Last Updated:

May 12, 2022

How to Cite a Nonprofit Grant Proposal


Instrumentl team



June 29, 2022

Here’s the deal: including data in your nonprofit grant proposals is a great way to catch the eye of a funding organization and increase your chances of getting funded.

But here’s the kicker — you must cite your data and your sources correctly! This article will explain everything you need to know about how to correctly cite sources in a nonprofit grant proposal. Let’s take a closer look!

10 Best Tips from 10 Grant Writing Experts

Why Do You Need to Cite Sources for a Grant Proposal?

Strong grant proposals for funding use relevant and timely data to support the request. Data can be used to define the problem the grant funds will address, the needs of the population the grant will serve, or the proposed program's efficacy.

When using data in a grant proposal, it is critical to correctly cite sources. Citations not only lend credibility to the data that is being reported, but they also help to avoid plagiarism, keep your proposal from looking sloppy, and add credibility to your programming, outcomes, and potential impact.

5 Steps to Cite a Nonprofit Grant Proposal

So, what’s the secret to citing your sources correctly? Here we’ve outlined 5 simple steps to help you make sure you get your citations right each and every time.

1. Choose your data wisely

In other words, make sure that your data is relevant to your grant proposal. It should be current, reflective of your community or the population you are proposing to serve, and relevant to proving the efficacy of your program or intervention.

It is acceptable — and encouraged — to use both qualitative and quantitative data in your proposal, as long as it meets the above guidelines for relevancy.

Imagine you’re writing a grant to support dropout prevention efforts in your local school district. These are a few data points that you should include:

  • What is the graduation rate in your local district? How does this compare to your statewide average?
  • What is the economic impact of a student dropping out of high school before graduating? Do their job prospects suffer? Does their lifetime earning potential decrease compared to their peers who do graduate?
  • What other ramifications may exist? For example, is there data demonstrating dropouts are more likely to enter the criminal justice system? Or access public benefits?
  • Flip this line of thinking to focus on the positive — what are the benefits of graduating from high school? Does your lifetime earning potential increase? Or does the likelihood of accessing public benefits decrease?

Here is another example: you are writing a grant to support affordable housing options in your city. Here are some questions and data points you might want to include in your request:

  • What percentage of housing in your city is considered “affordable”?
  • How does that compare to the percentage of residents in your city that qualify for affordable housing?
  • Does access to affordable housing have any physical or mental health benefits for residents?
  • How does access to affordable housing impact families and children? Is there a link between affordable housing and better nutrition? Better educational outcomes?

Hopefully, by now you are already getting used to thinking like a data-driven grant writer.

There are countless places to find data for your grant proposals. Here are a few data sources to give you a quick headstart:

2. Identify your citation style

Funding organizations will sometimes provide specific instructions on how they want citations to be handled within a grant proposal in their Request for Proposals or Funding Opportunity Announcement. Be sure to always follow the funder’s instructions when they are provided.

If no specific instructions are provided, don’t worry! In that case, we recommend that you use American Psychology Association or APA style.

While there are many citation styles, such as MLA and Chicago Style, APA is the most common one used widely in different sectors from science and business to education.

3. Add in-text citations

In-text citations should be used whenever you are paraphrasing work or data from another source. It avoids accusations of plagiarism and adds credibility to your request for funding.

In APA style, in-text citations can be parenthetical (the author and date, separated by a comma, appear in parentheses) or narrative (the author’s name is incorporated into the text as part of the sentence, and the year follows in parentheses).

Parenthetical example: (DeWitt, 2011)

Narrative example: Brydon M. Dewitt states that the process used to create an organization’s strategic plan is the best indicator of whether the goals and objectives will be accomplished (2011).

4. Create a References Page

APA style requires a page called References as the full bibliographic citation. These citations include more publication facts than are used in in-text citations, and the formatting is very specific.

