Grant writing is nothing less than an art form. Developing a persuasive, compelling grant proposal for why your nonprofit or one of its programs should be funded requires a deft and strategic approach.
The following article will cover the basics of what a grant proposal is, why creating a good grant proposal is vital, and what to avoid when writing grant proposals for your organization.
Let us begin!
7 Tips that Make for Good Grant Proposals
Knowing the ins and outs of how to craft successful grant proposals will allow you to leverage your team’s talent and time to create proposals that can stand toe-to-toe with the competition. These helpful tricks will position your team for success as you begin to apply for grants.
1. Prioritize Quality Prospect Research
Successful grant proposals begin long before you start writing the actual document.
Prospect research is a critical aspect of successful grant seeking and a crucial tool for developing a successful grant proposal. Identifying the right opportunity to apply for will help position your organization to achieve success.
Grantmaking programs vary widely across sectors, with thousands of opportunities available each year from government agencies, private foundations, or corporate foundations. Each RFP is different and will have unique requirements, specific questions, and objectives.
Understanding the needs of your organization and identifying grant opportunities that align with those needs is key. You never want to spend time applying for a grant that does not align with your needs or has requirements your organization does not meet. Through strategic and deliberate prospect research, your organization will already be halfway to developing a winning grant proposal.
Many tools exist to facilitate successful prospect research. Check out this post to learn more about the ins and outs of effective prospect research.
2. Know Your Audience
One of the main components of crafting a successful grant proposal is knowing your audience.
For a grant proposal, your audience is the grantmaker or funder. The best way to learn about the grantmaker is through prospect research as stated above and by thoroughly researching their mission, priorities, objectives, and history via their website.
Simply noting that an organization has released an RFP you would like to apply to is not enough. Get to thoroughly know the funder and what they are about. By the time you are done, you should be an expert on the grantmaking organization!
Knowing your audience also means being sure to explicitly address the funder’s priorities and objectives in your proposal.
How is this accomplished? Take your writing cues from the grantmakers themselves.
Take for example the Otto Bremer Trust, a private foundation that serves communities in the upper Midwest through a robust grant-making program.
The Otto Bremer Trust identifies the types of programs and services they invest in by creating a set of broad categories: basic needs, community asset building, health and wellbeing, and restorative and emergency services. Many other funders have similar schemes for their funding priorities or targeted funding areas, and will clearly state those categories on their website.
Borrow from their language when crafting your proposal to showcase how your nonprofit’s work aligns with their funding priorities and that you have thoroughly researched the organization to have a strong understanding of their own mission, values, and objectives.
3. Tell a Compelling Story
When you are writing a grant proposal narrative is everything.
Every nonprofit organization, program, or project has a compelling story behind it just waiting to be told. The trick is crafting that story in a way that will engage a funder and make them realize how their partnership will make an impact.
Developing a cohesive narrative to illustrate this point to the funder will help hold their attention and set your proposal apart from the competition.
So how do you transform your project into a story that engages funders?
First, consider the “why” of your project. Why is your nonprofit engaged in this work in the first place? Why was your organization established?
This is where your organization comes in. Once you have explained the “why” of your funding request, move on to “how”. How will your organization achieve success with your project? How will your project make a tangible impact?
Do not simply copy and paste boilerplate language about your organization. Make sure your response will take the reader on a logical, progressive journey through your project culminating in how their support will help advance the vital work your organization is engaged in.
4. Craft a Powerful Needs Statement
One of the most important pieces of a grant proposal is the needs statement, and it is imperative to get it right.
A needs statement shows the funder why they should care about your project. Does your organization primarily provide support for people experiencing homelessness? A needs statement will address the state of housing and the incidence of housing needs in the community.
A great needs statement will also express urgency. If your project provides crucial services to people experiencing homelessness, explain to the funder why the need is urgent.
Perhaps your organization is engaged in less sensitive work, such as an arts organization or a small museum. You can still express urgency in your needs statement. Explain the impact art has on society, the impact arts education can have on influencing achievements for individuals in other subjects, or how arts experience under-funding and additional funds are required to reach a broader audience.
