How to Write a Grant Proposal for Nonprofit

Written on September 12, 2021

Would you be open to free funding for your nonprofit organization? Of course! Instead of seeking a small business loan, you can apply for grants and use the money to complete your projects and advance your initiative.

Seeking and securing grants is critical to your nonprofit organization’s fundraising plan. But grant writing can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’ve never written one. And if you don’t refine your grant writing skills, you’ll lose out on all that funding—all because you submitted a poorly written grant proposal.

If you want to learn how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit organizations that gets approved, stick around. We’re breaking down all the steps you need to know.

Let’s begin.

How to Write a Grant Proposal for Nonprofit Organizations in 11 Steps

Before you dive into the nuts and bolts of how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit organizations, first understand what grantors are seeking. Grant-giving organizations are seeking organizations that:

  • Have a clear and relevant mission
  • Are driven by specific and achievable goals
  • Maintain organized financial records
  • Have a stable organizational structure
  • Use modern fundraising tools and methods
  • Possess a track record of completing projects and initiatives
  • Are involved within their target community

Keep all of these points in mind, because the grantors should recognize these features when reading through your grant proposal.

Step 1: Cover Letter

Your cover letter may seem like something you slap on top of your grant proposal, but it’s much more than that. It’s a critical piece of your proposal that invites readers to your grant proposal—think of it as an engaging storefront sign that attracts people to go inside. Your cover letter should fulfill the following objectives:

  • Introduce your organization and mission
  • Explain why your cause should matter to the grantor
  • Clearly define the positive impact your program will have
  • Illustrate your passion for your project or initiative
  • Offer a brief overview of your grant proposal (similar to the abstract preceding a journal article)
  • Specify the exact amount of funding you’re requesting

Tips When Writing Your Cover Letter

In your cover letter, you should address that specific individual. Before you submit your proposal, be sure to research the point of contact you should be addressing.

Also, your cover letter shouldn’t be too long. Keep it one page in three to five paragraphs. You’ll dive into the specifics of your plan later in your proposal.

Step 2: Executive Summary

An effective executive summary should accomplish three things:

  • Describe why your proposal is essential to your target community
  • Establish your background and expertise
  • Explain why the grantor should care

Your executive summary shares elements of your cover letter. Your one-page executive summary should offer a brief overview of your proposal, helping the reader understand your proposal at a glance. Again, you shouldn’t be diving into hard data within this section—you’ll be saving it for later sections. Within your executive summary, be sure to also include the cost of the project, the requested grant amount, and your project’s timeline.

Tips When Writing Your Executive Summary

The executive summary is where many grant writers struggle when learning how to write a grant proposal for a nonprofit. Your executive summary must be concise yet informative, brief yet engaging. To help your executive summary carry these attributes, it may be helpful to think of your cause as a brief story. Your executive summary tells a story with a clear conflict and resolution (your solution).

Step 3: Statement of Need

The previous sections offer a glimpse into your organization and objective. Now it’s time to place a foot on the pedal. Your statement of need should create a sense of urgency. You’re describing a clear problem followed by a clear solution. Explain why the grantor’s funding is crucial to making that solution happen

Your statement of need is typically one page long and should clearly articulate why the grant is necessary including:

  • Background research
  • Historical data
  • Anecdotes (if applicable)

Tips When Writing Your Statement of Need

Don’t take the grantor’s knowledge for granted. Even if they operate within your industry or have previously funded similar nonprofits, write as if they know nothing about your cause. You are an expert within your field and the grantor may not possess the same comprehensive knowledge you hold.

Therefore, break down the issue, make it relevant to the funder, and explain how funding can manifest your proposal into reality.

Also, it is helpful to use language that creates a sense of urgency. After you build your case with data, reiterate your timeline. Repeat how the problem is happening now and why securing funding is needed as soon as possible.

Step 4: Goals and Objectives

In the last section, you dived deeper into the issue and created a sense of urgency. In this section of how to write a grant proposal for a nonprofit, you want to further build your case with achievable goals and clear objectives.

State what you hope to accomplish and when you intend to do it. Then break down your larger goals into smaller, specific objectives. To help you create clear, actionable goals, be sure to read our guide on how to create SMART Goals.

Tips When Writing Your Goals and Objectives

Using quantifiable terms like “increase,” “improve,” and “reduce,” are useful for creating measurable goals. Also, remember to keep your goals and objectives realistic. As a nonprofit organization, you might be swept away in idealism. Create a specific plan about how the specific funds from the grantor will have a targeted impact.

Also, revisit your mission statement—it’s important that the goals you create are congruent with your core values and principles.

Step 5: Methodology

The time for brevity is over. In your methodology section, prioritize depth. Now is the time to explain the details of your proposal.

Your methodology should offer a step-by-step process on how to achieve the goals and objectives you established in the previous section. Your methodology should answer these questions:

  • How will you secure supply and equipment?
  • What resources will you be using for the project?
  • What digital tools and strategies will you leverage?
  • Do you have contingency plans in case something goes wrong?
  • Will you hire employees? How many?
  • How will you delegate tasks and projects?

Also, explain why you chose these methods. Why are these specific processes best for advancing your project?

Tips When Writing Your Methodology

Similar to your statement of need, assume the grantor knows nothing about your project and how to complete a project. This assumption will help ensure that your methodology is logical, linear, and air-tight. Also, don’t be afraid to use visuals to support your arguments. This is the section where your data and project management methodologies should shine.