Sidenote: This can be a tricky requirement to fulfill if you are working on a grant with a strict page limit. Some experts suggest using footnotes rather than a References Page to save space. However, footnotes are generally not accepted in APA.

A reference list entry usually has four main components: author, date, title, and source.


For the author, provide the last name first, followed by a comma and the initials for the author's first and middle names. (Example: Dewitt, B.M.)

If there are two authors, make sure to use an ampersand (&) before listing the second author’s initials; use a comma to separate the author’s last name from their initials (Example: Weimer, D.L & Vining, A.R.)

If there are three or more authors, list only the first author’s name followed by “et al.” in each citation. (Example: Weimer et al.) Remember — when using “et al.”, only “al” should be followed up a period, not “et”.


For the date entry, include only the year as the date, unless your citation is from a source that is published more frequently like a newspaper or magazine article. In that case, use the month, day, and year.

For websites, use the date of the last publication or last update. If the date is unknown or cannot be determined, write “n.d.” as the date.


For the title, works that stand alone, such as books, websites, or reports, are written in italic sentence case. Works that are parts of a greater whole, such as journal articles or dictionary entries, are written in sentence case — without italics.

Place any identifying information, such as edition numbers, report numbers, or volume numbers, in parentheses after the title.

Book example: Klein, K. (2011). Fundraising for social change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Journal example: Karlan, & List, J.A. (2020). How can Bill and Melinda Gates increase other people’s donations to fund public goods? Journal of Public Economics, 191, 104296-104296.


For the source, the format will vary depending on the reference type.

See below the examples of the most commonly used source types and their respective formats.

  • Journal article: Author, (Date), Title, Title of Periodical, volume(issue), page range, DOI/URL
  • Example: Rosenberg, L., Christianson, M.D., & Angus, M.H. (2015). Improvement Efforts in Rural Schools: Experiences of Nine Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants. Peabody Journal of Education 90(2), 194-210,
  • Social Media: The format varies depending on the social media platform.
  • Facebook: author/group name [username], date, content of the post up to the first 20 words, website name, URL
  • Example: Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania [@CommunitiesinSchoolsPA], (2022, June 17). Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania is expanding our efforts to Columbia Middle School Taylor Campus in Columbia Borough School District. Facebook,

5. Review, review, review!

Make sure you take time to review your proposal and your citations to ensure that they are accurate and consistent. Inconsistency in citation formatting could negatively reflect on your proposal as a whole and lead to your request not being funded. Grant reviewers pay great attention to detail and love seeing consistent, accurate, and clear proposals.

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[Bonus] 3 Tools for Quick APA Citations 

These were a lot of guidelines and rules to wrap your head around! But luckily, you don't even have to remember most of these since there are many free and accurate APA citation generation tools to do the heavy lifting for you.

All you have to do is plug in the resource you would like to cite into the search bar, fill in the information fields and the tools will generate an APA-formatted citation entry in a snap.

Here is a rundown of the 3 best APA citation tools to turn to next time you’re tasked with creating a citation list:

A word of caution: While most of these tools will generate an accurate APA citation, we still recommend that you give all your citations a second look. Keep a guide (like this one!) on one side of your screen, and your citations on the other. Go through each one to make sure they reflect the right sequence of referenced elements for their respective source type.

Wrapping Up: How to Cite a Nonprofit Grant Proposal

In summary:

1. Follow the grantor’s guidelines for citation format. If none are provided, APA formatting is the best choice for citing your data in a grant proposal.

2. Use in-text citations and provide a references page.

3. Check (and double-check!) your proposal for accuracy and consistency.

4. Make sure your data is accurate, timely, and relevant to your proposal.

You just learned all the nitty-gritty details of how to correctly (and quickly) cite data sources in a grant proposal. This is a critical component of submitting a well-written and compelling request for support. But it’s only 1 of the 5 elements that a successful grant proposal should have. 

Check out this article to discover the other 4 components, as well as a ton of examples and ideas that you’ll be able to apply to your own grant proposals right away.

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