Do you want to apply for NGO grants but don’t know how to write a proposal? If YES, here are 11 steps to writing a grant proposal for Non-profit organization funding.

Truth be told, grant writing is not an easy process, yet it can provide a non-profit organization with the much needed funds that it requires to accomplish its objectives. In the year 2014 alone, more than 70 billion dollars were awarded by foundations and corporations, according to Charity Navigator. This means that if a non-profit organization is able to “plead its case” properly, they can have their share of the many billions of dollars that go out each year for that purpose.

Grant writing is not only difficult, it can also be overwhelming, confusing and of course time consuming. As a matter of fact, a lot of people who start a nonprofit organization have no idea how to write a good grant proposal. However, being proficient in the art of writing grant proposals is very important, more so when getting a grant can result to the success of the non-profit organization.

Grant proposal writing is even more daunting when you consider the fact that grant agencies receive thousands of applications that are competing for a single award.  These organizations may all have a worthwhile cause but the grant will only go to those that stand tall and above the crowd. What you say and how you say it is just as important as the cause you are seeking the grant for because even the noblest cause that is accompanied with a very poor grant proposal will definitely fail to receive the grant.

A winning grant should meet two of these parameters;

  • Informative and engaging: this means that the grant proposal has to be clear, concise compelling and free of any ambiguity.
  • Free of typographical and grammatical errors: You may want to have someone other than the author do the copyediting. Or, you may want to hire a professional copyeditor, or a professional grant writer, for an extra competitive edge in securing grant funding.

Even though there is no consensus on what a perfect grant writing is, there are certainly steps that one can follow to increases an organization chance of getting a grant. Here are the steps that are involved in writing a grant proposal for a non-profit organization.

11 Steps to Writing a Grant Proposal for Non-Profit Organization

1. Letter of Inquiry, or Cover Letter: it is of utmost importance that your non-profit grant proposal should have a sturdy cover letter. An ideal cover letter should introduces your organization, its mission, and specifically states what you are asking for. This includes the exact amount of funds you want.

The cover letter should be succinct, unique and novel. It should just not contain exactly the same thing as your proposal itself. The cover letter is your chance to let your funder know up front that you understand their agency’s goals, and that your grant fulfills their requirements. Here are a few tips for writing a good cover letter;

  • Address your cover letter to an individual—making sure they are the correct person.
  • Limit your cover letter to one page with three or four paragraphs.
  • Include a statement of support for the project from your board of directors.
  • Do not include a cover letter in federal or state grant applications, unless they specifically request one.

2. Executive summary: your grant proposal proper should begin with an executive summary. This can be one of the most difficult sections to write in a grant proposal because it has to be comprehensive yet short. This first section is often used by screeners to decide if your proposal is worth taking to the next step.

A good executive summary should capture attention and leave the reader wanting more. Here, you will have to summarize the contents of the whole proposal in a few concise statements that will have to clearly explain the problem, solutions, funding request and organization background. Include enough information to answer questions about key elements of the proposal and explain your nonprofit’s capabilities. Here are Tips for writing an executive summary :

  • Identify your organization.
  • Include your mission statement.
  • Emphasize the key points of your grant proposal.
  • Clearly communicate the need for your program.
  • State the cost of the project and the amount you are requesting.
  • State the time period for the project.
  • State the results that are expected from your project.

3. Statement of need: Next, you will have to craft your statement of need using well researched data and statistics concerning the issue at hand. For example, if the need is to provide after-school tutors, use data from the local school district and research on the effectiveness of tutoring for improving academic performance.

Use numbers and facts to draw a picture and explain how the grant will help your nonprofit respond to the need. A request for capital or operation funds will have a different type of statement of need that explains the importance of the capital project, such as construction or a major purchase, or the need for funds to cover a financial shortfall. Here are some tips for writing statement of needs;

  • Make sure your statement of need is well-written and reader-friendly.
  • Use quantitative data: statistical analysis, trends and expert views that support your argument.
  • Reference reputable research, literature and comparative data to support your argument.
  • Explain your time frame, and why securing funding is critical now.

4. Descriptions, goals and objectives: Describe the project developed to address the need. This should include the period of funding, goals the project intends to achieve, expected outcomes, staffing, partnerships with other organizations and participants.

You will have to describe the logistics of the project, such as the location and marketing. For instance, if you are running a tutoring project, you may state that your goals are increased reading levels or higher grades for 50 students who receive tutoring three days a week over the school year.

Your goals will be broad statements, and may be abstract. But it’s critical that your proposal’s objectives be concrete, precise and measurable. Objectives are explicit statements as to how you will work toward reaching your overarching goal. Tips for writing your proposal’s objectives :

  • Use quantifiable terms.
  • Identify who or what your objectives will serve.
  • Make sure your objectives are measurable and realistic.
  • Objectives should be consistent with your statement of need.

