Last Updated:

April 28, 2022

How to Write the First Draft of a Grant Narrative


Instrumentl team



April 2, 2022

Did you find that amazing grant you want to apply for, but don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered with a simple step by step process to help you with the most important part of the application. That’s right, you guessed it! We’re talking about the grant narrative.

In this article, you’ll learn more about what the grant narrative is and how to get started on your first draft. We’ve even included a few amazing examples of real grant narratives.

Grant Proposal Template for Nonprofits (+5 Tips Included)

Let's Review: What is a Narrative for a Grant?

Let’s start with the basics. The narrative section of a grant application is a detailed description of the program or project that you are seeking funding for. This is the section where you describe all of the details that go into bringing your program to life.

Sounds simple, right?

It can be once you have the right ingredients to create an amazing recipe for success. Here are a few questions that your grant narrative should answer to give you a sense of what it entails:

  • What is the purpose of your project and why are you seeking an investment for it?
  • What is the problem that you seek to solve? What evidence is there to showcase the problem?
  • Why are you uniquely positioned to implement this project and what experience do you have to ensure that you will be successful?
  • How does your program work and who does it impact? (Answer this as if you have all of the funding you need and are fully operational).
  • What is your timing to implement your program? (Think critically about all of the moving parts and what goes into operationalizing them).
  • How will this project make an impact or what do you hope will result if this project is funded?

Why are Grant Narratives Important?

Think of it this way, would you hire someone without conducting an interview and knowing details about who they are, what they’ve done, and what they are looking for in their next opportunity?

Similarly, a potential funder will not invest in a program that they know little about.

A common misperception about the grant narrative section is that you can include a boilerplate proposal narrative and call it a day. After all, your program is amazing and will create so much impact if funded, the funders will get it!

While boilerplate language is helpful to get you started, it is not enough to create a compelling grant narrative that will set your application apart and win funding. This is particularly important for nonprofits who are looking to land that big grant opportunity that could take your organization to the next level.

So, take the grant narrative section as an opportunity to shine a light on the incredible work that your nonprofit plans to do. This is your chance to tell your story and inspire a funder to invest in your amazing program.

You can learn more about the basics of grant narratives in our grant narrative tips and resources post here.

How to Write the First Draft of a Grant Narrative

Getting started on paper can feel overwhelming, but you’re in luck because we have a helpful step by step process outlining how to write a first draft of a grant narrative just for you.

Step 1: Check Grant Guidelines, Funding Scope, and Requirements

Typically, funders will provide grant guidelines on their website or on the proposal outline for each specific funding opportunity.

It is important to read these requirements in detail and to note the areas of impact the funder is focusing on, their timelines, and specific application requirements.

For example, if the funder plans to disburse funding in six months but you are starting your project next month, you will want to adjust your timeline to ensure you aren’t misaligned with their timing.

You can take this process up a notch by checking out their past grant recipients and their board to get a sense of the audience you are writing to. You should always assume that you will be writing to someone who is not familiar with your focus area.

One more point on guidelines: make sure your content stays within the word limit. Often, funders will include a pdf version that you can preview before starting your application. Otherwise, you will have to readjust when submitting your application. We’ve all been there, and it’s not fun!

Step 2: Play Around with Wording

Create a draft of your entire grant application in Word or Google docs. This will help you see all of the pieces of the puzzle in one place. It also gives you an opportunity to refer to different areas like the timeline or budget sections before you write about them in the grant narrative.

To start the grant narrative, jot down a few phrases about your organization and the program you are seeking funding for. It’s incredibly helpful to use keywords that the funder uses. This approach helps the funders easily relate to your narrative through familiarity.

Write about why this is an important program to your organization. Think about what you would say if you were explaining this to a person who was interested in your program or project but does not know anything about your nonprofit. Where would you start?

You can also take a minute to imagine that you have to give a proposal to someone who is new to your organization so that they can run the program themselves. What would they need to know to implement the program on their own?

If you get stuck here, read about your program or research your issue area to get more ideas on how to frame your program description with keywords that stand out.

Step 3: Start with Simple Details and Expand

Now that you have a few words and/or sentences down, start to expand on what you have and write out simple details that you know offhand.

For example, explain the background of your nonprofit and why you are uniquely positioned to tackle this problem. Write out anything you can think of related to implementing this project, your experience, and why you need funding.

