Grant writing can seem like a daunting task and it’s easy to feel unsure about how to write a successful proposal. In this article, we will walk you through the components of a good grant proposal and how the different elements are typically organized to help you focus your grant writing efforts.
Understanding the components of a good grant proposal will help make the proposal writing process easier and you can use the recommended suggestions to increase your grant writing success.
What Components Make for a Good Grant Proposal?
Most grant proposals require many different sections. We have broken down the most important components or elements of a grant proposal to help you learn what to include.
1. Project Title
Most grant proposals will require a project title. Since you are likely requesting funds for a specific project, make sure that your title encompasses what you are planning to accomplish.
It can also be a good idea to make your title “catchy” to help gain the attention of the grantmaker review team.
2. Project Summary
The project summary is your chance to provide a brief introduction to your proposed project. You should include the basics of your project such as target population, timeline, and a general description. Similar to your project title, you want to make sure that this section catches the attention of the reviewers.
Most grant proposals have word or character limits for each of their sections and the summary is typically brief, perhaps 100 words or less. You will provide further detail about your project in the project narrative/project description.
3. Organization Background
In a grant proposal, you will need to provide background information on your nonprofit. Keep in mind that those reviewing your grant application may have no knowledge of your organization or what it does.
The organization background section may stand alone separately or could be part of your project narrative depending on the funder. The background section is a good place to share past successes to demonstrate why your nonprofit is best suited to complete your proposed project.
You may also be asked to provide your overall organization budget which can be part of the background section or may go with the project budget.
4. Needs Statement/Needs Assessment
The needs statement is where you must indicate why your project is warranted. Make sure to backup the need with solid data. Data could include demographics, results from previous projects, survey results, etc.
It is important to align your needs statement with your proposed project to demonstrate to the funder why your project is important and how their support will impact those served by your nonprofit.
Similar to your organization background, the needs statement may be its own section or may be part of the project narrative.
5. Project Narrative/Project Description
The project narrative/description is typically the largest section of your grant proposal. The narrative is your opportunity to expand on the details of your project which you highlighted in the project summary. You should use the narrative to tell the full story of your project and make sure the grantmaker understands what you are seeking funding for.
The narrative should include a project timeline that outlines all activities that are part of the project.
The project description needs to align with the needs statement and the work within the project should clearly meet the need(s) that you described.
Information for personnel involved in the project will likely be part of the project narrative, but some grantmakers may break it out into a separate question or section.
Be sure to list and provide details for all personnel who will participate in the project. Include specific skills and training that demonstrate why certain staff are best suited to complete your proposed project.
7. Goals and Objectives
The goals and objectives section is where you explain to the funder why you are proposing this project and what change you hope to see as a result of your work.
Make sure that you use Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Results oriented, Time-limited (SMART) goals and objectives. Following this method will make it easier to demonstrate results.
Grantmakers want to see realistic goals and objectives that also make a true, lasting impact on those served through the project.
8. Evaluation Plans
Many grantmakers now include an evaluation plans section as part of the grant proposal. They want to see how you plan to determine whether you have reached your desired objectives.
Make sure your evaluation methods are feasible and involve gathering data that can show whether you achieved your intended results. Some typical evaluation methods include surveys, participant tracking, and pre and post tests.
9. Budget/Budget Narrative
The budget is one of the most important components of your grant proposal. You need to clearly indicate how funds from the grantmaker will be used. The budget should also take into account funding from other sources such as additional grants, in-kind donations, volunteers, etc.
Include the total project cost and specify how much is requested from the grantmaker. Grantmakers appreciate seeing that they are not the only one supporting the project. Support from others demonstrates that there is buy-in from multiple parties and shows the importance of the project.
The actual budget will likely be a spreadsheet and many grantmakers will provide a specific form for you to use. You also need to include a budget narrative that describes the expenses and funding in more detail. The budget narrative is your chance to explain how you figured the costs and how you will use the funds to help make your project successful.
10. Sustainability/Future Plans
Another important component of a grant proposal is sustainability.
The sustainability section could include how you plan to use the information learned from your proposed project to inform future work of your nonprofit and the work of other organizations.