5. Monitoring and evaluation: Include in the project section your plan for monitoring and recording project activities and generating a final report that includes use of the funds. You might explain that staff will meet monthly; that you will use parent and teacher surveys, grade reports and tutor observation to gauge success; and that you will compile a project report that includes a financial statement. Tips for writing the evaluation section:

  • Make sure this section is consistent with your methods and objectives.
  • State how the evaluation will measure whether you met your objectives.
  • State how you will use the findings.
  • Specify whether you will conduct an internal evaluation or hire outside help.

6. Budget: the budget section is your chance to show a breakdown of the money you need, don’t be shy. Shrinking you budget will not increase your chances of getting the grant. Your budget will have to include the details of the total expenses that the project will incur.

Include all sources of expected income, including the foundation for which you are writing the proposal. It only makes sense that your total expected income should not exceed your expenses. It is best if they should match one another.

Your budget must be professionally done if you intend win over the reviews. Prepare a budget narrative in table format or using tabs that explain each line of the budget, which supplies calculations for items like payroll withholding, utilities and mileage.

You should also include all expected income either earned or contributed. The more community support your nonprofit receives, the more encouraged reviewers will be. Also pay close attention to any supplemental materials requested by the granting agency, such as a tax-exemption letter from the IRS or financial statements. Here are some tips for writing this section;

  • Make sure all figures are 100% accurate.
  • Specify direct costs—the expenses for which the requested grant funding will be used. Direct costs include personnel, fringe benefits, travel, equipment, and supplies.
  • Specify all sources of income and contributions, including volunteer services calculated at “market value.”
  • State all indirect costs and overhead associated with administrative expenses.

7. Project Sustainability: all grant agencies want to ensure that the funds they give out will not only produce fruitful results but will facilitate future endeavors through project sustainability—either with or without their additional help. If you have written a good project proposal, the reviewer will want to know how your non-profit will continue over the long term.

In this section, the writer has to state want he or she has in mind for the non-profit organization in the future after the grant money requested has been used. In other words, tell the grantor how your organization will raise money to continue its programs in the future. Your future funding plan can include a mix of strategies and sources. Here are some tips for writing the sustainability section:

  • Outline specific future fundraising plans.
  • Provide a blueprint of how you will effect these plans.
  • Make sure your plans are realistic, given your resources.
  • Include information on hiring additional staff or freelance contractors, if necessary.

8. Organizational history and information: you will then have to give a clear overview of your organization’s history. Make sure that this section is not too big. Ideally it should be just a few paragraphs. Include your founding date, mission, charitable purpose, programs you operate, populations you serve and your major accomplishments. Tips for writing the organizational information section;

  • Write as though the funder is hearing of your nonprofit for the first time.
  • Give your non-profit’s full, legal name and its legal status.
  • Name your board members, staff and volunteers.
  • State the location of your headquarters and any satellite sites.
  • Include financial information, such as annual donations and budget.

9. Conclusion: Write the conclusion section, which should be about one paragraph, to reiterate your request and need in just one sentence and explain how your non-profit will sustain the project when funding ends. Thank the foundation for the opportunity and include a final appeal for assistance.

10. Include lines for the date and the signature and title of the nonprofit president or board chair. Some nonprofits and foundations require the signatures on the document to confirm authorization to submit the proposal.

11. Proof read: finally, you should proofread what you wrote to ensure that is it free from any form of typographical or grammatical errors. Ideally, it is best to also get another person other than the writer to proof read the grant proposal. Ask a coworker or colleague to proofread the proposal for factual or grammatical errors, neatness and readability. You can also outsource to proof reading to a professional.

Here are additional tips that can help to greatly increase your chance of getting a grant proposal for your non-profit organization;

Additional for Writing a Grant Proposal for Non-Profit Organization

a. You should do your best do research various foundations and grant writing opportunities for your organization. Commit to this in advance.

b. If you are not skilled in writing, it is best to hire a proficient grant proposal writer to do it for you. Alternatively, you can train your existing employees on how to write grant proposals. Otherwise, minor errors might leave you without a grant and wasting precious time.

c. The process of writing and submitting a grant proposal can be time and resource consuming and as such, you should only commit yourself to applying to a grant if:

  • You match all the foundation’s qualifications
  • You’re willing to research and write tailored applications for each foundation
  • You apply only for the kinds of funding you already identified you are pursuing in your fundraising plan. (e.g., don’t decide to apply for capital funds if you really need unrestricted funding!)

d. Be prepared to encounter rejection: you will have to understand that most first time grant applications hardly ever stand a chance at actually getting the grant. It is uncommon to be accepted grant without an existing relationship with the foundation, and like all fundraising, no might mean “no for now.” Grant writing is best suited for those who are patient at heart.

e. Eliminate jargon: Every industry has its own jargon and nonprofits are no different. However, use of these jargons will not convince your reviewer that you are smart or the most qualified candidate to receive the grant. As such, it is best to eliminate all internally used acronyms and jargon. Tell your story simply, from your heart.

