Last Updated:

April 11, 2023

The Ultimate Grant Writing Process for Nonprofits

The Ultimate Grant Writing Process for Nonprofits

Grant writing can seem like a daunting task. If you’re looking for a way to ease your stress, then developing a grant writing process may be helpful.

In this article, we will walk you through how to create a plan that works for your nonprofit. We will also share some grant writing tips and some grant writing examples to help increase your understanding of the grant writing process for nonprofits.

What are the Different Types of Grants?


To learn about grant writing for nonprofit organizations, you first need to understand the different types of grants available.

The majority of grants available are what we call project-based grants. These typically provide funding for specific projects over a certain length of time (usually one year). An example of a project-based grant would be funds given to begin an after-school reading program.

There are also general operating grants which provide funds for general operating support for your nonprofit organization. These are more rare, but some funders provide them to help nonprofits fund things like staff salaries, facility costs such as rent or mortgage, or even insurance.

Another way that funders help nonprofits other than general operating or project support is through capacity-building grants. These are grants that assist nonprofits in completing certain training or staff development to help the organization grow or become more sustainable.

Finally, another area of funding is grants for capital projects. Although these are technically project-focused grants, they are specific to capital projects such as the construction of a new facility or the purchase of large equipment.

How to Find the Right Grants for Your Nonprofit

Grant search

An important part of the grant writing process for nonprofits is understanding what type of funding your nonprofit needs.

The first thing to consider is what you need funding for and how much you need. You do not want to blindly apply for grants in hopes of receiving funds as this will make it hard to write a competitive proposal.

Once you have identified what you need funding for (likely a specific project), you then need to find the right grant or grants that align with your needs. The best way to do this is through a grants database.

While you may also be able to find grants through a general internet search, grants databases help streamline the process so that you can find a good match. There are hundreds of thousands of grants available and you want to identify a good fit so that you can focus your grant writing efforts on grants with potential for success.

For example, Instrumentl is a grants database that uses intuitive matching. You can input your project and search for grants that match your work. Here is a screenshot of the match feature that helps grant writers find the best fits for particular projects.

Instrumentl grant database

Another great feature of Instrumentl is the 990 snapshot, which allows users to see what other organizations a certain funder has supported. Understanding the work that a grantmaker has previously funded will help you determine whether your potential project fits the priorities of the funder.

Instrumentl 990 snapshot feature

Outside of grants databases, another way that you can identify good prospects is to reach out to current partners and contacts. You may have a relationship with another nonprofit that is working on a similar project and you may be able to partner with them to write a grant. Many grantmakers look favorably at partnerships.

Even if you are not going to actively partner with another nonprofit, you could evaluate their past and current grants to see who funds their work.

Board members are also a great resource as they may have connections to certain foundations or other grantmaking organizations. These types of connections will help you start a relationship with the funder so you are not sending in a proposal “cold”.

Check out our previous blog post about improving board engagement to learn more about leveraging your connections.

What to Do Before Writing Your Nonprofit Grant Proposal

Grantmaker requirements

Once you have identified a need and found a potential match, you need to make sure that you understand all the requirements and eligibility criteria of the funder. Not meeting gratmaker requirements will lead to a rejected grant application.

Eligibility requirements will include things such as which type of nonprofit organizations can receive funds, what funds are allowed to be used for (or not used for), and the geographic area that a grantmaker supports.

These requirements will be listed on the grantmaker website and are likely also outlined in the request for proposal (RFP).

Here is a screenshot from Waste Management so that you can see how they lay out their eligibility requirements etc. You can also see that they use an online application system which is common with many grantmakers today.

Waste Management Online Charitable Donations Submission System

Different grantmakers will have different requirements, but some of the basic information such as organization background, project narrative, budget, and budget narrative is often similar.

To help you understand the components of a typical grant proposal, here is a screenshot of an RFP from the Institute of Museum and Library Science Inspire grants program. You will see that they also call this document a notice of funding opportunity or NOFO as this is a federal government grant program. Keep in mind that this program has relatively strict requirements because it is a government grant.

Screenshot of an RFP from the Institute of Museum and Library Science Inspire grants program

You can use the eligibility requirements and RFP details to help you prepare before beginning to write your grant proposal. Here are a few steps that you can take to make sure you are “grant ready” before beginning the proposal writing process:

  • Gather nonprofit documents required for the application such as board member list, articles of incorporation, strategic plan, operating budget, etc.
  • Map out your proposed project
  • Reach out to potential partners or those who may provide letters of support

For additional insights, you can check out our grant preparation blog post to help you determine whether your organization is grant ready.

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7 Steps to Write a Successful Grant


We have walked you through how to identify grant prospects and what to do before you write your grant proposal. Now we are going to outline seven steps that will help your nonprofit develop the ultimate grant writing process.

1. Plan Ahead

One of the most important things that you can do to write a successful grant is to plan ahead. A good nonprofit has a strong strategic plan which will lay out the intended work of the nonprofit for the next 3-5 years.

If you have upcoming projects that could benefit from grant funding, begin grant research early. Identifying possible grant prospects early will help you create a realistic timeline and keep you from rushing through an application.

2. Know Your Project

While we have spoken about identifying a project that the grant will support, you need to make sure that you truly understand the details of your project.

While reviewing the RFP or NOFO for a funding opportunity, you will find that the grantmaker requests many details of your project. By having a good understanding of the work that you have planned, the grant proposal will practically write itself.

