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Grant Writing Made Simple: 7 Key Elements of a Grant Proposal

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

One tip for grant writing made simple: nearly every grant application calls for certain elements.

Grant Writing Made Simple: 7 keys elements of a grant proposal for writing grants with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips

Over the years I’ve written and submitted hundreds of grant proposals for clients. Each one is unique. 

Different funders support different kinds of projects. Each funder requires a different application format. Submission procedures vary from using an online portal to email attachments to yes, the occasional print and snail mail application. Some funders require a Letter of Inquiry before accepting a full proposal. Private foundations allow for more flexibility than government applications. (You can use this workbook to determine if a particular grant opportunity is right for you.)

Yet for all the differences, funders share one consistency: they want basic pieces of information.

It makes sense, then, to gather that information in one place and update it regularly. If you do so, then when it’s time to write a grant you’ll significantly reduce your writing time and aggravation. Not to mention that you’ll write a stronger proposal.

Take the time to develop these elements and keep them on hand. It will pay off.

Grant Writing Made Simple: 7 Key Elements of a Grant Proposal

1. Executive Summary

Reviewers consider the summary to be the most important element in the application because it offers a “quick and dirty” synopsis of what’s to come in the rest of the proposal. Do a good job here and the reviewers look forward to reading the rest of your application. 

Grant Writing Made Simple tip: Write a summary statement first – just one sentence – and use it as a guide to write the entire application. Write the full executive summary (also called the abstract) last, using highlights and main points from other sections. 

2. Organization Description

Your mission statement, vision statement, core values, history, organizational structure, board, list of programs, accomplishments and awards, community collaborators, volunteers: you likely have these pieces in your identity content already. Each grant application specifies which to include. 

Grant Writing Made Simple tip: be prepared to edit your existing identity content for each grant proposal. Most applications have strict page, word, and even character count limits.

3. Statement of Need (Problem Statement)

Use this section to explain what you do and why you do it. What is the problem you address? Who do you serve? What difference does your work make for them? Who else addresses this problem or why hasn’t this problem been addressed before? Why are you the one to address this problem? You can use the need statement to present both objective data (footnoted statistics that demonstrate the need) and subjective data (client stories that show your organization’s successful outcomes.) 

4. Project Objectives

If you’re applying for project funding, what are your objectives? Use the S.M.A.R.T. formula to quantify them for the funder: “By May 31, we will have evaluated 50 enrolled after-school students and provided tutoring services so that at least 80% have improved reading or math scores by one letter grade.” 

5. Project Description

In this section, get to the nuts and bolts about how you will carry out the project. Give details about your project in three ways. 

  • Inputs: activities, resources, staff, and volunteers you need to operate the project.
  • Throughputs: your plan of action – the timeline, support services, facilities, transportation, curriculum to be used  as you carry out project activities.
  • Outputs: what you will achieve as a result of your program.

6. Evaluation

Here’s where your project objectives meet your program outputs to the funder that their investment produced results. Your proposal needs to explain how you will track both objective and subjective outcomes. You can include benchmarks along the way, too. This section includes the evaluation methods you’ll use (attendance numbers; testing; data) and tools you’ll use (such as software, reports, communications.) 

7. Budget

If the grant is for general operating expenses, then the funder will ask you to submit your agency’s fiscal year budget. If you request funding for a specific project, then be prepared to submit a project budget along with your organizational budget, showing where the project fits into the whole. The project budget lays out expenses required for the program you’re addressing in the application: staff expenses, facilities, supplies, transportation, communications, training, and other. A budget can be as simple as one page, but you’ll increase chances for funding if you provide justification for each item, such as why your beneficiaries need subway tokens or why your program manager’s project expenses are 50% of their salary’s full time equivalent (FTE).

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