Sustainability could also include how you plan to keep the project (or similar work) going once you have used the grant funds. Grantmakers want to have a long term impact and want to know that they are supporting a solid nonprofit with good strategic planning.
11. Letters of Support
Letters of support should come from any partners who are helping you with your project. These will only be required if requested or if partnerships are a requirement of the grant.
Even if these letters are not required, they can certainly help your grant proposal stand out with reviewers.
Make sure the letters provide specifics on what the partner will contribute to the project. It can be helpful to create a draft to send to your partner and to give them enough time to complete a quality letter.
12. Logic Model
Logic models have become more popular with grantmakers in recent years. Some grantmakers, such as United Way, always request a logic model as part of their grant proposal.
The logic model is a visual flowchart-style method of submitting goals and objectives. Grantmakers that require a logic model may supply a template for you to use or may allow you to create your own.
You can learn more about what a logic model is and how to create one here.
13. Strategic Plan
Because grantmakers want to know that they are supporting a valuable project and solid nonprofit, they may request a copy of your strategic plan. They will use this document to see how your proposed project aligns with the overall goals of your nonprofit.
The strategic plan also demonstrates that your nonprofit has a long term vision and will continue to serve the community/area that you serve for many years.
The strategic plan is typically written out for 3-5 years at a time and you can include this document as an attachment with your grant proposal. Our past partner workshop with Rachel Werner provides some additional insights into strategic planning.
14. Project Title
If you are writing a grant for general operating funds, you will not need to supply a project title. In this case, you will typically just use your nonprofit’s name.
15. Project Description/Narrative
You will also not need a project description if you seek general operating funds. Your nonprofit background will likely be expanded upon in lieu of the detailed project information.
For additional reference, you can check out some sample grant proposals here.
How are Grant Proposals Typically Structured?
Most grant proposals are structured with general information coming first and more detailed facts coming later in the proposal.
Many grantmakers now use online grant proposal portals where you will answer the questions that make up the application directly on a website. We recommend that you write out answers in a Word document first for easier editing.
It is important to note that these online systems will have character/word limits for each question. You will need to make each of your responses fit within these limits.
If the grantmaker does not use an online application portal, they will usually provide a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP) that outlines how to organize your grant proposal. The RFP will detail page limits, specific sections, additional attachments, etc.
Here is an example RFP from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Student Science Enrichment Program.
The typical order of the different sections within your grant proposal is:
- Project Title
- Project Summary
- Organization Background
- Needs Statement
- Project Narrative/Description
- Budget and Budget Narrative
- Goals and Objectives (evaluation plan may be included here or be a separate section)
What are the Most Important Parts of a Grant Proposal?
While each component of a good grant proposal is important, there are certain parts that reviewers tend to focus on.
The most important elements of a grant proposal are the needs statement, project description/narrative, budget, goals/objectives, and sustainability.
The needs statement is crucial because it helps the grantmaker understand why your project is worth funding. By demonstrating a true need within your community, you will then be able to easily explain why your project deserves to be funded.
One of the most important parts of a good grant proposal is the project description/narrative. As we mentioned earlier, the narrative is your chance to explain to the grantmaker the work that their funds will support. A competitive proposal will clearly explain the details and make it easy for the grantmaker to understand.
The budget is essential because the grantmaker needs to see that you have thought through your project and the associated expenses. You also need to demonstrate that you are not just asking for a random amount of money, but that all funds requested have a specific purpose.
Check out this previous blog post on writing grant proposal budgets for even more insight.
Because the grantmaker is providing funds that they will not get back, they want to know that your project will have a powerful impact on the target population. Your goals and objectives will show how you will achieve this impact.
Finally, you will need to demonstrate sustainability beyond the grant period. It is important to show the grantmaker how the work of your proposed project will benefit your nonprofit and your community for years to come.
Wrapping Up: Components of a Good Grant Proposal
We have walked you through the major components of a good grant proposal. We also included a few exceptions and/or additions which may depend on the specific funding request or grantmaker.
Understanding the elements of a grant proposal will help you improve your grant writing process. You can use this information to make sure that you are writing a good grant proposal and in turn increase your odds of success.