What is a Grant Proposal? (How to Write One, Tools, and Best Practices)

Bethany Fagan
Bethany Fagan  |  January 8, 2019

So, you need to write a grant proposal?

It likely goes a little something like this: Your organization is eager to start a new and exciting project, you’ve carefully curated a shortlist of the best possible grantees, and you’ve had some great initial feedback. Now, it’s time to choose the best one.

Where do you start? How should you structure your proposal? When is the best time to send it? What can you do to stand out?

We’ll answer all of those questions in this post. We’ll tell you exactly what a grant proposal is, how it differs from other documents, when to send it, who to send it to, and even how to write one. We’ll also provide you with some data-backed tips so you have the best possible chance of success.

TIP: Learn how to manage the entire grant process with grant management software.

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(Source: Unsplash)

What is a grant proposal?

In a nutshell, a grant proposal is a request for money (a grant) that is sent to either a profit or non-profit grant-awarding organization.

Sounds simple enough, right? Let’s dig into the details.

A grant is a sum of money given by an organization to fulfill some purpose, usually charitable, scientific, or artistic in nature. A grant may be awarded by a government institution, not-for-profit, or corporation. In almost all cases, the motivation of the organization awarding the grant is to affect some kind of positive change. This will be in keeping with the grantees’ mission, culture, and values.

There is a wide range of reasons for which grants might be sought. An undergraduate student, for instance, may write a grant proposal requesting tuition fees from the university scholarship department. Another instance could be a charitable organization seeking hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars from the charitable arm of a large corporation for a cross-border project.

Often, grant proposals, which are structured differently than an RFP and other types of business proposals, will only be for a portion of the overall funding required in combination with internal fundraising and other grantees. This is especially the case with not-for-profit charitable foundations.

The term grant proposal is sometimes used interchangeably with grant letter. In the vast majority of cases, they are the same thing. Sometimes, grant letter may be used to mean a shorter precursory letter sent to gauge interest in a project before a full proposal is sent.

How to structure a winning grant proposal

A good grant proposal almost always outlines a project that is ready to go. It should not be abstract and should include a clear sequence of steps, a timeline, and a budget.

Generally speaking, the outline below is applicable to all grants, irrespective of size. It’s always important to check the specific requirements detailed by the grantee and whether or not a specific format should be adhered to.

The following elements are the key parts of a grant proposal:

1. Cover letter

This is the short, abstract part of the proposal where you should communicate (1) roughly, what your project involves, and (2) how much money you need.

TIP: Learn How to Write a Cover Letter

2. Executive summary

The executive summary is a more detailed description of what your project involves, who you are as an individual or organization, and how your project fits with the values of the grantee. (This can be stated either implicitly or explicitly, depending on which is appropriate.) The executive summary is more detailed than the cover letter, but you are not yet going into the nuances of your project. These will be fleshed out later.

3. Statement of need

The statement of need is a detailed outline of the specific problem that you are seeking to solve. It’s important at this stage to describe the problem in concrete terms, drawing on data and practical examples wherever possible. It’s also good practice to highlight that the problem is solvable, so as not to make the grantee feel as though it is insurmountable.

4. Goals and objectives

This is where you outline the results you expect to achieve in both general and specific terms. Describe the broader impact you hope to make before drilling into measurable results the grantee’s money will help you attain.

5. Methods and strategies

The goals and objectives section was the what; this is the how. Here, you specifically detail how you intend to achieve the outcomes outlined in the previous section. This is one of the most important parts of the whole proposal, as it comprises the activities you are seeking funding for.

6. Plan of evaluation

Your plan of evaluation is your mechanism for measuring the progress of your project and provides accountability for both you and the grantee.

7. Budget

The budget is a distinct breakdown of how the money received will be allocated.

8. Organization information

Along with detailed information about your organization, include biographies and roles of the key people that will be involved in this section.

7 tips for writing winning grant proposals

At PandaDoc, we’ve studied thousands of successful proposals (along with some unsuccessful ones). And a number of features have stood out to us.

To give your proposal the best possible chance of success, consider the following tips.

1. Focus on the recipient’s cause

Always keep the cause of your recipient in mind. An organization provides a grant because it wants to have a positive impact. Maintain focus on how you are going to achieve this in the context of the goals of the grantee.

The benefits and outcomes should be in clear alignment with the values of the organization from which you are seeking funding.

2. Include rich media (sparingly)

Rich media, images, videos, charts, etc. can be useful to clearly communicate both the problem you are seeking to resolve and your plan of action. The key word here is sparingly.

We’ve repeatedly found that, while rich media can help capture the attention of readers, it’s easy to make a proposal appear convoluted. Even elements of sales gamification can be added if appropriate.

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(Source: cdn2.hubspot.net)

3. Follow a proven template

Rather than start from scratch, consider using a grant proposal template that has already worked. If you do not have any available within your organization, find one online.

4. Send your proposal at the right time

Research has shown that the best time to send an email is on a weekday in the morning (in the recipients’ respective time zone). Sending your proposal at the right time will maximize the chances that it's reviewed quickly.

5. Make it easy for recipients to sign and pay

The traditional approach to sending proposals involves lots of manual tasks. Recipients have to print a proposal, sign it, and scan it before sending it back. Payments also have to be handled separately offline. Proposal software, however, remedies the vast majority of these obstacles.

eSignature software enables both recipients and senders to quickly and securely approve a proposal without having to leave the document. Payment options can also be embedded, allowing for quick and efficient payment.

It’s not always appropriate to include payment options or signature fields in a grant proposal, but, when it is, using a fully paperless solution can yield tremendous benefits.

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6. Use a smart follow-up strategy

Research has shown that sending follow-up emails drastically increases the chances of a proposal being successful.

Many grant-awarding organizations require a specific consideration period (usually up to six weeks), so keep that in mind. Ensure that you follow-up whenever it's appropriate, and don’t be put off if you don’t receive any replies for a while.

7. Include contact details of key people

Confirm that contact details – particularly emails and telephone numbers – of key people are included so the grantee can reach out to you if necessary.

Some tips for specific industries

While the principles of successful grant proposal writing are mostly universal, there can be a small degree of variance between industries. Grants tend to fall into one of three categories: charitable, scientific, and artistic.

Here are a few tips for dealing with each:

Charitable

For grants for charitable work – solving social, health-related, educational, or environmental problems – it’s important to focus on the seriousness of the problem and how your approach is desirable over other possible solutions.

Because these projects usually involve a large team of people, highlighting their individual experiences and skills is also worthwhile.

Scientific

For scientific proposals, you’ll want to highlight the contribution it will make to scientific understanding, along with the broader societal impacts. Data, research, and scientific facts are all imperative.

It’s also crucial to avoid overly-scientific language. Write the proposal in easy-to-understand language.

Artistic

Grant proposals for artistic projects should emphasize the history and past portfolio of the artist(s) involved, the role the art will play in the broader community, and how the money will be used (according to a specific timeframe).


Next steps in the grant process

Those looking to create their first grant proposal should look to the best proposal software in 2019.

Bethany Fagan
Author

Bethany Fagan

Bethany is the content marketing manager at PandaDoc. When she's not writing new content or discovering a new distribution channel, her time is spent exploring her Brooklyn neighborhood with her husband and two French Bulldogs, Tater Tot and Pork Chop.