As you start to expand on your description, make sure to elaborate on key terms that might be more technical and specific to your work. Remember that you are writing for a general audience! Don’t worry about organizing your thoughts and the flow of your ideas just yet.

Step 4: Take 5 or 10

As you begin writing, you might quickly find yourself on a roll. Everything sounds great and you’re confident you are going to get funded. Now, once you have at least a couple of paragraphs down, take a 5 or 10 minute break and walk away from what you wrote. Consider going on a short walk outside away from your desk.

After your break, go back and read what you wrote so far. Do you think your grant narrative makes sense and tells the full story about your program and organization? If not, do not get discouraged! This is a great time to refine it and fill in more information.

Remember, someone who doesn’t know your organization should be able to read the narrative and know exactly how your program operates and what it is trying to achieve. Details matter down to the number of people who will manage the program and the number of people who will be impacted by the program.

Step 5: Make It Compelling

Grant funding is incredibly competitive. To stand out, your grant narrative needs to demonstrate that your program directly aligns with the funder’s values, goals, and objectives and also needs to draw the funder in so that they believe in your vision.

Here are a few ways to make your narrative a bit more compelling:

Tip #1: Share an authentic story about your work and impact. An impactful story can help the funder visualize the problem and how a solution could help. Your story should be brief and connected to data and research.

Tip # 2: Focus on the solution AND the problem. Make sure you highlight your program as much as if not more than the problem you seek to solve. You should communicate the need for your program by providing data points and research.

Tip #3: Share what you hope to achieve and be honest. We’ve seen this point result in a misstep for a lot of teams when they are putting together a grant application. They don’t want to promise too much or get too specific with their potential impact.

You’ll often hear the program team question, “Can we really reach X people if it’s a new program? Do we really know the outcomes?” Listen, funders like to know what your vision is, even if you don’t get there overnight.

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How Long is a Grant Narrative Anyway?

The length of a grant narrative varies depending on the funder and how comprehensive the application is. Typically, the larger the funding opportunity is, the longer the application will be.

The Greater Public’s grant toolkit states that most grant narratives are between 5 to 10 pages. The Balance Small Business mentions a range between 5 to 25 pages. However, it’s possible to see some applications with a maximum of 1 page and some with even lengthier narrative requirements.

A good rule of thumb is to get as close to the word limit as possible. You can also look at past grant recipients to see what their proposals looked like.

List of Grant Narrative Examples

Now, let’s have some fun checking out a few grant narrative examples to get your writing flow going! Here are some great examples curated for you with the help of Love to Know’s Examples of Successful Grant Proposals and Technical Writer HQ’s 10 Successful Grant Writing Examples That Win Grants.

Grant Narrative Example #1: Salem Education Foundation

This is a succinct and detailed narrative about the program. Notice the length is brief, but clear and concise.

Length of Narrative: 1 page

Other Sections Included: Summary of project, timeline, evaluation measurement, how it will promote lifelong learning, budget.

Grant Narrative Example #2: National Endowment for the Humanities

Notice the length and sections included, which were likely influenced by the application requirements. Also, take note of keywords that were bolded to highlight relevance to the funder.

Length of Narrative: 3 pages

Sections Included: Project description, history and duration of the project, environmental scan, workplan, staff, final product and dissemination.

Grant Narrative Example #3: Kennett Area Senior Center

Notice the requirements at the top of the page indicate a 3 page maximum.

Length of Narrative: 2 pages

Other sections: Funding request, description of key initiatives, specific needs and issues to be addressed, organizational impact, activities for project implementation, importance of funding project, impact and results to be demonstrated.

In these examples, you can see that each proposal asks for similar information in a different way. You also probably noticed that the length of the narrative in total is less than 5 pages and varies across funders. That’s why it’s so important to read through the requirements and application before you begin.

We also have our own list of successful grant proposals here.

Wrapping Up: Writing the First Draft of a Grant Narrative

Grant narratives are one of the most important parts of an application and can significantly impact your chances of being funded. We hope that our step by step guide and grant narrative examples will help you highlight the amazing work of your nonprofit and bring your program to life.

Now that you have a better idea of what a grant narrative is and how to get started on your first draft, start writing and win that next grant opportunity you’ve been eyeing!

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