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Grant Writing Tips
As published previously in SchoolGrants Newsletter
Grant Writing Hints
of a Proposal
Letters of Inquiry
and Program Planning
Secrets of Successful Proposals
Ristine's Hints for Letters of Inquiry
As a funder who asks for letters such as you cite, here is
what we want regarding a budget.
First, remember that the goal of the letter is to sell the foundation on
taking your project to the next step in their funding process. The
focus of your letter is to talk about what you are trying to accomplish
and why. The reason we ask for a letter rather than some sort of
application form or a
full proposal is that 1) application forms are very poor media for telling
your story to educate and convince people of the importance of the
needs/situation you want to address and for your project in particular,
and 2) your letter, ideally, summarizes a full proposal that you have
written and that is available for you to use as reference if the letter
prompts us to go to the next step in our process.
Second, if your letter is telling a compelling story, then as we come to
the end of your letter, we (funders) are asking ourselves: "How much
is this going to cost?" Answering that question is the entire purpose
of your budget.
Again, since the letter is a summary of a full proposal, we are not
looking for details. I specifically look for 1) the total
amount/cost, 2) the broad brush look at where you plan to raise the money
(i.e., foundations, individual giving, government, investment of
organization reserves), and 3) how much are you asking of this foundation?
All of these are subject, of course, to a general review of common sense.
Third, depending upon the kind of project you are working with you may
also need to anticipate a foundation asking you, "How are you going
to support this effort in the long term?" For a capital project
this might mean defending how you will support the operating costs of a
new facility...especially if it is a larger facility. Sometimes, the
long term operating costs may be less that your current costs, say if you
are currently renting a lot of space that you can consolidate into your
If you are starting a new program, funders always want to know how you
plan to support the project after the term of their grant. Given all
the opportunities we have, we tend to favor projects that tie into some
identifiable funding stream. So often your need for grant money is not
only to cover the costs of direct services during a startup...but also for
those things that may be needed to develop an ongoing funding base. This
is critical to your budget planning. If you claim you will support a
new program through an expanded donor base that you will develop over the
two or three year startup...then you budget ought to have some specific
expenditures for building that donor base.
(Thanks, Ken, for permission to use your posted response
to a query on the GRANTS listserv! Your knowledge and sharing are
More on Letters of Inquiry
Many foundations require a letter of
inquiry before accepting full proposals from applicants. This allows
foundations to easily choose projects about which that they wish to learn
more. It saves schools the time it takes to complete a full proposal
that no one reads. But, what should you include in a letter of
Before submitting a letter of inquiry (or, certainly, a full proposal), be
sure your project meets the foundation's guidelines and initiatives.
If the foundation does not provide specific instructions for a letter of
inquiry, the following format has been recommended:
- Name and address of the legal grant recipient
- Contact person(s) and title(s). Include
telephone and fax numbers, as well as e-mail address!;
- A summary of your organization's mission;
- The size of this year's operating budget;
- A description of your proposed project. Make
sure this is closely related to the foundation's giving initiatives!!;
- A summary of your project goals, objectives, and
measurable outcomes. Again, these should be closely tied to the
- A list of the key individuals responsible for the
- If applicable, a list and brief description of
- The time frame for the proposed project;
- A brief description of funds requested and a
description of how they'll be used; and
- A statement regarding any prior funding you've
received from the foundation.
All of the above should be included in a
letter to the foundation that does not exceed 3 to 5 pages, plus any
required attachments. Required attachments typically include a
project budget, a year-to-date financial statement, and a copy of your IRS
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Your work has really only just begun after you write a
successful grant proposal and receive funding for your project! Managing a
grant can be a tedious process and as much time needs to go into an
effective management plan as went into the initial program planning prior
to writing your proposal.
Before you even write a proposal, you should do a self-evaluation of your
organization's capability to properly manage the grant. Is the staff going
to have the time and expertise to be effective grant managers? If the
answer to that question is "no", you may be better off in the
long run not applying for the funds.
An organized system of grants management should be in place that is
coordinated from the beginning of the project to the end. Effective grants
* continuously monitoring how well the project is meeting its goals and
* verifying that all expenditures of grant funds are allowable and
* completing required programmatic and fiscal reports on a timely basis;
* conducting a thorough project evaluation - including the distribution
and submission of any agreed upon reports;
* preparing for audit visits which the grantor may wish to conduct during
and/or after the project; and
* closing out the project according to the grantor's guidelines.
Remember: how well you manage your grant will shape your reputation and
may determine whether you receive future funding.
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Secrets of Successful Proposals
The March/April 2000 edition of Foundation
News and Commentary features The Inner Secrets of Successful
Proposals, an article written by Linda A. Long, a freelance writer.
The article gives tips on writing a successful proposal based on
information Ms Long gained through conversations with the funders
themselves. (The article is no longer available online.)
Following are some tips to keep in mind during the grant-writing process:
1. Research before beginning! Do not submit a proposal to any foundation
or funding agent without first verifying that your project fits within the
2. Read the grant guidelines! Many foundations have detailed guidelines
available to grant-writers. These guidelines are made available so that
proposals submitted to them will meet their funding initiatives.
Applications that carefully follow the published guidelines allow them to
easily determine if your project is one that matches their interests.
3. Be concise! Put yourself in the place of the foundation's proposal
reader. They receive and must review hundreds of proposals. The more
easily and quickly they can determine if your project meets their
objectives, the happier they are going to be.
4. Clarity is important! Keep in mind that acronyms and terms specific to
your profession may mean nothing - or may mean something different - to
the foundation. Write your proposal as if you are communicating with
someone who is not an educator and knows nothing about the field.
5. Proofreading is imperative! Have someone who was not involved in the
writing process proofread your proposal before it is submitted. Typos,
poor grammar, and other errors that are easy for a separate set of eyes to
recognize are easy to overlook in your own work. Submitting a proposal
with such errors, however, gives the impression that you either don't know
better or are willing to submit shoddy work.
6. Collaboration is vital! Foundations often prefer to fund projects that
have the greatest impact for the community and that are non-duplicative in
7. Realistic budgets are a must! Research your budget needs carefully
before submitting your proposal. Do not ask for more - or less - than you
feasibly need to ensure your project's success.
8. Don't forget the evaluation component! Your proposal should include
methods for evaluating the effectiveness of your project. Evaluation is a
necessary component of all projects - without it you will not know if your
project is progressing as it should.
9. Address project sustainability! Foundations and governmental agencies
want to know that, if your project is successful, it will be continued
even after their financial support has ended.
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Through the Eyes of the Grant Reviewer
What happens to your proposal after you submit it to the grantor? What kinds
of simple things can you do that will help make your proposal more
competitive? Take a look at these grant writing tips that were originally
published in the 7/15/2004 issue of
Newsletter to find out!
Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Many grantwriters do not thoroughly research the
priorities of the grant-making agency prior to writing their applications.
This is a formula for almost certain failure. Applications should be
specifically tailored to the foundation and requested projects should fall
well within its initiatives, priorities, and guidelines. Applying
for funds from an agency that does not support either your area of
interest or your geographical area is a waste of your time and the program
Do not overlook small corporations and businesses in your area when
seeking grant support. These companies often have an interest in
funding projects that support the community where their employees live.
Always keep your funder informed of your project's progress and impact.
Remember, they have made an investment in your program and it is your
obligation to let them know how their investment is faring.
Remember that proposal review is a subjective process. You should
always provide as much information in as clear and concise manner as
possible to help the reader understand your agency and your program.
Refrain from using acronyms common to your area of expertise. Many
readers are not going to be familiar with their meaning.
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