Last Updated:

April 11, 2023

The Ultimate Guide To Writing Successful Grant Proposals

The Ultimate Guide To Writing Successful Grant Proposals

Grants can be intimidating. While the search itself can be overwhelming, that process is just the first part of the long and complicated journey of writing successful grant proposals.

With the stakes as high as they are, it is natural to feel unsure of where to start or even what to do. However, you should not let fear paralyze you to the point where this fundraising path is completely closed off. This article will walk you through this tricky process by giving you a comprehensive step-by-step beginners’ guide to writing compelling grant proposals.

What Goes Into Creating A Successful Grant Proposal?


In order to be able to write a successful grant proposal, there are a few concepts you must first understand to increase your chances of securing funding.

Below, you’ll find some important considerations to think about before you begin creating a grant proposal.

How to Find the Right Prospects

There are thousands upon thousands of grants available out there. However, because each grantmaker has a unique set of requirements, priorities, and objectives, most of them will not be suited for your nonprofit. For this reason, it is crucial to find the right prospects.

Knowing where to look for grants can be difficult. In today’s era, our default mode is to use search engines such as Google or Bing. However, while these can be useful, because they search the web for key phrases rather than curated collections with relevant information, and because many funders do not have websites, you could be limiting your search by using them.

Instead, searching through dedicated grants databases, reaching out to your personal and professional networks, and looking into local organizations are a few ways you can find good prospects.

However, there are many other ways on how to find the right grants for your nonprofit.

Remember that it is not enough to come up with an extensive list of potential funders. You must also check their requirements, their deadlines, whether or not the grant takes unsolicited applications, restrictions regarding how the awarded funds can be used, and more. All of these will factor into whether or not the grant is a right match for you.

How to Understand Your Organization's Capabilities

In order to know if a prospect is right for your organization, you must understand both your nonprofit’s needs and capabilities.

Talk to your team. Together, take a look at your short and long term plans and assess how much work the grant writing process will require.

When seeking to better understand your organization’s capabilities, answer the following questions:

  • What are your nonprofit’s greatest strengths? What about its shortcomings?
  • What needs are you trying to address?
  • How much time and money can your staff invest into this process?
  • How do you plan to use the awarded funds?
  • If the grant is not enough to cover your expenses, how do you plan to make up for the difference?
  • If there’s a surplus of funding, what do you plan to do with it?

Answering these questions will give you the insight needed to judge whether the effort you're putting into this process is within reason, when you can afford to stretch yourself a bit more, and when you're burning yourself out for something that will not yield enough results.

These answers can also be used to create a comprehensive budget that should help you during the application and the grant management portion of this process.

How to Refine Your Pitch

Many times within this article you will hear us advising you to keep your writing brief yet specific.

Conveying all the information necessary in as few words as possible is a tricky skill to master, but one that comes in handy not only with grant proposals, but for whenever you must discuss your nonprofit.

To refine your pitch, you must understand how to concisely tell the story of a problem that your nonprofit is uniquely capable of solving. Oftentimes, it can be beneficial to center your audience in the narrative by making them the protagonist—in other words, make their support for your organization crucial to your efforts to solve the problem you presented.

Because a pitch is meant to be short, intriguing, and informative, a lot of the skills required to refine a pitch are also necessary for crafting a compelling mission statement.

You can check out our blog for more tips on how to write effective mission statements, how to use storytelling in your grant writing, and what exercises to use to perfect your skills.

How to Build a System for Applying to Grants with Instrumentl

Finally, when crafting your grant proposals, it is wise to build a system that allows you to work efficiently. This is where tools such as Instrumentl can come in handy.

Instrumentl Homepage

As a platform, Instrumentl combines grant prospecting, tracking, and management into one place, helping you create an efficient workflow throughout the entire grant lifecycle.

While Instrumentl’s main mission is to help match nonprofits with the best grants for them, its features elevate it into a platform that is beyond the scopes of a comprehensive database.

Built with collaboration in mind, Instrumentl offers features like a grant tracker and automated deadline reminders so that you can keep your team on time and on task. This, in turn, allows you to work more efficiently, freeing up time and mental space that will help you improve the quality of your application.

