How To Write A Winning Grant Proposal

What is a Grant?

According to the Business Dictionary, "A grant is a bounty, contribution, gift, or subsidy (in cash or kind) bestowed by a government or other organization (called the grantor) for specified purposes to an eligible recipient (called the grantee).

"Grants are usually conditional upon certain qualifications as to the use, maintenance of specified standards, or a proportional contribution by the grantee or other grantor(s)."

 

Grants are a source of funding that is most common with non-profit organisations. However, grants are not limited to non-profit organisations.

 

There are different types of grants; some grants finance the day-to-day operational costs of an organisation, some are awarded to start up ideas with a good plan and potential, and others, to handle specific projects.

 

There will always be many individuals or organisations bidding for a grant, hence it appears to be much like a race, a competition. The grantor doesn't just dole out money to whoever claims they need it. That would lead to waste without the accomplishment of intended developments. The competence and reliability of the said organisation to deliver on the expected goal must be vetted. This is where writing an excellent grant proposal comes in.

 

A grant proposal is a clear, official document sent from a potential grantee requesting partnership (which often implies financial support) with the grant-making body towards a mutual goal, a motivation to make a positive impact and solve problems.

 

The grant proposal is a document that thrives on advocacy— persuasion. The grant-making organisation is asking, "Dear [your company name], many organisations/individuals are seeking this grant. They all claim they can do the job. What makes you any different? Why should we give it to you?" The grant proposal is you making your case, with all the evidence, arguments and facts in your arsenal.

 

However, before you begin writing, you must realise that making a grant proposal requires time, energy and resources. You would have to consider if your organisation is ready to go through this labyrinth process. Making an effective grant proposal is not remotely the same (or as easy) as writing a letter saying, "I have a good heart, and I want to do good. Please help me with money."

 

Fortunately, you have this guide.

 

Before Writing Your Proposal

 

Here are a few points to note before beginning the journey.

 

1) Picking your Grantors

Not every grant opportunity out there is for you. To increase your chances of winning a grant, you must study the body offering the opportunity, to see if their vision/objectives tallies with yours. Shared goals create a stronger basis for establishing a long-term partnership. No two organisations are the same, hence, each grant proposal must be unique.

 

Square pegs in square holes.

 

That aside, each grant-making body has certain criteria that determine which organisations/individuals can apply for their grants. This is also another factor to consider as it would be a complete waste of time and resources to submit a proposal for a grant you're not eligible for. It is important to pay attention to details from the get-go.

 

While applying for multiple grants may increase your chances of winning, limit the number to what you can see through. Begin with opportunities within your area, then extend your reach.

 

2) Study and Understand

When you find the right organisations, you must check to see if you can meet the requirements stipulated by your potential grantor. And if your organisation has the staff, capacity, and expertise to get the job done in record time.

 

Usually, the grantee sends a letter of inquiry (LOI), a condensed version of their proposal to the grant-making body. The applicant then has to wait for the body to reply with a request for proposal (RFP), a document containing the proposal guidelines. 

 

3) Plan & Research

Writing grant proposals requires lots of time and information. Before starting the writing process, make sure to assemble and organise all the required documents or attachments as requested by the grantor.

 

Gather relevant data and statistics supporting your argument for the relevance, feasibility, effectiveness and sustainability of your project in tackling the problem. Study successful grant proposals made in the past as that will give you insight into tailoring yours to win.

 

Make sure to factor the whole process in; from research to writing the proposal and reviewing it, holding the submission deadlines in mind. A late submission can hamper your chances as much as an early submission may improve them.

 

Writing Your Proposal

 

Remember, we've mentioned earlier that every sponsor is unique and as such requires a unique understanding and approach. However, most grant-making organisations have some common "content fields" or some questions that will most likely feature in every grant proposal you will ever write.

 

So let's get started on what information makes up this life-saving document called a grant proposal.

 

1. The Cover Letter

 

This encapsulates your first impression and will probably be the least formal part of your entire proposal. Just like every other formal letter, it contains the sender's and receiver's addresses, and begins with "Dear..." (Only here can you address the funder directly.)

 

The cover letter is a summary of your whole proposal. Include who you are (your organisation), the amount you're applying for, and the reason for your application. Keep it short; 3 paragraphs max, with 3-5 lines each.

 

The main goal is to establish a connection between both organisations and get the reviewer to go through the rest of your proposal. Keep it warm, short and straightforward.

 

2. Executive Summary

 

This section of your proposal is similar to the synopsis or abstract of an essay or research paper. In other words, it's a "bird-view" summary of your whole proposal. The contents of the major sections of your proposal are featured here.

 

Writing guides advise that this summary should be at most a page, some go further into a second page. The goal of this section is to address the following questions as clearly and briefly as possible;

 

Who are you, briefly?

What is the purpose of your project, or what problem will it solve?

How much support are you requesting and how will you dispose of it to solve this problem?

How will you measure the effectiveness of your project? Do you have any other supporting sources?

 

 

Helpful Tip: It is recommended that both the executive (formal) summary and cover letter be left till after the other sections since they're both summaries intended to lead the reviewer into the heat of your proposal.  

 

3. Statement of Need

 

There's no reason for requesting a grant, if there is no problem. Your goal in this section is to make a strong argument for the problem, and in so doing establish the necessity of your project. What problem are you trying to solve? Which areas or people are affected by this problem? What are the consequences if this need isn't treated urgently?