You will need to know things like the geographic area that you will serve, the audience that you will serve, and the total number of people you plan to serve. Grantmakers also like to see supporting data in your proposal such as demographics for your intended audience.

Another aspect of the project that needs to be explained in detail is the budget. It is important to understand exactly how much funding you need to support your work. You will also need to explain what all funds will be used for and tie this in with how the budget supports the goals of the project.

3. Outline Grant Sections

While you are working through the details of your project, you can also begin to outline the sections required for your specific grant proposal. You can find the required sections for a grant application in the RFP, or NOFO.

A typical grant proposal will include sections such as organization background, project summary or introduction, project narrative, budget, budget narrative, results, and evaluation. The titles for these sections could differ between grantmakers, but the information will be relatively similar.

Outlining the sections will also help you identify areas where you may need to gather more details.

4. Start at the End

Although it may sound counterintuitive, write your longer narrative and budget sections first. By completing the more detailed sections first, the introduction and summary information will come easily.

Writing the details first will also help you make sure that your summarized information aligns with the longer narrative portions of the proposal.

The longer sections are also more time consuming, so starting with these will help you allocate your time well to complete a well written proposal.

5. Seek Partnerships

Partnerships are an important part of any nonprofit work and grant writing is no exception. Many grantmakers look favorably on partnerships between multiple nonprofits or even partnerships between nonprofits and other groups.

A grantmaker will see a partnership in a proposal as a way that they can support more work with the same funding and get more “bang for their buck”. Grantmakers also like to see partnerships because they feel they are helping those involved build capacity as well as just completing a single project.

As a nonprofit, you may partner with another nonprofit that conducts similar work or you may seek a partnership with a different type of entity such as a municipality or local school corporation.

Much of who you partner with will depend on the work of your nonprofit as well as the goals of your specific project. You want to make sure that you don’t force a partnership as you want things to be successful for all involved.

6. Involve Your Team

As a grant writer it may feel like you have to complete all of the work yourself, but one important aspect of writing a successful grant proposal is involving your team.

Depending on the size of your nonprofit, you may only involve part of your team or all of your team. Either way, make sure to include those who will be a part of the project that the grant will support. The staff that will actually implement the project or the “boots on the ground” will know the project best.

Reach out to these staff for information that you need to complete the grant and also allow them the opportunity to review and edit the proposal. Your team can provide additional insight and are a great extra set of eyes to catch errors.

Involving your team can also lessen the burden on you as the grant writer and help your team feel involved in the process. They are the ones that will use the funds, so they can certainly be helpful in making the grant proposal successful.

7. Read it Again

It may sound a bit silly to say, but read the proposal one more time. You can even reach out to one more outside contact so that they can provide a fresh set of eyes on the writing.

Once you have written and rewritten something a certain number of times, it can become difficult to catch mistakes. You would hate to be cut out of a chance for funding because of simple spelling or grammatical errors.

To help you better understand what makes a successful grant proposal, here is a grant proposal sample pdf from Kurzweil Educational Systems. The document is created based on a fictional project and group to help interested parties see what a proposal may look like.

As we have mentioned before, different grantmakers will have different requirements so you can try to find out if the funder you are applying to provides any sample or example proposals. It can be difficult to access full proposals, but you may at least be able to see past work funded and brief descriptions to aid in your grant writing process.

Another option is to reach out to other nonprofits that have applied to the same funder and see if they can provide any insight about the process.

Grant Writing Do's and Don'ts

Do's and Don'ts

Now that you have seven steps to write a successful proposal, here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you continue perfecting the ultimate grant writing process for nonprofits.


  • Understand Funder Requirements. Not meeting eligibility requirements or not submitting all required documents are avoidable mistakes. You don’t want to miss out on funding due to an error that could have been easily avoided.
  • Choose Funders Aligned With Your Mission. While you are reviewing grantmaker requirements and previously supported projects, you can identify funders whose missions align with that of your own nonprofit. Being aligned well with a funder will help make your grant proposal more likely to be successful. It is also important to make sure that you don’t have “mission drift” by trying to make your work fit with a certain grant opportunity.
  • Use Good Data. We mentioned earlier that you can use data to help make your grant proposal more successful. When gathering data, you need to make sure that you use valid sources so the data is accurate.

A grantmaker will likely be able to tell whether data is accurate and you don’t want bad data to hinder your grant application. Good data can also help your grant proposal stand out amongst the other applicants.


  • Write a Grant to Write a Grant. Make sure that you identify a need and a solid prospect before completing a grant application. It can be tempting to apply for grants simply because they are there, but you always need to submit a quality proposal for a true need.
  • Ask for More Than You Need. You need to make sure that you can justify the amount of your ask. The funder will need to see exactly what the funds are going to be used for and how the funding supports the goals of the project.
  • Submit Your Application Cold. The best grants to apply for are those where you already have a connection. You may have applied and/or received funding previously, you may have a connection through your board, or you may have some sort of other relationship with the grantmaker. If you do not already have a connection, reach out and make contact with the funder prior to submitting your application.

Wrapping Up: The Ultimate Grant Writing Process for Nonprofits


The ultimate grant writing process for nonprofits begins with knowing your project and finding the right grant(s). From there you can follow our process or use the information we have provided to develop your own.

Remember that knowing your project, knowing funder requirements, and working with your team will put you well on your way to writing a winning grant proposal. You can also view additional grant writing tips, examples, and resources on our blog to help you increase your grant writing success.

Use grants to diversify your nonprofit funding.

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See why thousands of nonprofits trust and use Instrumentl.

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