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How to Write a Grant Proposal for Nonprofits (Get Funded!)

Need funding for your nonprofit? Get the inside scoop on how to write a grant proposal that actually wins grants.

Let's be real for a second: grant writing probably isn't why you got into the nonprofit world. You're passionate about your cause, about helping people, making a difference. The thought of crafting budgets and writing detailed program descriptions might make you want to hide under your desk.

But here's the thing: without those grant dollars, your amazing ideas and programs simply can't become reality. So, while it might not be the most glamorous part of the job, mastering how to write a grant is an absolute necessity.

The good news? Learning doesn't have to be a nightmare. In this blog post, we break down the process, find ways to streamline it, and turn those boring grant applications into tickets to successfully fund the important work you do.

What are Grants for Nonprofits?


Grants are a powerful financial tool for nonprofits. Essentially, they are gifts of money awarded to support specific projects, general operations, or capital improvements. Unlike loans, grants do not need to be repaid, making them a highly desirable source of funding.

Grant providers come in all shapes and sizes. Major sources include private foundations, community foundations, corporations with dedicated philanthropic initiatives, and various levels of government.

It's important to find grants that directly align with your nonprofit's mission and focus area. Think of it like a matching game – the closer the fit, the better your chances of getting funded.

Securing grants is a competitive process, but the payoff can be tremendous. Grants allow nonprofits to expand their reach, launch innovative programs, enhance existing services, and keep their operations running smoothly. For many organizations, grants are an essential part of a sustainable long-term funding strategy.

Before You Even Start Writing…


Now that you know exactly what you’re about to write, there are a few things you need to nail down before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard):

  • What's the Big Problem? What specific issue are you trying to address with the help of this grant? Instead of saying "poverty," try "Our goal is to reduce the number of families experiencing food insecurity in our city by 20%."
  • Highlight the Urgency: Why is addressing this issue critical right now? Are there external factors making the problem worse?
  • Connect to Your Mission: Showcase how solving this problem directly ties into your nonprofit's overall reason for being.
  • The Perfect Match: Finding the right funder is key. Look for foundations, corporations, or government agencies that align with your nonprofit's specific mission and the type of funding you need (general operating support, project-specific, etc.).
  • Beat the Clock: Grant deadlines are non-negotiable. Set reminders, and plan to submit well in advance. A rushed proposal is rarely a winning one.
  • Use Data to Tell the Story: Statistics are powerful. Cite recent studies or local data that illustrate the scope of the problem you're addressing.
  • Focus on Your Target Audience: Are you serving children, veterans, the elderly? Being specific about who is impacted adds focus.

How to Write a Grant Proposal: The Key Components


Grant proposals aren't exactly light reading. They follow a fairly standard format, but what you put inside those sections is where you make your case. Here's a breakdown of the essentials:

Executive Summary: This is basically the elevator pitch for your grant request. In a few concise paragraphs, summarize the problem, your solution, the expected impact, and the total amount of funding you're seeking.

  • Executive Summary Template: [Nonprofit organization name] seeks [dollar amount] from [foundation name] to [brief description of project or program]. This funding will allow us to [measurable goal directly addressing a significant need]. Our organization has a track record of success in [briefly state expertise related to the problem].

Statement of Need: The statement of need should cover the heart of the problem you're addressing. Use those statistics, tell the stories, and make the funder understand why this issue is so urgent.

  • Statement of Need Template: In [city/region], [number] of [target population] struggle with [specific problem]. [Include key statistics that illustrate the severity]. This issue has [negative consequences for individuals, and the community].

Project Description: Here's your chance to fully explain your solution. What exactly will you do with the grant money? Be detailed about your strategies, timelines, and the team members who will make it all happen.

  • Project Description Template: To address this issue, we will [action verb] to provide [specific solution]. This project will include [list 2-3 major activities]. We anticipate reaching [number] people within [timeframe]. Key staff members include [names/titles demonstrating expertise].

Evaluation Plan: How will you measure your success? Funders want to see your commitment to tracking and demonstrating results. Set clear goals and methods right from the beginning.

  • Evaluation Plan Template: Project success will be measured by [list 2-3 specific metrics]. Data collection methods will include [surveys, reports, attendance, etc.].

Organization Information: This section is all about proving you're responsible and capable. Briefly outline your nonprofit's history, leadership, and any major achievements.

  • Organization Information Template: [Nonprofit name] was founded in [year] to [state your mission]. Key accomplishments include [list 2-3 successes relevant to current project]. Our leadership team includes [names/titles highlighting relevant experience].

Budget: Get specific! Break down exactly how the grant money will be spent, and make sure your numbers are both realistic and well-explained.

  • Budget Template: List major expenses in categories (Personnel, Equipment, Supplies, Travel, Other Direct Costs) with brief descriptions of each item. Include dollar amounts and provide justifications for any unusually high costs.