You can start your 14 day free trial by clicking here.

Writing A Successful Grant Proposal

Hand Writing

Now that you understand a bit more about the skills and concepts that go into this process, it is time to go over the different components of a successful grant proposal.

Cover Letter

Just like when you’re writing a cover letter for a job application, a cover letter for a grant proposal should discuss the purpose of your application. It should be brief yet specific, professional but not without personality. As this will often be your first opportunity to connect with the potential funder on a human level, it is important to not treat it as a mere formality or an afterthought.

Here is some of the information you might want to include in your cover letter:

  • A brief introduction of your nonprofit
  • A brief introduction of the project you are seeking to fund
  • Assurances that you are submitting this proposal with your board’s approval
  • A clear statement of how much money you are seeking and for what purpose

Remember to not make your cover letter a simple rehash of your proposal. Rather, use this space wisely to give the recruiter information that they would not be able to discern from the rest of the application. Avoid being repetitive and instead use this document to give your proposal some humanity while still remaining professional. This will help it stand out from the crowd.

Executive Summary

Sometimes referred to as the “abstract,” the executive summary is a summary of your entire proposal. For this reason, despite being one of the very first things prospective funders will see when evaluating your proposal, it should be the very last thing you write.

Again, we must emphasize the importance of being precise yet concise. You have to make your case with as much information as possible in as few words as possible. This will keep your writing sharp, focused, and digestible.

Just as important is to infuse your executive summary with a persuasive tone. While the executive summary functions as a summary of your entire proposal, it should also capture your audience’s attention so that they want to continue reading and are not doing so out of mere obligation.

Your executive summary should include:

  • Information about the problem your nonprofit addresses
  • Information about the problem your project addresses
  • Your nonprofit’s mission
  • Your project’s objective
  • What you hope to achieve with the grant
  • How you hope to achieve your goals
  • A description of your team
  • What makes your nonprofit uniquely qualified to accomplish this task

You should avoid:

  • Introducing or discussing concepts that will not be talked about in your proposal
  • Spending too much time on problems and obstacles—focus instead on solutions

Finally, watch out for word limits. While most executive summaries are just one page long, some funders might request to keep this section under a specific word count. Pay attention to such restrictions—treat them as rules, not guidelines.

To learn more about what other mistakes you should avoid, check out this post in our blog.

Needs Statement

If you’re looking for a starting point when drafting your grant proposal, consider beginning with your needs statement.

Not only is it the very first thing your funders will see after your executive summary, but by articulating the problem you are trying to address, you can more easily think about what should go into the sections of the proposal that come afterwards.

Simply put, your needs statement section is the space where you introduce the funder to the problem your project is trying to solve. While the language used should be focused on providing the funder with the context they need to understand your project, it should also convince them of the importance of your mission.

Don’t assume that your funder knows the problem you are trying to solve or about similar solutions that have been implemented in the past. Explain it to them.

This is the point where you start to see the unique ways in which grant writing uses both facts and stories to create a persuasive argument. While you will need to give the funders statistics and real-world figures that prove the existence of a problem and the need for your specific solution, you will also need to give these statistics a human element by creating a narrative.

Do not make the mistake of centering your nonprofit in this story. Rather, you should focus on those who benefit from your help. For example, if you are a nonprofit that helps rescue animals, focus not on the volunteers keeping the shelter running, but rather on the animals that may need adopting.

Finally, while your tone should always remain professional in order to project confidence and expertise, you should also create a sense of urgency. Why does this project need to be funded now? The funder should know the answer to this question by the time they finish reading this section of your proposal.

Goals and Objectives

Once the funder understands the problem you are trying to address, it is time to familiarize them with your plan.

In this section, you will detail how your nonprofit hopes to address the problem you identified previously. Once again, you’ll need to be both specific by detailing measurable objectives and inspiring goals.

Begin by using ambitious and idealistic language to paint a picture of what your ideal goal is. Then, you can break down that grandiose vision into measurable objectives, providing the funders with figures and facts that demonstrate the feasibility of what you wish to accomplish.

Methods, Strategies, or Program Design

After discussing your goals and objectives, the natural next step in a grant proposal is to describe how you plan to accomplish it.

