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Though often the focus, it is critical to note that the proposal is just one part of a larger grantseeking process that involves careful program planning, foundation research, relationship building, and stewardship. However, a preliminary letter of inquiry or more formal proposal are often the only opportunity you will have to begin communicating with a foundation.
- Grantseeking Process
- Letter of Inquiry Elements
- Proposal Elements
- Helpful Hints
- Helpful Links for Proposal Writing
- Program and budget planning - careful planning, including well thought out goals, objectives, and a reasonable and well developed budget, is a critical step towards clearly communicating a grantseeker's project or program to a funder.
- Grantmaker research - on the internet, in the community, and at the GIFT Center, there are many tools available, such as the Foundation Directory, that help narrow down a field of over 92,000 grantmakers to a 'short list' of possible matches for a specific UA program.
- Proposal writing - in charitable grantseeking, there are almost as many different grant proposal/application guidelines as there are funders. Successful grantseekers review each funder's guidelines, carefully follow their directions, and ALWAYS submit proposals before the deadline.
- Responsible program management and implementation - simply put, grantseekers are obligated to use private grant funding in the manner that was proposed. Best practices include: maintaining program and financial records, submitting reports as agreed, and communicating unforeseen challenges with funders (along with triumphs!).
- Stewardship - applying for and receiving a grant is just the beginning. Successful grantseekers ensure that a grant is appropriately acknowledged and that the grantmaker hears its investment made an impact. Depending on guidelines and requirements, this can happen through a formal reporting process or a more personal level of communication, or both.
Proposals range in complexity and detail from 2-3 page inquiry or proposal letters through 25+ page narratives with multiple attachments. Typically, grantmakers do provide some guidance regarding their preferences, from coversheet forms and online applications, through detailed proposal guidelines. The basic rule of thumb is that grantseekers closely follow funder guidelines, application process, and proposal requirements-except in rare cases where such guidance is not available. Funder guidelines, requirements, and instructions are your roadmap and many times the required questions shape your initial proposal outline. For the most part, creating a proposal is simply a matter of following directions.
Though the proposal itself will vary depending on the individual funder's guidelines, there are common characteristics and required content. In all cases, thoughtful advanced program and budget planning contribute to stronger and more convincing proposals and make the process much easier. If you dedicate time to careful planning and research work, the proposal will nearly write itself. GIFT Center staff members are available to support priority projects during proposal preparation.
Letter of Inquiry Elements
Before considering a full proposal, many funders like to see a brief pre-proposal or letter of inquiry or intent (LOI). Often your first contact with a grantmaker is through this LOI, a succinct 2-3 page description of the work you want to accomplish with your project. An LOI is frequently the first step in approaching a funder and is a helpful tool for introducing your work to a prospective funder who may not have formal application guidelines. The letter includes similar information contained in a full proposal, condensed to the most essential information. Our office developed a model letter of inquiry that also offers important hints to remember as you compose your letter.
An LOI is typically made up of:
- Introductory paragraph - including a single sentence description of what you want to accomplish and the amount you will request. Also demonstrate in this paragraph, or early on in your letter, why the grantmaker would have an interest in your program and how it fits the grantmaker's priorities.
- Organizational information - brief summary of institutional, college, and department/program mission statements and qualifications.
- Need or problem statement - a glimpse at the available research and data supporting the need for your program. Tap into the reader's intellect and emotions.
- Two-three paragraph program description - how you will address the need, including an overview of your measurable goals and objectives, activities, and total program budget.
- Closing - gracious statement positively expressing your appreciation for their consideration and your hopes to share further program details through further conversation or a full proposal. The GIFT Center can assist in determining who is most appropriate for signing the letter.
After the appropriate program and budget planning and before diving into your proposal writing, thoroughly review the funder's guidelines and instructions – read them again – read them once more and continue referring back to them throughout the proposal process. The content and order of your proposal will vary depending on the grantmaker's guidelines. Use the headings and outline provided in their guidelines. Using grantmaker guidelines as an outline also makes it easy for reviewers to determine that their questions are addressed.
Though guidelines do widely vary, most grantmakers are looking for a similar set of information and ask that you describe your project or program using the following program essentials:
- Executive summary - this section must be able to stand alone and is one of the two most important proposal elements (summary and budget). Answer the following: Who (include formal name of requesting organization) wants to do what? How much ($) are you requesting? How long will it take? Why is it important? How is this connected to the grantmaker's priorities?