f. Get a second opinion first: when you are done with your grant proposal you should get the view of an objective reviewer. This could be a friend or a colleague who doesn’t know anything about your non-profit organization. If the person understands the proposal and is inspired by it, then you know that you are on the right track. If however, the person finds it convoluted and difficult to understand, then you may just need to go back to the drawing board.

g. Remember the 12/12/12 rule: try to imagine that you are the review officer, it’s almost midnight and you have been reviewing grant proposals for the past 12 hours. Your proposal is the twelfth on the stack. How is your proposal going to grab his attention? How are you going to get this person to feel passionate about your non-profit like the way you do? The key lies in the story you tell.

h. Make your proposal solution oriented: the aim of your proposal is not to educate and mobilize the public. You need to present your proposal in such a way that will convince people that you are familiar with the issue you are dealing with, but you must, first and foremost, focus on what you’re are going to do about the problem or need not the problem itself.

i. Addressing specific problems with general solutions: A successful proposal provides a clear picture of what your organization will do to address the issue at hand. Don’t just discuss the problem, provide specific details about the actions you will take to address the problem.

j. Make sure that your budget makes sense: some people include budgets that have errors and this goes a long way to undermine the credibility of the non-profit organization. The budget should not only add up, it also has to support the logic of the proposal’s narrative.

k. Don’t regurgitate phrases from the funder’s guidelines: Just pasting phrases from the funder’s guidelines into your proposal will not result in funding. All good proposals should fit the foundation’s guidelines, but telling how and why they fit is what is important. Cutting and pasting just says that you’ve read the funder’s website.

l. Make sure that your needs are clearly highlighted: Why are you applying for a particular grant? “Because we need funding” is not an acceptable answer. To increase your chances of being accepted, clearly describe the need that your project will meet in the community and how it will make a significant impact for good.

m. Target a specific project for your proposal: most grants are awarded to a particular cause instead of just opening it up for general support. It is best to focus your grant application efforts on a single project because it will give you’re an edge. Also, you need to be detailed—this will show that you’ve clearly thought through how the project will be executed.

n. Don’t procrastinate: its already been mentioned countless times that the grant writing process can be tedious and long. In this light, it only makes sense that you should start the preparing and writing the grant very much earlier than the deadline for submission. If your grant was written in a hurry, it will definitely tell on it. If possible, never send your application via overnight or express mail. Rushing a proposal costs extra money and can signal to the grant maker that your organization is a poor steward of funds.

o. Pay close attention to details: Some foundations can be very choosy. They may demand that your grant proposal must have a certain page length, page margins, typeface, et al., be sure to follow the specifications. Even if these minor details do not seem important to you as an individual, you should know that the grant makers have their reason for making such specifications and as such, you should respect them else, you run the risk of having your application tossed into the trash. Don’t go to all that work just to have your proposal rejected because of logistics.

p. Don’t send unnecessary attachments: most grant makers will tell you exactly what to send. Sending a lot more attachments that was demanded of you will not increase our chances of winning the grant. Again, it’s important to follow the rules. Grant makers are reading a lot of proposals, and they may view extraneous material as an annoyance.

q. Not Enough Detail: As an intimate member of your organization, your level of familiarity may actually be an obstacle. For one, you are already fully committed to your cause. Further, organization executives or staff may be so absorbed in the day-to-day business of fulfilling the group’s mission that it’s hard to step back and clearly and carefully explain the big picture. Certain details of your organization and mission will be so obvious and so familiar to you that you won’t even think to include them.

However, always remember that the people reading your grant may be hearing of your nonprofit for the first time. Even if you know the grantor, or have received funding from them before, you should still provide complete information about your nonprofit.

r. Too Much Detail: inexperienced grant writers often include too much detail in their writing. While it’s important for your grant proposal to tell a compelling story, don’t get carried away with a lot of superfluous information.

In other words, don’t spend pages discussing about the problem or your ideals. Get to the point quickly and use concise, objective examples to illustrate your successes rather than vague or subjective anecdotes.

s. Circular reasoning: This refers to when the problem being presented is defined as the absence of the solution that is being offered. Circular reasoning is the hallmark of a bad grant proposal writing. For instance, “The problem is that our county lacks an environmental watch-dog group. Therefore, forming an environmental watch-dog group will solve the problem.” Avoid circular reasoning like a plague in your nonprofit grant proposal.

t. Make sure that you have adequate Quantitative data: the agency that will approve your grants need to see statics. They want to know that your objectives and your results are quantifiable. Profit oriented businesses include such information as a matter of choice. Whereas nonprofit grants are often too light on hard data. To show that you are knowledgeable about your area, your grant should include historical data, statistical analysis, graphs and figures, and long-term projections whenever appropriate.

In conclusion, it is very possible to get grants for your non-profit organization if you are willing to put in the hours and understand that grant money is just one piece of the puzzle. You also have to bear in mind that getting a grant will not automatically solve all the problems that your business is facing.

Ajaero Tony Martins