Constructing An Effective Grant Proposal: Part One

Sections of this topic

    Building an Effective Grant Proposal: Part One

    So, you’ve completed your research and are ready to start writing!! The question, now, is how do you go about structuring your grant proposal?

    For those circumstances where the funder provides specific guidelines, there’s only one rule worth remembering: “Follow those guidelines to the letter.”

    But what about those many occasions when there are no guidelines for preparing the proposal? There are many examples on the web — just search for grant proposals, and hundreds, if not thousands, of hits, will result.

    Grant consultant websites offer free information on formatting a proposal. My favorite is the Foundation Center’s Proposal Short Course at,

    One of the best ways of learning how to structure a grant proposal, however, is by reading any lead article on the front page of the New York Times … or other daily newspaper. Grant proposals follow the journalistic model of who, what, when, and how.

    I once taught a proposal writing workshop for junior development professionals who were in their positions for less than six months. Their class assignment was to start writing so we, the faculty, could offer a critique. One participant turned in a near-perfect first draft. When we questioned her as to why she was attending the class, she said she’d only been a development writer for three months. So we asked what she had done before. She had been a reporter !!

    Structuring a proposal requires clear, concise writing. As in a NY Times article, the proposal writer needs to engage the reader by presenting a compelling case outline in the first paragraph or two. That introduction should include a statement of the issue to be addressed, why the applicant has the capacity to address it, how it will be addressed, who will be affected, and how much it will cost.

    The rest of the proposal then expands on each of those elements. Like the newspaper article, the lead tells all there is to tell and then entices the reader to learn more.
    Watch for future (Grants) blogs in this series, discussing each of those elements. Part Two, next Tuesday.
    Have a comment or a question about starting or expanding your grants program? Email me at