Last Updated:

July 19, 2022

Ideas for Grant Proposals: 7 Ways to Come Up with Them


Instrumentl team



June 2, 2022

There’s a lot that goes into the grant writing process—from finding compatible funders and opportunities to developing sound project budgets. But there’s also a lot of room for creativity, storytelling, and incorporating your nonprofit’s vision into your proposals.

In this article, you’ll learn how to come up with ideas for grant proposals and where you can find inspiration. Hopefully you’ll walk away with sparks to ignite your own successful grant proposals!

10 Best Lessons Tips from 10 Grant Writing Experts

What Makes a Good Grant Proposal?

First things first. To write a quality grant proposal, you first must understand the components of one. There are many nonprofits out there doing great work but can’t seem to bring it all together in a compelling proposal.

A few important elements of a grant proposal are:

1. Background and introduction to your nonprofit

In your proposal, your reader should get a clear sense of your nonprofit’s history, mission, and service area. They should also understand your main programs and activities.

Consider questions such as: How did the organization originate? How has it changed over the years? Where is it located? What demographic group does it serve?

2. Scope of impact of your nonprofit

The best proposals convey a scope of impact. Most funders want to know how their dollars, if awarded, will be utilized.

It’s helpful to include information about the service area itself. Is it a low-income area? Does it serve a need otherwise unmet in the community? How many people or animals do you help each year?

3. Goals of the proposed project and a timeline

A quality grant proposal includes project goals and a realistic, accurate timeline in which those goals will be carried out. The pitch and request amount should coincide with the timeline and with the capacity of your staff bandwidth.

It’s often helpful to use the SMART acronym when crafting your program or organizational goals:

S - Specific

M - Measurable

A - Attainable

R - Realistic

T - Time-sensitive

For further insight, check out Instrumentl’s webinar on developing SMART goals here.

4. A detailed and accurate budget sheet

Prospective funders not only like to see a thoughtful idea but its corresponding budget sheet as well.

Keep in mind that the best budget sheets are more than just itemized expense sheets. They also include revenue coming in via other grants or types of income. Top-notch proposals include easy-to-understand budget justifications for the requested amount.

5. Measurements

As the grants market becomes more competitive, you can increase your chances of success by including clear measurements in your proposal.

Potential funders want to know what problem you are hoping to solve, how you define success, and how you will measure the outcomes of your project. (Keep reading for more information on how to conduct program evaluations and gather data in the next sections).

7 Easy Ways to Come Up with Grant Proposal Ideas

Especially if you’re new to the grants process, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s the cliché of “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Many leaders know that they need funding for their nonprofits, as most organizations do, but have a hard time quantifying the need.

Here’s 7 simple steps to take in creating ideas for grant proposals.

1. Identify existing needs within the nonprofit.

One of the easiest ways to come up with a starting point for proposals is to take inventory of needs within the organization. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Do you have adequate funding for an existing program?
  • Do you have funding that is time-limited? If so, when will that funding run out?
  • Do you have the material needs covered for your programs or are you lacking equipment, transportation, or technology?
  • Do you have enough paid staff to carry out the mission activities?

2. Recognize programs that need expansion.

If your nonprofit is staying on top of its current needs, you might be thinking about how to expand programs so that they have a greater reach.

Consider the following:

  • Do you have programs that are successful which could be built upon?
  • Do you have programs with more demonstrated needs than you are currently able to serve?
  • What types of resources would allow you to serve more patrons?

3. Brainstorm the “nice to haves”, not just the “need to haves.”

When looking at the vision of your nonprofit, dream for the future. Think about the long-term goals of the organization.

Many times, when nonprofits are just staying afloat, the vision goes by the wayside. But don’t be afraid to visualize the future and become a little idealistic.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What would we do if we had $20k, $50k (or fill in the blank) more dollars?
  • What could we do with more staff, or another car, van, office (replace with whatever need you have)?
  • What are we always wishing we had that always seems out of reach?
  • Does the staff have enough training to do their jobs, provide the best service, etc?

Keep in mind that not everything will be a suitable request right at the moment, but taking this pause to brainstorm ideas can help you seek out potential funding opportunities and create a plan to go after them. Keep reading below for some simple next steps to take in crafting a grant proposal once you have an idea narrowed down.

4. Conduct a search for funding opportunities that align with your mission.

Once you have identified some of your nonprofit’s current or future needs, the next steps are to find suitable funders and to craft a compelling proposal.

It’s important to come up with an identified need first, then seek opportunities for funding, and not the other way around.

Many new nonprofits get into the habit of “chasing dollars” rather than establishing what they need first, then seeking opportunities which align with that need. When you find a funder whose mission aligns with yours, that’s a great springboard for your ideas.

There are many search options to help find grant funders which align with your mission. Networking with other nonprofit leaders, using online search tools, and subscribing to email updates from known funders are just a few resources. To make your search for funders more efficient and productive, check out Instrumentl’s intelligent matching feature with a 14-day free trial.

5. Review applications, 990s, and other reports from funders.

When you find a potential funder, check out the application questions and requirements. This will give you a better understanding of the projects they will likely fund and the data that you’ll need to make a strong proposal.

