Grant Writing...Best Practices

I.   Purpose of the Grant

A grant proposal is a formal, written request for funds to support a specific program or project.  While the exact content of a grant proposal is determined by funding agency guidelines, most grant proposals include information that explains (1) why the funds are needed, (2) what the funds will be used for, and (3) how the funds will be managed.

When planning and writing a grant proposal, it is important to remember that most proposals are submitted in a highly competitive forum.  No grant proposal is guaranteed to receive funding, hundred of grant proposals may be submitted to the same organizations to compete for the exact same funds.   Give this fact, grant writers must view their grant proposal as a document with at least two goals: (1) to inform the reader of their plans, and (2) to persuade the reader that their project is worthy of funding.  That is, they must sell their readers on all of the following points:

•   The need or problem they will attempt to “fix” with the grant money is significant and worthy of funding.
•   The project or program the funds will be used for is well planned and has a good chance of success.
•   The agency requesting the funds is capable of successfully managing the funds and completing the proposed project on schedule.

Finally, grant proposals must respond to readers’ needs and expectations.  This means that grant writers must:

•   Include details sufficient for clarifying plans to a reader who is unfamiliar with them and who may be reading several other grant proposals at the same sitting.
•   Include good reasons for funding the proposed project.
•   Ensure that the proposal is well written and easily accessible.  Readers who have trouble accessing or understanding important information will not be convinced that the proposed project deserves funding.

II.   Content

Most funding agencies provide guidelines (directions) that identify the information they expect to find in grant proposals submitted to them.  These guidelines are invaluable resources and should be viewed as the final word on what should and should not be included in the grant proposal.  Do not omit information required by the guidelines.  Failure to adhere to the guidelines can be justification for rejecting the proposal.

Despite differences in grant proposal guidelines, most grant proposals require the same general kinds of information.  The overview below outlines a number of pieces you can expect to include in most grant proposals.

Application Form:  In some cases, grant proposals can consist of only a form that must be completed by the grant applicant.  In other cases, a completed application form must accompany a more detailed written proposal.  In either case, the grant writer’s responsibility is to include all request information.

Cover Letter:  A cover letter (also called a letter of transmittal) serves as an introduction to the proposal and can be used as a screening tool for readers.  Given that it might be the first component readers see, this letter can be viewed as the initial tool writers use to sell their plans to the funding agency.  A typical letter of transmittal includes three sections: (1) an opening that identifies the proposal, (2) a middle that introduces and sells the proposed project or plan, and (3) a closing that contains contact information.

III.   Strategy – Planning and Writing

Writing a grant proposal is a challenging task, not only because grant proposals include a significant amount of detailed information, but because there is more to submitting a grant than writing the proposal.  Before writing the proposals, writers should:

•   Develop a solid plan of action, preferably outlined in writing.  Rather than piecing together a proposal at the last minute, agencies seeking grant funds can plan ahead by (1) identifying a need or problem that must be addressed, (2) determining how they might address it, and (3) drafting an outline of the plan.  The plan and draft can be developed by responding to the question presented in the previous section of this document.  This proactive strategy is more likely to result in a clear, complete plan, and having an outline of the final grant proposal makes the grant writing process easier.
•   Identify potential funding agencies.  Identify agencies or organizations that fund the kind of project identified in the plan.  Grant funds may come from government agencies, private foundations, or corporations.  Grant writers can undertake an Internet search to identify potential funding sources.