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Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - 9:25am
posted by
Alex Gomory

Lead Editor of

It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager, a parent, a business owner, aspiring entrepreneur, or a nonprofit organization: money can be difficult to come by these days. Even in times of economic prosperity, many nonprofit organizations have to fight in order to maintain a steady flow of funding.

While most nonprofits find funding from a variety of sources, one of the staples of charitable support comes in the form of grants. Consequently, nonprofit professionals should be well versed in crafting and compiling well-written grant proposals.

Whether you’re appealing to the government, private organizations, individual investors, or charitable donation services, every grant proposal should include the following:

  • Cover letter 
  • Executive summary 
  • Information about your organization 
  • Description of your goals 
  • Proposed strategy for meeting those goals 
  • Method for evaluating your success 
  • A fully developed budget 
  • Appendix or attachments.

The cover letter, executive summary, and organization information (1/2 to 1 page each)

Like a job application or emailed resume, cover letters are essential to introducing your organization. If your introduction fails to convince a reader that the rest of your grant proposal is worth reading, then it probably won’t be read.

Spend time writing a great cover letter by addressing a specific person, quickly (but meaningfully) introducing your organization, and presenting a clear and concise summary of your grant proposal. Finish by getting your CEO, board members, or founders to sign your cover letter in order to immediately inform readers how important this proposal is to your organization.

While the cover letter introduces your grant proposal, the executive summary provides an immediate synopsis or abstract of what a reader can expect to see when reviewing the grant. Executive summaries can be anywhere from a few sentences long to a full page – but keep it concise and to the point. Don’t drag on, as everything contained in this “summary” will be found in more detail elsewhere in the proposal.

Finally, give a detailed explanation of who and what your organization is. Briefly describe its history, founders, board members, purpose, achievements, and aspirations.

Goals, strategy, and evaluation (1 page each)

Following the introductory components, you need to immediately begin convincing the grantmaker that you will make proper use of their funds. When describing your organization’s goals and planned projects, tell your reader how much money you’re requesting, what that money will be used for, and how it will be effectively used.

Think of the goals section as a "project description." Be thorough but to the point.

Next, include a detailed strategy of how you will reach your goals. Feel free to use graphs, charts, tables, timelines, and any other means to convey your thoughts in a clear and meaningful manner. In order to keep this strategy under one page, reference an appendix or "attachments" section that will come at the end of your grant proposal.

Finally, explain how you will evaluate your performance and success in meeting your needs with the grantmaker’s funds.

The detailed budget (1 page)

The next step in your grant proposal is to prove to your reader that you have a very comprehensive and carefully planned budget. To create a successful budget, make sure to include a detailed analysis of the following expenditures (where applicable):


  • Direct costs for the project
  • Equipment costs
  • Travel costs
  • Employee costs
  • Overhead costs.

Be sure to specify exactly how much of the grant money will go towards each, and where any additional funds will come from if they’re needed, like donations or other grants.

The Appendix

If you referenced any visuals – pictures, charts, tables, graphs, etc. – in your proposal, the appendix is where you would store them. The reason for this section is to separate large graphics from the meat of your copy, enabling your grant proposal’s individual sections to be succinct and to the point.

For more tips on writing a perfect grant proposal, the National Institutes of Health has an excellent podcast series that’s all about grants, grant writing, and grant proposal reviews.

After two years of writing for a widely-published real estate journal, Alex Gomory is now serving as the lead editor for, a website dedicated to both providing the public with information on the lending industry and a way to quickly compare loan quotes. Since graduating from Cal Poly Pomona, Alex has taken an interest in writing, web design, and SEO theory.


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Click here to read Sarah Ashlock's post, "Funding your nonprofit: Money’s out there if you know where to look".


This is a great article on how to write grants. It has given me more ideas and given me more information on how to write a grant. I am going to start writing a grant in the next year for a company I want to start and this has given me some more ideas and the correct way to format and write a grant or at least start one. I am going to go back to this and keep using it also you have links off this to help me more. Thank you for giving a great article on writing grants and I am going to use this a lot in the next year. Thank you!

Thank you for sharing your perspective on grant writing! I am a student pursuing a degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. I often think grant writing can be daunting. Having CEO, board members, and founders sign the cover letter to a grant is an imperative piece, because it shows the whole organization is wanting and aware of the grant. If the organization were to receive the grant it would appear the entire organization would be involved in using the money to its fullest capacity. I have learned that the engine to a nonprofit is a successful development department without good fundraisers the programs can’t run. Thank you for sharing, very insightful!

This past summer I had an internship with the Senior Institutional Grant Writer in a local organization. I helped draft several grants, and I know that all the different applications and processes can get boggled and confused. This is a really great guide to how each section should be addressed, and in the case of some foundations/corporations whose grant guidelines are incredibly vague, it's good to have a list of topics that should be covered.

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