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How Do I Write a Grant Proposal?

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  • Written By: Terry Masters
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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You can write a grant proposal by determining a funder's guidelines and priorities and preparing a narrative about your organization and programs in response. Some funders have a specific grant request format, while others allow applicants to use any reasonable format that presents the salient information. Traditionally, applicants prepared grant proposals in report format and submitted them in hard copy to the funder. With the popularization of the Internet, many funders are transitioning to an electronic application process that allows applicants to submit their requests online.

There is no single, universal way to write a grant proposal. Instead, there are a list of narrative topics that applicants are expected to address, regardless of the format. Each grant proposal needs to be customized to the funder's specifications and priorities. The applicant provides whatever subset of information from the standard narrative topics is needed to complete the application. If you prepare a model grant proposal for your organization using the standard topics, you will be equipped with the information needed to customize narrative for any proposal format.

The disparity in formats has led nonprofit trade organizations to design a model proposal known as the common application. Many private foundations that haven't transitioned to an electronic application allow nonprofits to submit grant requests using the common application. The best way to learn to write a grant proposal is to use the common application format because it represents the industry's estimation of the ideal presentation of information.

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A grant proposal using the common application format has a cover sheet and three main sections. The cover sheet includes basic information, such as contacts, amount of the grant request, name of the project, and verification of tax-exempt status. Section one is a proposal summary. This section outlines your request in a nutshell and should not be any longer than a few paragraphs.

The second section of the common application is the narrative. This is the main presentation of information but should only be a maximum of five pages. The narrative includes the organization's background and presents the funding request, which can be for general operating support or for a specific program. If the request is for program support, a description of the need for the program and its functional design is expected.

A section on evaluation is the last part of the narrative. Here, you present a plan for establishing the effectiveness of the program. After the narrative, the final part of the proposal is the attachments section. In this section, you present the program and organizational budgets and a series of standard attachments that most funders expect to see. If you prepare a complete common application for your funding request, you will be able to pull from it to prepare an application in any format.

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