By James V. D’Ambrosio

Having already written about what to consider before submitting and after receiving a grant, I’ll now focus on the process itself: actually writing it. This should help beginners and new agencies seeking support.

Recently I attended a workshop at The Support Center For Nonprofit Management in New York City titled “Writing Winning Grant Proposals” where Pat Richter — a volunteer facilitator at The Support Center with more than 30 years’ experience in nonprofit and an expert in proposal writing —provided key insights and strategies for writing successful proposals. I’ll draw on my learning to provide guidance on this topic. (Note: Ms. Richter can be reached at PR Quickhelp Consulting,   

Below are the 11 basic sections that should be included in a strong grant application: 


COVER LETTER: Includes the name of the organization requesting funding; support of the board of directors for the project (say if there is a connection); specific financial request being made; an invitation to visit your agency’s Web site; and who to call/contact for further information.

SUMMARY: Should follow the structure of the proposal, including: a) the most compelling and illustrative aspects of the need section; b) important/substantive partnerships; c) goals and objectives (exactly as written); and d) amount of request contrasted with the total budget and commitment of agency.

INTRODUCTION OF APPLICANT: Clarifies who is applying for funding and persuades the funder that your agency is qualified and credible. Customize as much as possible.

NEED STATEMENT: Convinces the reader that the need is compelling; shows the applicant understands the nuances of the problem in a specific geographic area; indicates the problem really exists (there’s proof); and the problem is one the funder is highly interested in addressing. 

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: Are one sentence long and show vision. They describe the larger picture and measurable outcomes for the project. They should persuade the reader that you understand how much of the problem you expect to change and by when.

♦ METHODS: Are a lengthy part of the proposal. They should describe the activities you will undertake to achieve objectives; show strong knowledge of the steps needed to be successful; and convince the reader that activities have been given careful thought and likely to succeed.

EVALUATION: Discusses the plan for determining the program’s effectiveness; reassures the funder that resouces are being used well; and determines if an impact was made on the need described.

FUTURE FUNDING: Discusses how the program will continue after the grant monies are expended. For example, are there: Other funders who are strong prospects? Fees for service? Operating budget monies to cover costs? Discrete fund-raising? Whatever the case, you must convince the funder that you have other revenue streams in place to maintain operations.

BUDGET: Includes project revenue and expenses broken out in numbers. You have to convince the funder that expenses have been carefully thought out and are reasonable and necessary to implement the project. You must also ensure that all included costs are allowable by the funder.

BUDGET NARRATIVE: Narrative description of any costs/figures that need clarification and describes how costs for a particular item were determined.

APPENDIX/ATTACHMENTS: Include the following, for a private sector proposal: 1) job descriptions; 2) table of organization; 3) resumes; 4) evaluation tools; 5) letters of commitment; 6) board list; 7) IRS letter; 8) annual report; 9) IRS 990 report; 10) audited financial statements; 11) list of top funders; 12) media coverage; 13) prior evaluations; 14) copies of program materials; 15) agency brochure; and 16) current newsletter.

As you can see, a well-written proposal is highly detailed and involves a certain level of complexity. If you do not have grant-writing experience, it will take time to become proficient. So for new agencies with limited funds and no experience in this area, you may want to consider: a) getting some training in grant writing as I did; b) hiring a consultant; or c) placing an ad for a volunteer development professional on Idealist (, an excellent resource for nonprofits.


QUESTION TO READERS: What has been your greatest challenge with writing proposals? Any advice for others?

2 Responses

  1. I’ll right away snatch your rss feed as I can’t find your email subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
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  2. Dear Scott, Thanks for the compliment. I will certainly check out the information you have compiled. Best Regards,

    JAMES V. D’AMBROSIO Communications/Nonprofit Professional 438 Atlantic Street E.Northport,NY 11731 (516)819-0528 Blog: Twitter: @Jamesdambrosio

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