How To Write A Grant Proposal

Originally Published Apr. 21, 2014

Grants are generally given to non-profit organizations for programs and services that benefit the community or specific group of the general public. Most funding institutions don’t provide grants to individuals who will use the proceeds to start or develop a for-profit business. As with any rule, there are exceptions. But usually when an individual does secure a grant that assists his or her enterprise, it is typically for a very specific objective–such as developing products that improve the quality of healthcare–and not general operating purposes.

No matter if you are seeking government or private funding, a well-written grant proposal clearly states your objectives, sets forth a plan, and provides a realistic budget. The following tips will help you to write a winning grant proposal.

Make sure your mission and purpose fits closely with the funding entity’s mission and purpose. Don’t tailor what your business does to get the funding. Only apply for grants that look like they’re specifically written for you, your business.

Identifying state agencies, private foundations, and other organizations that give grants to individuals or small businesses requires considerable time, effort and research. For starters, look in your own backyard to find grant-makers that have previously funded projects or services for businesses like yours. Many state economic development agencies provide small business grants and other types of financial assistance.

Once you identify potential funders, determine how you intend to approach them. Make a personal contact and cultivate relationships by e-mail, telephone call, office visit and/or letter of inquiry. Many funding organizations now prefer that requests be submitted first in letter format before accepting a full proposal, according to The Foundation Center, a national resource service for grant-makers and grant-seekers.

Your grant proposal has to be prescriptive to what that funder is seeking. So, get to know potential grant-makers better by obtaining copies of their annual reports. Scrutinize their website. What buzz words do they use. You can even incorporate that funder’s colors into the fonts and graphics that you use in your grant proposal.

Most importantly, request a copy of the grant guidelines. Follow the requirements of the funding notice or application to the letter, advises Porter. Your guide for what to include or not to include in your document is the request for proposal (RFP) or grant application. Give the funder exactly what they ask for, no more and no less. If it says give us two to four pages that is what you will provide–not one page or four and a half pages.

In general, your proposal will start with an introduction, which includes the amount requested, followed by a description and brief history of your company and its products, services or programs. Your proposal should describe anticipated and immediate short-term and long-term results, proposed implementation, staff or key personnel, budget, methodology, benchmarks, and timetable.

A common mistake in writing a proposal is failing to distinguish between a goal and objective. To provide energy efficient appliances to homeowners helping to cut costs is a goal not an objective. A measurable objective will have a subject, an action, a location, a timeframe and a percentage.

Spell Out How You Intend to Spend the Money. Provide a budget that breaks how you would spend the grant money–line item by line item. Some reviewers look at the budget first to gauge applicants. People often are disqualified for providing an improper budget, says Porter. They usually get tripped up by either over estimating or underestimating their costs, he explains.

Consult a Professional Grant Writer but don’t be fooled by advertisements and promotions for granting writing. The American Association of Grant Professionals has a list of grant consultants on its site. Grant writers charge anywhere from $40 to $150 an hour.  Expect to pay from $1,000 to $3,000 for a grant proposal for private or foundation funding and $4,000 to $15,000 for a grant proposal for government funding, since such grant applications tend to be more intricate. Even if you don’t hire someone to write it, you should consider hiring someone to review it.