How to Write a Grant Proposal

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Man typing up grant proposal on laptop at home
Man typing up grant proposal on laptop at home (Image: David Woolley/Photodisc/Getty Images)

A grant can be an ideal source of funding for your project, whether in the arts, sciences, academic research or social services. You can even find grants for spiritual development. A grant is a gift, not a loan, and does not have to be paid back. Writing a grant proposal is a sizable undertaking and getting a grant is a highly competitive process. A few general rules of the road can help increase the odds of your success. Understanding the objectives, jargon, history and process of a grant-making organization will help you write a well-targeted grant proposal.

Know Your Audience

Each grant-making organization has literature on what it wants to achieve, why it offers grants, where its money comes from and who its key personnel are. This may be in the form of the group's website, publications in print or in a grant application package the group provided to you. Whatever the source, study the materials carefully to understand the organization's key objectives. For organizations with more that one grant program, familiarize yourself with the materials for the individual program you are targeting as well. Write your grant proposal to mirror these objectives and to convince reviewers that your project will advance some or all of the very same goals that the organization strives to achieve.

Know the Rules

Grant-making organizations have a process to follow. Some will provide you a detailed application package for your proposal while others may have instructions as simple as "write us a letter." Pay careful attention to precisely what is being asked of you and follow instructions closely. Respect deadline dates and word or page limits. If the group asks for your proposal double-spaced and you submit a single-spaced document, you're probably out of the running already.

On the other hand, don't be dismayed by "soft" requirements. For example, a foundation that says it "generally" gives grants to organizations but not to individuals, or to PhD students but not master's candidates, is leaving room for the occasional exception. Apply as an exception, if you think your proposal is a good match, and provide a justification why your project is an opportunity for the organization to relax its rules in your case.

Know Your History

Most organizations post full lists or summary information on prior grant recipients. Review these carefully to get a sense of the group's granting history. Pay attention to the size of grants offered, the types of organizations and individuals that received funding and the nature of the projects being funded. Tailor your own proposal to fit the general funding patterns for the organization. Alternatively, you can choose to break the mold and offer something very different, making the case that the funding organization will be innovative in supporting your work while still meeting its overall objectives.

Use Your Ears

Each funding organization has a culture that is reflected in the language it uses. The National Institutes of Health, for example, supports advanced medical-research projects and expects grant proposals to display medical expertise as reflected in the specialized language used. A proposal submitted to the NIH will have a very different ring to it than one submitted to the Religion Newswriters Foundation. Use language appropriate to the organization.

Pity the Reviewers

Keep in mind that the person or team reviewing your proposal is also reading dozens, if not hundreds, of other submissions. Keep your proposal concise and well-written; have an editor review it before submission if you are not confident in your own writing skills. Include some useful visuals, if permitted by the submission rules, to break up the reading process. Don't be afraid to add a small bit of humor or personal detail to keep it interesting, but be sure not to overdo it.

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