Most grant funders ask you to follow a particular format when submitting grant proposals. If you don’t adhere to their requirements, your project probably won’t be considered for funding.
But what about those funders who simply ask you to submit a proposal? These do come up occasionally, especially among private and community-based funders.
If there’s no structural framework for the request, what grant proposal template should you follow? Doing a web search will bring up a few downloadable grant templates. Unless you’re very grant savvy, we advise against using one of these templates. Often, these are created by companies that don’t know much about grant writing but are pros at getting you to download a file.
Instead of using a pre-fabricated template for a grant, follow our guide for writing a grant proposal.
Your proposal should include eight sections. They don’t have to be in this specific order, but we think this is a good organizational structure.
- Cover letter
- Executive summary
- Needs statement
- Goals and objectives
- Methods and strategies
- Evaluation plan
- Organizational history and partnerships
In this post, we’ll cover the first four sections. Next week, we’ll address the second half.
1. Cover Letter
A cover letter gets your foot in the door. It also serves as an introduction, just like the cover letter you submit with a resume. It's a way to say, “Hello, this is who we are, this is what we’re asking for and why.” Specifically, it should include:
- A very brief account of the who, what, when, where and why of your organization.
- What you’re applying for and why you’re qualified to seek funding
- The scope of the problem you’re trying to address
- The purpose of the grant and how it will benefit your service recipients, community, school, etc.
- Clearly articulated goals
Cover letters should be short, sweet, and to the point. Be succinct. You will expound more later in the proposal. Use bullet points and short sentences so it’s scannable. You may find that it’s easier to write the cover letter after you’ve written the more in-depth sections of the proposal.
2. Executive Summary
The executive summary is often what grant reviewers read first. After reading the summary, they’ll decide if they want to read further. An executive summary should concisely explain your project without all the supporting details.
In it, you’ll need to identify the problem your project will address, how the project will be implemented, how you’ll determine if the project was successful, a timeline, anticipated results, and more details about your organization, including:
- Your organization’s mission and how it relates to the project
- Organizational strengths
- Partnerships for the project
- Any other funding resources
Ideally, the executive summary for your grant proposal should be between 4-6 paragraphs long. It’s also wise to use bullets to break up large chunks of text.
3. Needs Statement
By now, the reviewer should have a 30,000-foot view of your project. The needs statement is your opportunity to explain why the project needs to be done and the expected outcomes. Make it clear who will benefit from the project. Be specific. Your needs statement should be compelling enough to persuade the reader to consider moving your proposal to the “probably” pile instead of the trash.
Tips for your needs statement:
- Limit it to one page
- Give specific details about the project and how it will impact your community. Include data, stats and numbers to build your case.
- Cite your sources. The credibility of your needs statement relies on the quality of your sources of information.
- Make it persuasive. The needs statement isn’t a sales piece, but it should be emotionally compelling enough to move the reader to action.
Read more about writing effective needs statements on our Insights blog.
4. Goals and Objectives
In this section, you’ll describe the changes you expect your project to bring about. Doing so shows the funder exactly how their money will impact the community.
Objectives should not be actions. Instead, objectives are the result of actions. For example:
The objective is not to give students books. Instead, it’s the test scores that result from providing students books.
Since your project will probably have more than one objective, break this section into subsections for each objective. Doing so shows all the impacts your project will have.
Additionally, remember to:
- Quantify objectives. If you can’t measure it, you can’t evaluate it. You can’t measure “Students will read better,” but you can measure test scores.
- Objectives should be time-bound. They should reflect a specific period.
- Objectives should be realistic. Don’t make pie-in-the-sky goals that you may not meet. It’s best to under-promise and over-deliver.
- Limit the section to a couple of pages.
Next week, we’ll dive into the second half of a grant proposal. In the meantime, check out our self-paced online grant writing course for more ways to win grants and do more, better.