Establishing a clear, urgent need will help make a strong case for your proposal. You can learn more about developing a strong needs statement here.
5. Provide Strong Outputs and Outcomes
It is essential to include specific outcomes and objectives in your grant proposal.
Providing clear, measurable objectives and outcomes in your proposal will strengthen your proposal and help your funders better understand the direct impact of their partnership.
Outputs are specific quantitative results your project is attempting to achieve such as “# of students who will receive tutoring services”. Outcomes are qualitative indicators, showing observable changes that result from a project’s activities. An example of an outcome would be “students who receive tutoring services will feel more confident in their understanding of a given subject.”
Many grantmaking opportunities will specifically require nonprofit organizations to measure and track a set amount of outcomes, while other grantmakers will ask to hear generally about broad goals and impact.
Regardless of the specifications, be sure your organization is prepared to evaluate, track, and measure the outcomes and achievements of your project.
6. Focus on Solutions
The work of nonprofit organizations can be very sensitive and deeply serious. Nonprofits serve a variety of societal needs, oftentimes providing crucial aid to individuals who have experienced homelessness, displacement, abuse, illness, or whose lives have been upended by emergencies or crises.
When you are serving such sensitive populations it can sometimes be a challenge to not focus on participants’ grave reality. While it is important to express and focus on these aspects, a grant proposal should be focused on solutions.
Once you have explained why you have started your project and why your community needs it, you should focus on the positive impact the project will or has already had on the lives of its participants.
Focusing too much on the magnitude of your work and neglecting the good your project does could foil your chances at submitting a successful grant proposal.
7. Include a Plan for the Long-term
Many funders are interested in a project’s sustainability. Ensure that funders understand that you have a plan for the project’s longevity and that you are thinking about your impact in terms of years, not just in the present.
Does your project have an end date? Is it a project that will last as long as there is a need? Either way, be sure to make that clear to your funder.
Projects managed by nonprofit organizations rarely rely on one grant to operate. Include the names and other amounts of committed or pending funders who are supporting this project or plan into the future. This will show grantmakers that you have or are working to create diverse revenue streams to support your project’s work.
If you have prepared one, consider attaching a document that clearly lays out the long-term plan for your organization or the project for which you are applying.
Documents that will help illustrate sustainability could be a strategic plan or roadmap that will clearly illustrate what your organization has in mind for the future. If you cannot provide an attachment, consider including key points from your plan in the narrative.
For an example of a compelling strategic plan, take a look at the Chicago Architecture Center’s annual report and accompanying 2025 Strategic Plan.
3 Things That Hurt Grant Proposals
While it is important to consider what makes successful grant proposals, it is just as important to know what could hurt one. Without careful reviews and editing, these simple mistakes could make or break your chance of winning a grant.
Successful grant proposals should be well organized and easy for any funder to understand. Proposals should keep a general order with an introduction, body (typically including a project overview, needs statement, and outcomes), and conclusion. A great way to ensure your proposal is organized is to utilize subtitles or headings for each section.
2. Lack of Clarity:
No funder should feel confused after reading your grant proposal. Be sure to define clearly what you are asking of the grantmakers and what you plan to do with the funds. Even a more flexible, general operating grant should clearly define how funds will be used and the purpose of the organization. To make certain your proposal can be well understood by your audience, be sure to avoid nonprofit jargon or sector-specific jargon that a funder may need more detail to fully understand.
3. Grammatical Errors:
This is a simple, but potentially disastrous mistake. You should approach grant writing like any writing task—editing for grammar and spelling errors is a must! Grant proposals can take hours and hours to complete and after working and re-working section after section, an error or two is bound to slip in. Be sure to read through the entire grant proposal once the draft is complete. You can also have one or two other team members act as editors to ensure no error has slipped your eye.
Wrapping Up: What Makes a Good Grant Proposal
The ability to develop successful grant proposals is a skill that is vital for every nonprofit professional.
With the resources and tips provided in this article, you are already well on your way to drafting your very first winning grant proposal. Take what you have learned here and apply it to your organization’s work today!