- Organizational information - address history, mission, and accomplishments. Why is the University best qualified to implement this program? This section commonly causes confusion, considering the vastness of our institution and the wide variety of pieces and parts. Grantmakers most often want to know most about the organizational unit closest to the proposed project, usually your department or college. However, with allowable space, it is best to address organizational information relating to the UA Foundation and UA along with your unit information. Our office can provide appropriate language and advice in developing this section of the proposal.
- Need or problem statement - private grantmakers characteristically want to make a difference in the world and are most interested in programs that have a direct community impact. Consider impact when crafting your need statement: What is the community condition that you are addressing and what will improve as a result of your work? Emphasize who will benefit and the public good that you will achieve.
- Program description - this will comprise the bulk of your proposal. Address the specific activities, people, participants, and facilities involved with your project. Also include any work and accomplishments that have already taken place and the timeframe involved in your project, even if it is ongoing. Make sure and highlight anything that is unique and innovative about your approach along with any partners that are involved.
- Goals and objectives - state the larger overall goal of your project and then support that goal with specific and measurable objectives that will help you achieve this goal. Bullet this section to help show a logical progression. Most importantly, express your objectives in a manner that is measurable, whether quantitatively or qualitatively. Provide the number of participants in your program and use percentages to express change.
- Evaluation - how will you measure the success of your program? What data and tools will you use? Ensure that your evaluation plan specifically addresses your goals and objectives.
- Dissemination - how will you share your discoveries and/or accomplishments? Decide what target audience you will share with: peers, peer institutions, legislation, educators, the general public, etc. If appropriate, include a plan for crediting the funder in your dissemination.
- Impact - though often addressed in sections above, it is critical that a clear impact statement is included somewhere in your proposal. Make sure that you answer these basic questions:
- What social, educational, or research question or problem will you address?
- What will change as a result of your work?
- How much will it change?
- How will you know?
- Who will benefit from your program?
- Sustainability - how will your program continue beyond the grant funding that you are requesting? What other resources are currently committed to your work?
- Budget - this is a financial expression of your narrative. Include all expenses associated with your program, work with your business office, and include any other resources committed to the program (including in-kind), along with your plans for seeking other resources. It is also important that you present a financial picture of the entire project, not just the dollars you are requesting. Find more detailed budget information here.
- Ask for the $ - in the first paragraph. The grantmaker knows why you are contacting them, don't be shy, come right out with it; they will appreciate knowing from the start.
- Write to a real person - Always address correspondence, such as letters of inquiry, to a particular person except in the rare occasion where a person cannot be identified, as in some online applications.
- Address grantmaker priorities - without overdoing so, use their own language to demonstrate your common priorities.
- Avoid jargon and the overuse of acronyms - use language that conveys your program to a perceptive and well-educated audience members who are usually not experts in your field.
- Use active and persuasive language - make your case, positively demonstrating the work you will do. For instance, use "will" instead of "would."
- Incorporate bullets, tables, and white space in your proposal when possible - reviewers are often reading a sizeable stack of proposals; highlight important points with bullets and offer visual breaks within your text.
- Tap into the grantmaker's emotions - without overdoing so; it is okay to pull a heart string or two with private grantmakers. If available, use personal stories about the participants and/or beneficiaries of your program. Add participant quotes and/or photos if appropriate with the goal of showing program impact.
- Answer the grantmaker's questions - use data and best practice information to additionally address logic and intellect.
- Avoid involving institutional budget cuts in your need statement - sell the grantmaker on the importance, innovation, and impact of your efforts. Winning proposals present strong programs with appropriate resources for success.
- Second opinion - always have a colleague or coworker review your proposal, preferably someone not familiar with the project. Time permitting, for priority projects, GIFT Center staff will provide feedback on proposal drafts.
Helpful Links for Proposal Writing
Full Proposal > Components - Non-profit Guides' completely comprehensive anatomy of a proposal.
Corporation for Public Broadcasting - excellent grant proposal writing tips.
Minnesota Council of Foundations - another excellent and comprehensive guide to "Writing a Successful Grant Proposal."
Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal - handy guide compiled by S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D., Michigan State University.
The Grantsmanship Center - a particularly informative collection of articles related to proposal writing and grantseeking.
Grantseeker's Checklist - concisely reiterates many important tips and ideas for successful grantseeking.
Arizona Grantmaker's Forum - provides the Arizona Common Grant Application accepted by some grantmakers in this state to streamline the grantseeking process.