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Formatting Your Proposal

grant writing Nov 09, 2021

There are more than 1.56 million nonprofits in the U.S., many of them competing for the same funding. How can your proposal stand out from the rest? To stand out, answer the eight questions below, whether the foundation directly asks them or not.

What Foundations Want to Know gave us the eight questions grant reviewers want answered in the proposals they fund.

  1. What need will you meet?
  2. How will you meet the need you described?
  3. How do you know you will be successful in doing what you say you can do?
  4. How will you measure your success?
  5. How much will your program cost?
  6. Do you have community support?
  7. How Will You Sustain Your Efforts?
  8. What makes you uniquely qualified to do what you say you can do?

Answer all eight questions throughout your proposal’s narrative.

But grant application guidelines may outline different categories. Where does all this information fit? Where is the best place to put the answers, especially when they are not asked?

When you format the proposal information for final grant submission, use the funder’s format, if given. You want the reviewer to be able to easily find the information important to them. Find a way to include answers to all eight questions within the given format. Remember, you may need to condense information down to an adjective or adjective phrase. Make your narrative is thorough, but concise. Proofread your application. Submit a clean proposal.

When you are asked for background or descriptive information about your organization, include information on what makes your nonprofit uniquely qualified to do what you say it can do. Write about your agency’s unique past and present. Use historical data to anticipate program success. Compare your nonprofit’s performance to industry benchmarks and widely accepted practices in the field. Point out the uniqueness of your program intervention. Reference your agency’s strategic plan. Use adherence to your organization’s strategic plan to substantiate your agency’s credibility. Highlight board and staff attainment. Mention your organization’s financial strengths. Talk about formal and informal agency partnerships, including board, staff, and volunteer community affiliations. 

Your needs assessment is the crux of your proposal. The needs you are meeting are about the individuals and community your serve, not the funding you’re requesting or the program your nonprofit wants to implement. Provide objective evidence that substantiates your needs statements. Put your needs in context for the reviewers by using comparative data. When you quantify information, use both numbers and percentages.

Your goals should match the goals of the foundation to which you are applying. Your goals articulate the big, hairy, bodacious issues your program is addressing. Goal statements are broad in nature. It usually takes years to meet expressed goals.  

Your objectives are the steps you will employ to meet your goals. Good objectives are SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound. Writing SMART objectives makes articulating your evaluation measures easy.

When asked to describe your program, use as much detail as you can. The details will be used to create your budget line items. Describe program operations at all levels of your organization. In addition to answering the question of how the program works, answer the question of why this specific program is the best choice to meet your clients’ needs. Also describe the client experience. Describing the client journey will put a human face to your operations.

Base your anticipated outcomes on your stated objectives. When you are asked to evaluate your program’s success, talk about progress made toward meeting your objectives, as well as how well your program operations ran. Show client outcomes as well as your nonprofit’s success in achieving program milestones.

Your budget is a financial representation of your narrative. Make sure your budgets and narrative are consistent with one another. Develop your budget with input from both program and finance staff. Explain your individual line item amounts in your line item text. Make sure your budget calculations are consistent with how you say those resources are allocated in your narrative. In addition to financial data, your budget can be a tool to show strong community support. Check and double check your math. Math errors are irritating and can be confusing to reviewers.

Make a direct ask for a specific amount of funding. Be brief. In addition to asking for the foundation’s contribution, tell the reviewers how much money has already been raised and who else is contributing to the project.

When asked about how your nonprofit will sustain its efforts, address financial, program, and mission sustainability. Financial sustainability is demonstrated through good financial management, solid revenue generation, and adequate asset protection. Describing how your agency will sustain its program operations is just as critical as describing how it will sustain its finances. Articulating mission sustainability is also vital. Regular strategic planning is a good indicator of mission sustainability.

Research, research, research. When you write, adhere to foundation page, word, or character limitations. Be thorough, but concise. Then proofread your proposal. Eliminate math, spelling and grammatical errors that interrupt thought flow. Format numbers consistently from one section to another. Illustrate your nonprofit’s mission, vision, and values consistently across the different elements of your proposal. Proofread your proposal again.

Your proposal should point to one thing: mission fulfillment. Your goal is to communicate that all organizational resources are directed at one thing: mission fulfillment. To most effectively use your time, only apply to those foundation’s whose missions match your nonprofit’s. It is mission impact the foundation is interested in.

Make it easy for foundations to choose you as one of their conduits toward making progress in improving the human condition.  Answer the eight questions they all have, even if they don’t explicitly ask, and watch approvals come in.

Next Steps

Grant writing is just one piece of the fundraising pie. It is also important to identify your nonprofit’s fundraising strengths and gaps, explore diverse revenue streams, engange your board and excite your community.

To learn what your agency can do to move ahead, schedule a complementary 30-minute strategy session with me. During our time together, we will clarify the fundraising issues your nonprofit is facing, explore possible solutions, and develop a plan of action.

When you make your appointment, you will be asked a few brief questions about your situation so that I am best prepared to help you. I look forward to our conversation! 

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