For example, look at the following types of information on the application:

  • Do they fund general operations or only projects?
  • Are there specific focus areas on which they concentrate?
  • If awarded, how long is the grant period?

When you subscribe to Instrumentl’s Plus package, you’ll be able to see 990 reports from funders.

What is a 990 and why is this helpful? 990s are year-end reports that grantmaking foundations must file and report concerning who they have awarded funds to. These reports will give you an idea of the projects and the amounts funders have awarded in the past, providing you a good starting point for your proposal.

6. Describe how funding an identified need would help your organization and those you serve.

When you create a grant proposal, the reviewer should be able to clearly see how the requested amount is going to help with the capacity of your organization.

If you know that you need a vehicle, for example, select a request amount appropriate to that price tag. Then, describe to the reader how this vehicle would help the nonprofit as a whole and/ or its staff. Reviewers appreciate knowing the impact that their contribution will have.

Strong proposals also clearly discuss how the request amount will help the patrons you serve, even if that’s by way of helping the staff. In keeping with the vehicle example, describe how this vehicle will allow staff to deliver more food, transport rescued animals, or visit far-away homes – whatever need it is serving in your nonprofit.

Once again funders will appreciate seeing how the request connects to the greater mission.

7. Peruse other models for ideas and rationale and get creative!

If you still need some help coming up with ideas, look at your community or field of work and consider questions like this:

  • Are there evidence-based models that have been effective for the problem your nonprofit is trying to solve?
  • Are there other nonprofits that have conducted similar programs?

Nonprofits can often learn from one another, and collaborative partnerships emerge. Especially in bigger cities, often there may be several nonprofits carrying out the same mission. By following a shared model, you can make a bigger impact and thus, can pitch a stronger proposal.

Proposals invite innovation and creativity. Think outside the box! This is your chance to truly pitch something of your own. Perhaps you came up with an original idea or a better modification on existing modes of service delivery. If you have good rationale to back it up, do not be afraid to pitch a new idea!.

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Where Can I Find Inspiration for Grant Proposals?

Most grant proposals result from two intersecting needs: to financially sustain the organization and at the same time, to address needs in the community. For many people, seeking and writing grants comes mostly from necessity. They need to make sure that the nonprofit’s programs continue and that their office can keep the lights on.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative when crafting your grant proposal! In a good grant proposal, the author’s passion for their work and their enthusiasm for the community they serve should come through.

Most nonprofits have a pulse on their community and its changing needs. Often just keeping up with the happenings in your field of service and your patrons will give way to program ideas. Here’s a few suggestions on how you get inspiration for your grant proposals:

Talk with your program staff.

If you’re a nonprofit leader, you should regularly engage with your program staff. Ask what can be changed or how they think things can be run differently. Always encourage feedback.

Often the boots-on-the-ground workers and volunteers are a bit distanced from a grant writer’s computer screen, but they have the most first-hand knowledge about the nonprofit’s activities and its patrons.

Perform or review a program evaluation.

Getting feedback from your program staff is incredibly helpful. To take this a step further, a more comprehensive program evaluation can be very revealing and should be conducted at regular intervals.

A program evaluation will report on the measurable goals you had for the program and its outcomes. For more information on how to measure your programs, check out Instrumentl’s program evaluation article here.

Talk with your patrons.

Nothing is more inspiring than talking to the patrons your organization serves and hearing how your work has benefitted them. Take time to get to know the people you serve.

On a regular basis as part of program evaluation, ask them how your organization is doing and what can be done to improve. Listen to their comments and suggestions and use this info when it comes to writing grant proposals.

Even better if you can capture some of their info, summarize this qualitative and quantitative data, and include it in the proposal narrative. Some of the most innovative ideas come from recipients of services and their feedback is crucial. Read a great article on gathering meaningful data from the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits here.

Take stock of successes and challenges.

Executive Directors and others in leadership should regularly take stock of successes and challenges. Many ideas come out of program evaluations and annual reports. Do not be afraid to address an issue of challenge! There might be a grant opportunity hidden in there.

When a nonprofit gets to a mature point in which they can muse about their dreams for the future, that’s a great time to savor all that you’ve accomplished!

Once your organization has reached relative stability, you might be wondering what more it can do and how to go about that. This is an optimal time for reflection and to plan for the nonprofit’s future vision.

Review examples of past proposals.

If your nonprofit has a grants history, take a look at past proposals for inspiration.

Check out both the ones that were awarded and those which were not. See if there are any highlights about them which made them successful or any challenges which made them unsuccessful. Instrumentl’s grant tracking feature is great for keeping notes and other info for future use!

If you haven’t had much experience with grants at your nonprofit or just want some more inspiration, check out Instrumentl’s post on successful grant proposal examples here.

Wrapping Up: What You Need to Know About Ideas for Grant Proposals

After devoting some time and thought to the process, you can pitch meaningful ideas to potential funders. Hopefully you’ve gained some helpful suggestions on how to turn your ideas into well-crafted proposals.

Successful grant proposals are born out of different methods and crafted from various ideas but above all, they will align with your nonprofit’s mission, the grant maker’s focus areas, and the needs of the community you serve.

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Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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