AN EFFECTIVE grant proposal must demonstrate that an organization has carefully planned a project. This article describes how to tackle this project and the parts of the proposal that you'll need to present.
If this is your first grant proposal, consider attending a grant-writing workshop before beginning your project. Next, schedule brainstorming sessions with everyone who'll be involved in the process. At these sessions, participants can identify statements of need and develop a clear, concise description of the proposed project. Also determine goals, time-tables, and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the project during these initial planning sessions.
Include industry partners from the community in the grant-planning process because letters of commitment can easily be obtained from those initially involved. The purpose of a letter of commitment is to express the institution's support of the project. This letter should convince reviewers of the grant application (the grantor) that the project will be successful. Include the project title, a brief summary of the project, and all partners and collaborators in the letter. Show your enthusiasm here!
Explore sources of grant funding early. Resources include the federal government, state and local agencies, and professional organizations.
A request for proposal (RFP), the primary source of information about each grant, provides an outline of criteria for development of the grant proposal. Consult it early and often to meet the requirements of the granting agency for the proposal. Generally, each grant proposal includes the following sections: cover letter and summary, statement of need, project objectives, project methods and design, evaluation, budget narrative, and proposal appendix.
Let's begin: Cover letters
Write a one-page cover letter on the applicant's letterhead. The letter includes a brief overview of the organization and its purposes and serves as an introduction to the proposal. A brief statement of the project's purposes and amount of funding requested are included. It's usually best to write this letter after all components of the grant proposal have been written. It should be signed by the highest official in the organization seeking the grant.
After the cover letter comes the abstract or proposal summary, which is usually no longer than three or four paragraphs. Develop the proposal summary after the proposal has been written, and include:
- a description of the applicant
- the definition of the problem
- a statement of objectives
- an outline of activities and procedures to accomplish the objectives
- a description of the evaluation design
- plans at the end of the grant
- a statement of the cost
- any other funding sources.
Statement of need
Provide information to the grant-funding agency or source about your organization. Most proposals will require your organization's statement of purpose and a description of its past and present operations. In the introduction to the grant proposal, include a brief history of the organization, the qualifications of the professional staff and board of directors, and a discussion about other funds that may be available for the grant project. Include a succinct résumé of each principal grant author.
Stating the problem and project objectives
The problem statement (or needs assessment) is a key element of any proposal; it provides a clear, concise picture of the problem(s) to be addressed. Some issues to document include the purpose of the proposal, project beneficiaries, the social and economic costs, and the nature of the problem.
The project objectives, or outcome statements, are specific activities designed to address identified problems. If the grant proposal is funded, the stated objectives will be used to evaluate progress and the project's overall effectiveness.
Presenting project methods and design
Once the outcome statements have been identified, be sure to walk the potential grantor through each step of the project. The methods and design section is the blueprint that will be used to solve the stated problems. Carefully review this segment to ensure that the activities proposed are realistic in terms of resources and designated timelines. Write a plan of action for each objective that delineates a sequence of justifiable activities, including the proposed staffing and timetable for each task. Highlight innovative features of the project in this section.
Evaluating the project
To assess a grant project, the proposal writer will need to perform both product and process evaluation. Product evaluation addresses whether or not the project achieved its objectives. Process evaluation addresses whether the project was conducted consistent with the stated plan of action and whether its activities were effective. For process evaluation, clearly describe common measures or "outputs" at each stage of the project. Federal grants typically require a detailed process evaluation to be reported quarterly and annually.
Preparing the budget narrative
You'll present the project budget to justify proposed expenses. After the financial plan has been prepared, write a budget section, beginning with a budget summary. Present each section of the budget in an outline format. The budget should include the cost of salaries for personnel, anticipated expenses for equipment purchases, and indirect costs and/or matching funds that may be required.
Adding an appendix
Lengthy documents mentioned in the narrative are best included in the appendix. Examples include letters of commitment, a list of previous funders, key staff biographies, annual reports, statistical data, maps, and diagrams or models.
Most likely, you'll develop several drafts of the proposal before the project is complete. The grant-writing team must be committed to meet its deadlines. When written properly, successful proposals look professional, are theoretically and methodologically sound, use positive terminology, are culturally sensitive, and present a justifiable budget that matches the project objectives.