Planning and Writing a Grant Proposal: The Basics
So, you want to write a grant proposal? This is exciting! This means that you have valuable research to do or a particular nonprofit to build or a community resource you’re passionate about developing. You have a distinct vision for how something could be improved or advanced, and you’re ready to ask for funding or other support to help this vision become a reality.
As you reach toward this unrealized vision by developing a grant proposal, you should think about successful grant writing as an act of imagination. Professor Kate Vieira, a Curriculum and Instruction professor at UW-Madison with considerable grant writing experience, describes grant proposal writing as a creative process akin to fiction writing—these are works of imagination. Professor Vieira recommends approaching the task of writing a grant proposal with an attitude of wonder and excitement as you strive to turn your ideas into something real. You have a great idea, and you think that you’re the best person to achieve a specific goal. Now you just need to convince others to get excited about this vision as well.
How to Write an Effective Grant Proposal
Start by reviewing the Request for Proposals (RFP). Are there geographic limits? Does your organization meet eligibility requirements? Does the timing make sense for your organization?
If the funding opportunity seems like a good fit, think about how to frame your ask according to the grantmaker’s priorities. For example, NEEF coordinates with a variety of public and private partners to determine the funding source, goals, and metrics for specific grants.
Be sure to read the RFP carefully and directly respond to all parts of the question. Be clear about who the grant contact is, check your spelling and math, and make sure not to omit contact names or contact information. Pay attention to character limits. Have another staff member review your project budget to make sure line items are accurate.
When applying to a NEEF grant, don’t be overwhelmed by the application process. “We want to reduce the burden as much as possible for grantees and ensure NEEF’s grants process is accessible to all,” Banks said. “Our goal is that there are no surprises as we work together through the application process!”
Pay attention to your partnership letter
Do your research
Many nonprofits have elevated their digital presence in order to engage existing supporters and reach new audiences, especially during the pandemic. But building a new website or signing onto various social media channels will not necessarily equate to visitors or followers.
Before embarking on any online communications project, do the necessary research. Define your target audience. What are their demographics? Are there any barriers to their engagement with your public land site or organization?
Design an intentional strategy and tell us how you will conduct focused outreach. The grant application is the place to map out your goals and state how you will track your effectiveness in reaching your target audiences.
Align your budget and project narrative
Make sure that the project budget is a direct translation of the narrative in fiscal terms. Additionally, if the grant would only partially support the project, show where the rest of the funding will come from. It is especially important to include matching funds as well as other funding sources (foundation, governmental, corporate or otherwise).
Grant reviewers are likely considering the project’s sustainability, and demonstrating buy-in from other funders will only strengthen the application. This additional funding shows that the project will likely continue to be funded even after the grant period ends.
Make sure that the project budget is a direct translation of the narrative in fiscal terms. Additionally, if the grant would only partially support the project, show where the rest of the funding will come from. It is especially important to include matching funds as well as other funding sources (foundation, governmental, corporate or otherwise). Grant reviewers are likely considering the project’s sustainability, and demonstrating buy-in from other funders will only strengthen the application. This additional funding shows that the project will likely continue to be funded even after the grant period ends.
First, determine the end goal of your project and how you will measure the degree of its success. Grant reviewers are looking for your intent, but also numbers and metrics that go along with it.
Tell a clear financial story
One of the most common weaknesses seen in grant applications is that the applicant does not present a clear financial story. Before applying for a grant (of any size), be prepared to submit crucial financial documents.
Strong, concise financial information signifies that an organization’s accounting processes are efficient and transparent. Essentially, it tells a grant reviewer that the applicant will be able to manage a grant effectively.
“Many of NEEF’s grantees are mostly volunteer-run, and we understand that keeping financial information maintained can be a big undertaking,” Banks said. “These resources can help you build financial capacity that will help put your organization in a strong position to apply for grants.”
You’ve Won a Grant! Now What?
Your first “to-do” item after receiving a grant should be to acknowledge the gift. Make sure to fill out any paperwork required by the funder, and send them a thoughtful thank you letter (not the same thank you letter you send to everyone else).
Next, plan with the folks on your team who will be carrying out the proposed project to make sure everyone understands what is required: this might include attending meetings, planning site visits, tracking data, or writing reports.
Keep in touch with the funder through the project period with occasional updates – especially if an organizational change occurs such as a change in staff, or receipt of additional funding.
Make sure you note your report deadline and get that report in on time. Each time you contact the funder, you are building a relationship with them. Hopefully one that will benefit your organization’s mission for years to come!
About the Learning Lab
We’re using human-centered design to help us understand the capacity-building needs of under-resourced nonprofits in order to inform our social impact investment strategy. Read our blog post about the brand new Learning Lab.