Proposal Development: How to Structure Your Grant Proposal (Part 1)

Sections of this topic

    In my June 6, 2011 post, I introduced “A Four-Step Process for Effective Grantsmanship,” including: (1) prospecting for foundation funding, (2) cultivation, (3) grant proposal development, and (4) grant management and stewardship.

    So far, I’ve provided a lot of introductory information on foundation and corporate grants, organizational readiness, grant management, and information on the first step in the four-step grantsmanship process: prospecting for foundation funding.

    This is my first post on the third step in the process: Grant Proposal Development.

    For those new to grantsmanship and grant writing, this step may be the most daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

    As I always tell my clients, grant writing is really about following the rules. Many private and corporate foundations publish grant guidelines, and they want all applicants to follow their guidelines… to the letter. Follow the guidelines, present your proposals in the appropriate and complete format, and include all required attachments.

    A growing trend among grantmakers is the adoption of a common grant application. This allows applicants to prepare a single application for a number of potential funders. A list of common grant applications is provided online at the Foundation Center ( I have used the Missouri Common Grant Application ( and think it provides a good grant proposal template.

    For foundations that don’t provide grant guidelines, I recommend using a common grant application format, like that provided by the Foundation Center, or the format below … that I have adapted from the Missouri Common Grant application:

    Cover Letter – the cover letter is a great way to personalize your request. It is written from an individual (typically your NPO’s Executive Director) to an individual (typically the foundation manager or trustee). The cover letter can also include more qualitative and heart-felt information about your clients. I will write more about Cover Letters in an upcoming blog post.

    Executive Summary – This is probably the most challenging section to write as it needs to succinctly summarize your NPO’s ask of the foundation, and often in only 100 – 200 words. I recommend writing this section last as you will have the best understanding of your complete proposal.

    Contact Information – This is boilerplate information. I typically include name, address, phone and website of the NPO, as well as name, phone and e-mail address for the executive director and contact person for the proposal (if different from the ED).

    General Organization Overview – More boilerplate information here. Include the mission and history of your organization, as well as a brief description of your major programs and accomplishments.

    Stay tuned for Part 2, in my next post I will outline the following three sections of typical grant proposals: Program Description (this is the heart of your proposal), Financial Information, and Attachments.
    Lynn deLearie Consulting, LLC, helps nonprofit organizations develop, enhance and expand grants programs, and helps them secure funding from foundations and corporations. Contact Lynn deLearie.
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