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How to Write a High Performing Grant Proposal

Marketing10 mins
Marissa Taffer|Updated Mar 5, 2024
a desk with a lamp, pencils, a globe, a mirror and a stack of books

Writing a grant proposal helps connect your project's goals with the financial support it needs to succeed. With so much at stake, it’s no surprise that writing the proposal itself can be overwhelming. What to include and when? What tone to use? How much detail do you need to provide to entice potential donors?

This guide addresses these questions, aiming to take some of the pain out of the grant writing process for you. We’ve laid out the most effective structure, created a template you can use, and answered a few of the most frequently asked questions. In fact, reading this article and using these steps are all you need to do to give your grant proposal the best chance of success.

Key takeaways

  1. A grant proposal connects project goals with needed financial support, requiring a clear narrative that compels action.
  2. Essential elements of a grant proposal include a summary, problem definition, project description, outcomes, budget, organization info, and a call to action.
  3. The proposal should maintain a hopeful tone, showing that the problem can be tackled and inviting donors to be part of the solution.
  4. The budget section should detail project costs and demonstrate responsible financial management.
  5. The proposal should conclude with a clear and convincing call to action, emphasizing the difference donors can make.

What is a grant proposal?

A grant proposal is a document or set of documents that you submit to an organization for the purpose of seeking grant funding. It tells the story of your mission, the problem you want to solve, and how you want to do it in a way that makes a difference.

You don't just list your needs; you weave a narrative that moves people to action. Your proposal doesn't just tell funders what you want to do or how you will do it -- it stresses the why of your project. Why your project is essential, why it's the answer to a problem, and why donors should care and take action now. This is the key to any good sales methodology.

A grant proposal is characterized by the clarity of its goals and the hope that it conveys. It invites people to be part of a meaningful journey. To write a good proposal, you must understand your project, what is most important to your funders, and what will compel them to act.

To see what this looks like in practice, you can see Qwilr’s Grant Proposal Template below.

Steps to write a grant proposal: key elements to include

Now, we'll guide you through all the essential parts of a successful grant proposal process, from outlining the benefits of your project to setting a sensible budget.

1. Start with a summary

The executive summary grabs the attention of those who can fund your project, capturing the essence of your idea in a few concise paragraphs. It's a short and sweet version of your pitch. This is where you tell them about the core of your project — the problem you want to tackle, how you want to solve it, and what positive changes you expect it to bring.

Start with the problem you want to solve and describe it honestly and urgently. Then, describe your solution, highlighting what makes your project unique and what it'll achieve. One useful tip is to avoid complicated words or jargon — make it clear enough that everyone can understand the importance of your work.

The goal of the executive summary is to give senior leaders an understanding of the proposal without having to read the full document, and enticing those with more day to day responsibilities for choosing which project to fund to read on for more details.

2. Define the need

This is where you explain the problem you want to tackle in more detail. You must show the problem, its urgency, and its impact.

Use studies, statistics, and stories to support your arguments, but always refer to what it means for the affected people. This way, your project goes beyond the abstract, on-paper hypothetical to something of real human consequence. A difference that donors can really get behind.

Maintain a hopeful tone. Show that, regardless of the scale of the problem, it can be tackled. If it seems too much of a lost cause this will discourage potential donors.

3. Describe your project

Here, you shed some light on your solution. You're no longer just talking about the problem; you're also explaining how you want to solve it.

Start with a clear statement of what you want to achieve. Set yourself ambitious but achievable goals and clear targets against which you can measure your success. Then, go into the details of your plan. Talk about the steps you will take, the timeline you aim for, and the people who will help you make it happen.

Your explanation should also address why your plan is the best way to tackle the problem. Discuss the studies or facts supporting your strategy, showing that your ideas aren't just guesswork but are based on solid evidence or successful models in your field.

4. Set outcomes and evaluation

This section is about your goals and how you can check whether you're achieving them.

First, talk about the outcomes you hope to achieve. By results, you mean the clear signs that your project is making a difference. These should be things you can see and measure. Whether you want to improve literacy, reduce pollution, or improve healthcare, your outcomes should paint a picture of the positive change you want to see.

Then, explain how you'll measure those outcomes—the accountability for your project. Explain what methods you'll use to prove the impact of your project. Will you use surveys, data analysis, or testimonials from people you've helped? This is your moment to show that there is a considered strategy behind your project.

5. Present the budget

This part demonstrates the diligence and practicality behind your planning and is vital for establishing credibility.

Start by breaking down the costs of your project. You shouldn't just list the prices. Instead, you should link each expense directly to a part of your project.

Break down your budget into employee salaries, materials, equipment, and anything else you need. Be detailed, as this shows that you understand what your project requires. For each expense, explain why it's needed and how it contributes to the success of your project.