Step 6: Evaluation Section

Many grantors jump to this section,  yet this is a section where many writers struggle when learning how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit organizations. The evaluation section is critical because it tells the grantor exactly how you will measure your project’s results. Grantors want to know how their funding is being used, whether it’s going to a worthy cause, and how to gauge your project’s success.

Moreover, the evaluation section keeps the grantee—you— accountable. Your evaluation section is essentially a success criterion. Since you have clear indicators on whether you’re moving toward—or away from—your objectives, it encourages you to be efficient with your grant funds.

Tips When Writing Your Evaluation Section

Remember to focus on your data. Quantitative and qualitative data keep your goals specific and measurable. Also, specify whether you will conduct an internal evaluation or if you’ll hire an outside evaluator.

Step 7: Sustainability

If you’re running a nonprofit organization, chances are that you’re seeking funding from multiple sources—another reason why learning how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit organizations is crucial to your success. If your mission is long term and exceeds the timeline of this specific project, explain to the grantor how your project will fare after you reach your deadline and spend the funding.

  • Will your project require additional funding to maintain its purpose?
  • How will the funding you receive contribute to the longevity of your project?
  • Is this specific project a precursor to future programs you hope to launch?

The grantor will be interested in these types of questions. This also shows that you are a future- and goal-oriented organization with other works in the pipeline.

Tips When Writing About Sustainability

It may be helpful to outline specific fundraising plans you intend to hold in the future. Again, stray away from idealism and adopt a pragmatic mindset. Your future plans should still be realistic and align with available resources.

Step 8: Organizational Information

Why you? Why should the grantor grant a funding request to your specific organization?

In this section, create a compelling story about your nonprofit organization and why it’s relevant to the grantor’s interests. Don’t just share the name of your board members and staff or note the location of your headquarters. Position your nonprofit organization in the most compelling light by:

  • Sharing a brief history of the founding and evolution of your nonprofit
  • Listing short biographies of your organization’s figures
  • Documenting the various successes you’ve achieved

Tips When Writing Your Organizational Information

Do your best to humanize your nonprofit organization. Emphasizing your mission statement and sharing stories of your key staff shows the grantor that there are real people who genuinely care about creating positive change. And if you have a track record, bring it to the forefront—show the grantor that your nonprofit is one that gets results.

Step 9: Project Budget

What is your project going to cost? Attach a budget with your projected expenses and income, including:

  • Personnel costs
  • Overhead expenses
  • Travel and transportation costs
  • Fringe benefits for staff
  • Cost of equipment and supplies
  • Earned and contributed income (e.g., donations)

Tips When Writing Your Project Budget

Check out our guide on how to create a business budget. It breaks down everything you need to know about understanding your costs, examining your revenue, so you can make realistic decisions regarding your project.

Step 10: Additional Materials

Depending on the grantor, you may need to affix additional documents, such as:

  • Proof that your organization is tax-exempt
  • List of your board of directors
  • Disclosure of your affiliations
  • Budget for current and next fiscal year

Researching the grantor or foundation beforehand is essential to learning how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit organizations. Be sure to comply with all their guidelines. Breaking even a single minor rule can spell rejection for your grant proposal.

Step 11: Putting it All Together

Do a final sweep of your grant proposal. This guide may teach you how to write a grant proposal for a nonprofit, but you may want to consider running it by an editor—their trained eye will analyze your proposal for clarity and conciseness.

You’ll find that many grant applications are now digital. But if you’re mailing your grant proposal by postal mail, be sure to bind everything in a professional folder with a signed cover letter.

After you submit your grant application, pat yourself on the back. You’ve made it through the long (and often stressful) process of writing a grant proposal. Now, sit back and excitedly wait for a response.

Final Tips When Putting it All Together

It’s crucial that you cross-check your grant proposal against the proposal requirements. That includes:

  • Adhering to stylistic guidelines (e.g., headings, lists, bullet points)
  • Submitting your proposal within the funding period
  • Addressing the correct person on your cover letter

Don’t take shortcuts. Patience and careful attention to detail when learning how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit organizations are what secures the best chance for obtaining the funding you need.

Finding Nonprofit Grant Opportunities

Now that you know how to write a grant proposal for a nonprofit, where do you find grants? There are so many grant-giving opportunities available to your nonprofit organization—if you know where to look. The main types of grants you’ll find are:

  • Government grants
  • Foundation grants
  • Private corporation grants

Below is certainly not an exhaustive list of available grants, but it’s a great place to kickstart your research:

  • Grant.gov: offers a searchable online database to connect you with various government grant opportunities.
  • Google Ad Grants: potentially receive $10,000 USD in in-kind advertising for your nonprofit organization.
  • GrantWatch.com: search their database for federal, state, local, and foundation grants for nonprofits in domestic violence, education, energy, environment, and more.

The Coca Cola Foundation: a private corporate foundation that gives grants to nonprofits specializing in empowering women, protecting the environment, and enhancing communities.

The Bottom Line

Submitting a grant application can be nerve-wracking. With so many other nonprofit organizations submitting their proposals, self-doubt might start to settle in.

Have confidence in yourself and your nonprofit organization—you have a worthy cause. Don’t let a bad grant proposal block you from securing the funds you need and creating the change you want to make. Hopefully, this guide on how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit organizations helps impress your grantor with your stellar writing so you can advance your initiative.