 

The need statement deals with facts and numbers. You must have thoroughly researched the problem; its history, past solutions attempted and why you think your project tackles the problem more effectively. Also, include reports of successful implementation of your solution in other regions, or in the past.

 

The need statement should be 2 pages at most.

 

Helpful Tip: Remember that this is about the community, not your organisation. Let their voices be heard in the facts you bring (urgency).

 

4. Goals and Objectives

 

In this section, you demonstrate what you intend to achieve with your project. What changes would be effected if your project is successful? Will there be increased technological literacy among females or children? Tell them.

 

This is however to be stated in the form of goals and objectives. Note that goals are different from objectives, and make sure not to mix them up. Goals are broad statements of outcomes, while objectives are more narrowed and measurable i.e. stated in numbers.

 

For instance, if the goal is "to scale up employee proficiency in digital skills this year", a likely objective would be, "to conduct 10 digital workshops in each trimester of the year." 

 

Helpful Tips: Your stated objectives should be SMART; specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Don't set the bar on Mars, yet, unless you own a private spaceship.

 

5. Methods and Strategies

 

This section in question is: How exactly will you achieve the set goals and objectives? Who is doing what, when and for how long?

 

What's required is a detailed breakdown of the activities and practical steps that will be taken to achieve the said outcomes. This includes the timeframe within which these activities will be carried out and the staff (or experts) that will facilitate these activities.

 

This section lays bare your solution before the grantor, and either proves or disproves its efficacy to them. Assures them of your competence in handling the task, or otherwise.

 

Helpful Tips: Bear in mind that the reviewer may not be versed in your field, hence make sure to simplify all technical jargon to the barest minimum. Also, always show a direct (connection) impact between your methods and the set objectives. Equally crucial is how this strategy suits the particular people or area who are the focus of the project.

 

6. Evaluation Plan

 

This section of your grant proposal builds from the previous two. It deals with the question: how do you intend to measure the progress, success or impact of your project on the target area, and that, against time?

 

There should be a set of metrics for you (and your) sponsor to grade your performance. Something that makes the level of impact obvious. Whatever the evaluation system is for your specific project, meticulous collection of data throughout the process is a necessity. You may decide to hire experts to evaluate the process, use an in-house team, or a hybrid of both.

 

Helpful Tip: Make sure that your progress tracking includes feedback from the community or beneficiaries of your project.

 

7. Project Budget

 

Needless to say, inaccurate allocation of funds inevitably results in a failed project. And there is no grant in sight with such a budget.

 

In this section, you must answer the question of the amount of funds requested and how that amount came about. Every cost, direct or indirect, personal or impersonal must be factored into your budget. Nothing should be left out. These can then be grouped into sections.

 

This is one process you certainly do not want to handle alone. As the true meat of your proposal, every cost must be precise to the letter, not estimations! Neither overcharging nor underquoting augurs well for you.

 

In the first case, you might end up creating a bad impression, hence losing you the grant. The latter might gain the attention of your grantor, and win you the project. However, you're bound to get stuck on the way, and asking for extra funds later will equally be an eyesore.

 

Of course, you'll be using a spreadsheet for this. However, it's important to explain certain items that may be unclear to the reader hence justifying their necessity. Every expense that seems unnecessary (or not understood) is most likely a vote against your proposal.

 

Helpful Tips: Double-check, and then check again. A tiny mistake (such as a missing or wrong digit) is bad news for you. Round-off your numbers, a lot of decimal points and digits may complicate things.

 

8. Organisational Information

 

This is an opportunity for the granting body to know your organisation. When and why your organisation started (your philosophy), your programs, achievements and awards, recommendations, letters of thanks etc. will all find their way here. The focus will be to gauge your competence, and credibility based on your antecedents.

 

Also, brief biographies of your major team members will feature here as it gives an idea of what hands the funds and mission are being committed to.

 

Helpful Tip: Also see this as an opportunity to show a natural connection between your mission and that of the grant-maker.

 

9. Other sources and Sustainability

While this may not be a separate field (i.e. could be included in one of the previous sections), it is a question that cannot be escaped. What other funding sources do you have? How do you intend to continue making an impact beyond the grant period? Show your commitment to the course; let them know you're not staking it all on them. "We've raised 30% of the sum", sounds better than nothing.

 

Extra Tips for Winning:

 

  • Use clear language, and go straight to the point. The reviewer most likely has a lot to go through and won't like the headache of decoding your metaphors or poetic language.

 

  • Get at least two educated people (outside your field) to go through the proposal, then ask them questions and get feedback on the clarity of your message.

 

  • No matter what anyone else says (including this guide), stick to the instructions—every one of them—given in the grant-maker's request for proposal (RFP). A "simple" deviation is enough to disqualify you.

 

  • For emphasis, never use the same proposal twice. Each organisation is different in its goals, motivations and language. Tailor your proposals uniquely for each one of them.

 

After Writing Your Proposal

 

Now, you're through with the writing process. What next? Review/proofread the proposal. Make sure all required answers and documents are in place. Be thorough; hunt and eliminate every undotted "i" or uncrossed "t".

 

Next, make sure to get your proposal mailed with as much margin as possible from the deadline. Then wait. The reviewing process may take a while. No news doesn't necessarily mean denial so, be patient.

 

While waiting, it is alright to keep the grantor informed. If you've made any major progress, inform them. Share any significant milestones, like sending a copy of your article that got published recently, and the likes. It shows the attitude of a long-term partnership.

 

And that of a winner.

 

Comments

Tana

6 months ago

OMG! This is so insightful and beautifully written.

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