When discussing your methods, strategies, or program design, be sure to provide the reader with a detailed explanation of your project. Remember to be as specific as possible! Create a timeline with actual dates and include information about who will be working on this project, what their responsibilities are, and by when they’re expected to get them done.

This is the section where you show potential funders that you are more than just a dreamer—you have a feasible plan that can translate all of your goals and objectives into reality.

Remember to not limit yourself to simply describing your methodology—justify it as well. Do not assume that the funder will simply accept that you chose this plan because it is the best one possible. Prove it to them. By drawing on real world evidence to explain why you believe your plan will be successful, you demonstrate that you’ve given this topic plenty of consideration before crafting the best strategy.

Evaluation Section

By this point in your proposal you’ve identified a problem to solve, you’ve created goals for solving that problem, and you’ve detailed how you’ll achieve those goals. So, naturally what comes next is details on how you’ll evaluate your work.

While many may see this as a mere obligation to the funder, the truth is, evaluation methods can also be incredibly helpful to you as they give you the opportunity to better assess your project’s impact. A good evaluation will not only show you whether or not your plan was a success, but it will also show you how you can improve upon the work in the future.

When discussing evaluation methods, be sure to include the following information:

  • Types of records you’ll be keeping
  • Types of data you’ll be collecting
  • How you will keep those records
  • How you’ll collect that data
  • How you’ll be evaluating the information they provide

Finally, don’t forget to include whether the assessment will be conducted internally by your staff, or whether you are planning to hire an external expert.

Information On Your Organization

So far in your grant proposal you focused primarily on your project. Now it is finally time to talk about your organization.

Use these questions to brainstorm what relevant information to include in this section:

  • What is your mission and why do you care about this cause?
  • Who works with you (board members, staff, volunteers, contractors)?
  • Who benefits from your efforts?
  • How long have you been operating? In that time, what has been your proudest achievement? How about the hardest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
  • What are some other programs or campaigns you are currently running or ran in the past?
  • What other fundraising methods have you used before?
  • What makes your nonprofit unique?

The answer to these questions should help you create a narrative that demonstrates that your nonprofit has a good track record and therefore can be trusted to use the grant award responsibly.

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Examples of Successful Grant Proposal Templates


It is time to see everything in action. Below are some useful templates and examples to help you visualize what a winning grant proposal looks like:

SmartSheet’s Free Grant Proposal Templates

This page by Smartsheet offers a great variety of examples to help you get started. They have grant proposal templates for nonprofits, research, budgeting and more! When using these grant proposal templates, don’t limit yourself to just one document. Play around with all of them by mixing and matching the elements you like best so that you can create the ideal one for you.

Non-profit Guides’ Sample Proposal

This page by Non-Profit Guides offers two different sample proposals for you to study from. The first sample is tailored towards a private foundation, while the second one is directed towards a government agency. Looking at both can help you learn the subtle differences in the grant writing for different types of funders.

FAQs: Writing A Successful Grant Proposal


What Components Should Be Included In a Grant Proposal?

Besides the elements already discussed in this article, it is also recommended to include with your grant proposal a budget, list of board members, other sources of funding, and supplementary material such as your IRS-tax exempt letter.

Are There Templates Available for Grant Proposals?

There are plenty of great grant proposal templates out there! We put together this outline with useful instructions and additional details that should get you started on the right path.

What Are Funders Looking for in a Grant Proposal?

When funders look at grant proposals, they are searching to see if:

  • There’s a problem that needs to be solved urgently
  • If your proposed solutions to said problem are feasible
  • If your nonprofit can be trusted to responsibly manage the grant to implement said solution to the problem

Keeping these points in mind is key to writing a successful grant proposal.

Wrapping Up: Ultimate Guide To Writing Successful Grant Proposals


When you begin working at a nonprofit, you do so because you want to help the world, and fundraising through grants is one of the best ways for you to advance your cause. Grant writing, however, is intimidating and overwhelming, especially if it is your first time embarking on this process.

But just because something may appear difficult, it does not mean it is impossible to do. This article hopefully provided you with all the information you need to start working on your grant proposals without fear.

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