and a grant letter?

It’s quite easy to confuse a grant proposal with a grant letter. Both documents are merely different forms of the grant proposal and serve the same purpose — to raise funds for a specific project.

But a grant proposal in the absolute sense (it can be also called a full grant proposal) is a standard grant proposal which contains all the following sections: the project’s summary, a cover letter, problem statement, etc.

You should follow the structure and provide all required information in detail. That’s why this type of proposal is quite lengthy and can consist of up to 25 pages in total. Take a look at this grant proposal example template to have a better understanding of how it should look.

However, some companies or individual investors consider this document too long and prefer a shorter grant letter over the full grant proposal. The length of this letter shouldn’t exceed 3-4 pages and has a similar structure. The grant letter needs to walk your potential investor through every point quickly, so we get to another challenge — to persuade the Grantee in just a few words that the project is worth funding.

How to write a grant proposal

Before you start, you need to prepare. If we are talking about how to write a grant proposal for a non-profit organization, this document should be only a small part of your fundraising plan. First, you need to define your fundraising goals, estimate the cost, develop the timeline of your project, and find prospective grants.

Almost the same applies to the process of “how to write a grant proposal for a small business”. In the United States, the new business should register in a federal grant program before they can ask for a grant.

It makes sense to submit a short grant letter before writing a full grant proposal to save you time. If your Grantee approves your letter and sends you a request for a formal grant proposal, you can proceed with writing a detailed RFP response to this prospective investor.

To save even more time, you can use our document management software to assist you in this difficult task. Besides grant proposals, it can handle your quotes, agreements, contracts, and proposals. Not sure you need it? Read the buyer’s guide to contract management.

Let’s move on to the structure of a standard grant proposal you should adhere to.

Writing process of a grant request consists of the following stages:

1. Proposal summary

Proposal summary consists of two or three paragraphs summarising the key points or objectives of the project. It should have sufficient detail and specifics. Avoid generalizations and “fluff”, get to the point and be pragmatic and factual. This section may be the last one that you complete as it is a synopsis of the entire proposal.

2. Introduction/overview of your business or organization

Here you include a biography of key staff, your business track record (success stories) company goals and philosophy; essentially why your company should be selected. Client recommendations, letters of thanks, feedback from customers and the general public are must-have things to write in a grant proposal. Include also all valid industry certifications (ISO or Quality Certifications), licences and business and indemnity insurance details.

You need to show that your company or organisation has the capacity and the ability to meet all deliverables form both an execution perspective but also meet all legal, safety and quality obligations. You may need to provide solvency statements to prove that you can meet your financial commitments to your staff and contractors.

3. Problem statement or needs analysis/assessment

This is the purpose of the grant proposal. In the problem statement, you explain who will benefit and how the solution will be implemented. You may need to do extensive research on the history of the underlying problem, previous solutions that were implemented and potentially failed and why your solution will make a difference.

4. Project objectives

Details of the desired outcome and how success will be measured. This section is key to providing information on the benefits that the Grantee, community, government or client will see for their investment.

Key Performance Indicators need to be articulated and explained with specific measurements detailed and when they will be taken (dates) how they will be measured and against what baselines will the results be taken.

5. Project design

Skills needed for success, what additional facilities, transport and support services needed to deliver the project and defined measures for success. Good project management discipline and methodologies with detailed requirements specified and individual tasks articulated (project schedule) will keep a good focus on tasks, deliverables and results.

6. Project evaluation

Covers product evaluation and process evaluation. Also, include the timeframe needed for evaluation and who will do the evaluation including the specific skills or products needed and the cost of the evaluation phase of the project.

Evaluation can be quite expensive and need to have entry and exit criteria and specifically focused in scope activities. All out of scope evaluation activities need to be specified as this phase can easily blow out budget wise. Once again solid project management discipline and methodologies will keep a good focus on evaluation tasks and results.

7. Future funding

This section of your grant proposal is for funding requirements that go beyond the project, total cost of ownership including ongoing maintenance, business, as usual, operational support and may require you to articulate the projected ongoing costs (if any) for at least 5 years.

An accurate cost model that includes all factors including inflation, specialist skills, ongoing training, potential future growth, decommissioning expenses when the project or the product reaches the end of life, all need to factored into this section.

8. Project budget

How much money is required to be funded to deliver the results? Provide full justification for all expenses including a table of services (or service catalog) and product offered can be used to clearly and accurately specify the services.

Remember that the project budget section is the true meat of your grant proposal. Overcharging or having a high quote can lose you the grant and can be seen as profiteering. Underquoting might win you the business but you may not be able to deliver on your proposal which could adversely impact on your standing with the Grantee.

Many companies underquote in the hope of “hooking” in the client and then looking for additional funding at a later stage. This is a dangerous game to play and could affect your individual or company’s brand, community standing or industry reputation.

5 bonus tips to write a grant proposal:

  1. You should become closely familiar with all of the criteria related to the program for which a grant is being sought.
  2. Be a good project manager, know how to plan, lead and deliver projects. Follow PMBOK methodologies for project management success.
  3. Know your Grantee! Understand the organization that is providing the funds, understand their goals and align your proposal to them.
  4. Ensure that your idea or service is unique and not already funded by other government or private grants or is already implemented.
  5. Ensure that the benefits generated from the Grant are tangible, measurable, benefit a wide spectrum of your community, and are a good value for the money invested.

Asking for a grant in different industries

Even though the structure of a grant proposal remains unchanged, it still matters in which industry you operate. We prepared a couple of recommendations for people who come from three industries where fundraising campaigns are the most common.

How to write a scientific grant proposal?

Here you should emphasize the significance of your project and its contribution to science if implemented successfully. Back it up with relevant statistics, scientific facts, and research data on the subject. It’s important to use simple terms comprehensible to the prospective Grantee. Also, explain why you are the one who can finish this project: provide some proof of your expertise to make your proposal stronger.

How to write a grant proposal for education?

Besides the project description, you need to mention how it will improve the education system. Detail how your project will improve student’s productivity, increase their knowledge, and make their overall learning process better. Educational projects usually involve a team of people who will put the idea into practice. Provide more information about each team member and why this person can perform their duties.

How to write a grant proposal for art?

Even though the inspiration can’t be forced, an art project should be time specific. Mention the start and end date of your activity. Otherwise, a prospective grant may not take it seriously. And remember: true art doesn’t start here. Primarily you should convey your message to the Grantee, even if they don’t know much about the kind of art you create. Explain the idea in the simplest way so anybody can understand it clearly.

We hope this post will help you to write grant proposals successfully. You might also be interested in how to write marketing proposal and how to create them using PandaDoc. Fortunately, we have a short video guide for you so you can learn right now. Enjoy!

Originally published  March 18, 2014, updated June 5, 2018

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