Common Grant Writing Mistakes to Avoid


Even experienced grant writers occasionally slip up. Here are some common pitfalls to sidestep:

Not Following Directions

We mentioned it briefly earlier, but failing to follow grant guidelines is one of the quickest ways to get your proposal tossed aside. Funders provide detailed instructions for a reason. Pay close attention to:

  • Eligibility: Does your nonprofit align with the funder's giving priorities?
  • Formatting: Are there requirements for page length, font size, or margins?
  • Required Attachments: Do they ask for specific financial documents, letters of support, etc.?

Ignoring instructions signals to a funder that you can't be trusted to follow the rules if they actually award you money.

The Generic Proposal

Think of each grant proposal as a bespoke suit, not something off the rack. Busy foundation staff can spot a copy-and-pasted proposal a mile away. Take the time to:

  • Highlight Alignment: Demonstrate how your work directly fits with the funder's mission and focus areas.
  • Use Their Language: Does the funder prioritize "equity" or "innovation"? Echoing their own words shows you understand their values.
  • Address Specific Needs: Does the application ask about gaps in services in your community? Provide that local context.

Unrealistic Goals

Being ambitious is great, but overpromising is a recipe for disappointment. Instead of claiming you'll end homelessness in your city with a $5000 grant, demonstrate a realistic approach:

  • Focus on Tangible Outcomes: Can you increase shelter capacity by 10 beds? Provide job training to 50 formerly homeless individuals?
  • Show Incremental Progress: Explain how the grant fits into your nonprofit's larger strategic plan for addressing the issue.

Jargon Overload

Not every funder is deeply familiar with the specific challenges your nonprofit addresses. Avoid drowning them in technical terms or acronyms they might not understand.

  • Use Plain Language: Could you explain the problem to your grandmother? Aim for that level of clarity.
  • Define Key Terms: If you must use specialized terms, provide brief definitions the first time they appear.
  • Focus on Impact: Instead of describing your intervention in jargon, tell a story about how it changes lives.

Forgetting the "So What?"

It's easy to get wrapped up in program details, but never lose sight of the bigger picture. Funders want to know their dollars will make a real difference.

  • Connect to Outcomes: Don't just say you'll run workshops, explain how workshops help people secure better jobs.
  • Emphasize the Impact: Will you reduce child hunger? Boost graduation rates? Clearly articulate what success looks like.

Beyond the Application: Relationship Building with Funders

Start Early

Don’t let your first interaction with a foundation be a desperate plea for funding. Introduce your nonprofit well in advance of application deadlines. Attend funder events, follow them on social media, or sign up for their newsletter. This demonstrates your genuine interest and helps you better understand their priorities.

Seek Smaller Opportunities

Sometimes, building a strong relationship starts small. Many funders offer mini-grants, sponsorships, or in-kind support opportunities. Successfully securing even modest support demonstrates your reliability and helps the funder get to know your work, paving the way for larger requests down the line.

The Power of the Phone Call

If permitted by the funder, a brief introductory phone call with a program officer can be incredibly valuable. This allows you to personalize your nonprofit, gauge their interest level in your type of work, and potentially get helpful tips before diving into a full proposal. Be sure to prepare a few concise questions and have your elevator pitch ready!

Don’t Disappear if Rejected

Unfortunately, rejection is a common part of grant seeking, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation. Always thank the funder for their time. If appropriate, respectfully ask if they’d be willing to offer any brief feedback on your proposal. Even a sentence or two can help you understand if it was a matter of fit or if there were weaknesses in your application itself.

Managing the Grant Award


Read the Fine Print

Getting that “Congratulations!” email is exciting, but before you celebrate, carefully review the grant agreement. Understanding reporting requirements, potential restrictions on how funds can be spent, and any matching fund expectations is essential to avoid problems later.

Communication is Key

Funders aren’t ATMs – they want to feel invested in your success. Keep them updated on your progress throughout the grant period, not just at the required reporting time. Share success stories, invite them to events (if appropriate), and send photos or videos showing the impact of their dollars.

Think Long-Term

Successful grant management makes you a desirable partner for the future. Focus on exceeding expectations with your implementation and reporting. This positions your nonprofit favorably when it’s time to apply for renewal or to pursue other funding opportunities with the same foundation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Unexpected challenges are bound to pop up. Instead of panicking, contact the funder proactively if you need to adjust timelines, shift budget items, or address unforeseen hurdles. Most funders appreciate open communication and are willing to be flexible with responsible grantees.

When the Answer is “No”

Seek Feedback (If Possible)

While not all funders provide detailed feedback on rejected proposals, it’s always worth asking respectfully. As we mentioned earlier, even a brief explanation from the funder can offer clues about whether you should revise and resubmit in the future, or if your project simply wasn’t the right fit for their giving priorities.

Re-evaluate the Fit

Rejection is a chance to hone your targeting skills. Take an honest look at the funder’s mission and recent grants. Was your nonprofit truly aligned with their interests? Don’t waste time on proposals that are a long shot.

Don’t Burn Bridges

Always thank the funder, even if disappointed. You never know when your programs might evolve, or when the funder’s own focus areas might shift, making you a more appealing candidate in the future.

Revise and Reuse

Unless the feedback signals a fundamental problem, don’t let your hard work go to waste. Can strong sections of the rejected proposal be adapted for a different funder? Consider it an investment in building your library of proposal content.

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