Also, state how you'll manage the funds. Whether through regular checks, clear financial records, or detailed reports, make it clear that you're committed to being open and responsible with the project's finances.

6. Share about your organization

Share information about your organization and your team. How long has this team worked together and what else have the accomplished? You're working to build additional credibility so that the funding organization trusts that you will do what you say you will in your proposal.

Highlight the skills and passion of your team, their expertise and commitment, proving you have the right people to bring your project to life.

7. Conclusion and call to action

Here, you can summarize everything you've said and remind your readers why your project is essential and needs their support. Start by briefly reviewing the most critical points. Talk about the problem you want to tackle, how you want to solve it, and what positive changes you expect to see. This will ensure that your proposal sticks in the reader's mind.

Next, go into what you're asking them to do. This is where you need to be clear and convincing. Tell them exactly what you need- money, resources, or a partnership- and explain why they should care. Emphasize the difference they can make, the change they'll be involved in, and how important they are to the success of your project.

8. Appendices

In this part, you show what is behind your plans and promises. This is where you present any additional documents proving that your project is well thought out, that your team is ready, and that the impact you aim for will materialize.

In the appendices, you can list important things like:

  • Letters demonstrating support from community leaders or partners
  • Financial statements that prove your organization is responsible with money
  • Detailed CVs of your team members to highlight their skills
  • Research or data that supports your project's approach. Each part you add here should relate directly to what you've said previously to add weight and credibility to your proposal. Ensure that you include essential documents and support your arguments.

Example of a grant proposal template

The best proposal templates can be a great way to save time and ensure none of the essentials are forgotten. Qwilr’s Grant Proposal Template is easily customized, and its modern, multi-media functionality grabs attention, giving the proposal a sleek, professional appearance.

Here is what our grant proposal template includes:

  • Executive Summary: This is where you set the stage by summarizing your project and why it's essential in a few clear sentences. It's your chance to make a solid first impression.
  • Problem Statement: Dive into the problem you're tackling. Explain the issue your project will address and why it needs solving now. This section helps the reader understand the urgency and relevance of your work.
  • Goals and Objectives: Spell out what you plan to achieve. List your project's goals in a way that's clear and measurable. This shows exactly what you aim for and how you'll know you've succeeded.
  • Our Strategy: Share how you plan to make your goals a reality. Outline the methods, steps, and resources you'll use, showing that you've thought through the plan and are ready to put it into action.
  • Evaluation Plan: Talk about how you'll track your project's success. Describe the ways you'll measure progress and the impact you're making. This shows you're committed to learning and accountability.
  • Project Budget: Be open about the financial side. Break down the costs and explain why each expense is necessary, showing that you're careful and transparent about how funds will be used.
  • Our Organization: Introduce your team and organization. Highlight your history, strengths, and the people behind the project to build trust and show why you're the best to take this on.
  • CTA (Call to Action): Here's where you ask for support. Make a detailed, persuasive request for the reader to get involved, focusing on how their contribution will help achieve something great.
  • Conclusion: Wrap it all up with a strong finish. Reaffirm the importance of your project and the difference it will make, leaving the reader with a sense of hope and the motivation to support your cause.

Alternatively, you can use Qwilr's AI proposal generator to create your own template in minutes.

Final Thoughts

Writing a grant proposal is your chance to bring big ideas to life with clear and positive steps. A good proposal is short and sweet, meets the funder's requirements, and demonstrates the benefits your project will have.

Follow these tips, and you’re well on the way to a winning grant proposal and the funding you need to action real change. Good luck!

And if you’d like a further helping hand, check out our Grant Proposal Template. It looks fantastic (which makes you look fantastic), ensures no important info is forgotten, and saves you a lot of time. What’s not to like?

About the author

Marissa Taffer, Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting

Marissa Taffer|Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting

Marissa Taffer is the Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting. She brings over 15 years of sales and marketing experience across various industries to a broad range of clients.

Frequently asked questions

The ideal format for a grant seeking application is straightforward, short, and concise. It takes the reader through what you want to do, why you seek grant funding, and how you want to use it. Ensure you include an intro summary, a problem statement, your goals, how you plan to achieve them, how you'll measure success, your grant requirements, a call to action, and a meaningful conclusion.

Although all sections of a grant application are essential, the executive summary is arguably the most important as it's often the first (and sometimes the only) part that funders read. It should summarize the core of your project, its importance, and why it deserves funding.

Common mistakes in nonprofit grant writing include:

  • Not following the funder's guidelines.

  • Vaguely describing the goals and impact of your project.

  • Submitting a grant proposal with typos or grammatical errors.

  • The lack of a detailed budget for the funding opportunity.