How to Develop a Grant Proposal Writing Process

If you're thinking that writing a grant proposal is a quick way to solve your organization's funding problem, you should probably go into another line of work.

Writing a grant proposal should not be a one-shot experiment. You don't write a grant proposal. You write many grant proposals. Grant proposal writing should be an integral part of your overall fundraising program.

Nonprofits that successfully and consistently tap grant money develop systems to support ongoing grant research and writing. If your organization is not ​ready to approach foundations for funding, it would be better to wait. Sending out weak proposals to poorly researched prospects will only gain your nonprofit a bad reputation.

If you think you are ready to go for grants, here are the steps to follow.

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Determining Funding Priorities

Your organization should identify, on an annual basis, what your funding needs are for the near future. You will have all the programs and activities that you currently operate plus ideas for new programs or the expansion of existing ones. 

Each activity or program will have a​ funding source or group of sources, such as your current grants, ​annual fund, product sales, admission fees, etc. 

At this point, you will identify those plans or projects that are likely to translate well into grant proposals and start the process of developing them.

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Preparing a Draft Grant Proposal

Before you go much further, put together a draft grant proposal for one of the projects or programs that you've identified as a candidate for funding. At this stage, you will assemble the detailed background information you'll need, decide who will write the proposal, and draft the key components of the grant proposal such as:

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Finding Potential Funders For Your Grant Proposal

With a draft of your grant proposal in hand, you can look for appropriate funders. Develop a list of criteria so that you can find funders that fit with your proposal. You'll want to identify funders that are interested in your particular location, the program area in which you work (education, poverty, health), and funders willing to provide the amount of funds your project will need. Develop a broad list of potential funders and then winnow it down to those that best fit with your needs.

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Contacting and Cultivating Potential Funders for Your Grant Proposal

It is not wise to just start dropping proposals in the mail or filling out online grant applications. You will save a lot of time and error if you make a call, or email the foundation and speak to a program officer.

Briefly, explain your project and ask if it fits with the foundation's interests. This enquiry might lead to unexpected information or simply alert you that this particular foundation is not a good match for your grant proposal.

You might find out that the foundation's interests are worth thinking about for a future project and proposal.

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Packaging the Grant Proposal

Once you've determined that your proposal is a match for a particular funder, tailor your basic proposal to that funder's priorities.

Make sure you understand the funder's guidelines for grant proposals and that you follow them. Add a cover letter and any accompanying documents the funder requests. Make sure the proposal is accurate and easy-to-read.

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Responding to Acceptance or Rejection of Your Grant Proposal

If your grant proposal is accepted, take responsibility for the follow-up. Prompt follow-up will be crucial to your ongoing relationship with the funder.

Take care of the letter of agreement or contract ASAP. Have your board president or ED send a personal note of thanks. Schedule updates and reports. Develop a relationship that will endure.

If your grant proposal is rejected, respond graciously. Do contact the funder to ask if you might try to submit again with appropriate changes or if they might still be interested later in a different project. 

Never complain. Never call a board member. Don't become a pest. Don't burn this bridge. You may well need it later.