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Top 5 Tips for Successful Grant Proposals


Crowd-sourced from Foundation Center trainers, here are our top five tips for developing successful grant proposals:

Do your homework! Research, research, research.   

Conducting targeted research helps you find the right funders to partner with and support your organization's work. Sending the right proposal to the right funder is key to finding the match. Your interests must align!

Present a logical solution to a problem.

Think of your proposal as a story with a beginning (the problem or opportunity is the need statement), middle (the solution is your program), and end (the results are your outcomes). Time and time again, we hear funders say they get lost when reading proposals. The solution to the presented problem needs to make sense. Tell the reader right up front what you are going to do, who is going to benefit, and why they should care.

Convince the funder you know what you’re doing.  

The proposal should demonstrate that you have a clear understanding of the need in your community and a strong programmatic response. After reading your proposal, the funder should feel confident that your organization would be a responsible steward of their funds. Present a solid plan and highlight the skills and experience of your leaders.

Tell the same story in the budget and the proposal narrative.

Too many times proposal writers pour their blood, sweat, and tears into a beautifully crafted narrative, and the budget is an afterthought. Big mistake! The project budget is another opportunity to tell your story and demonstrate your credibility. Many funders tell us that the budget is often the first thing they look at. Everything in your budget should be reflected in the narrative. The last thing you want is a budget that raises more questions than it answers.

Remember that funders are people.

Pick up the phone and call (when appropriate) instead of relying solely on email. Foundation fundraising (like all fundraising) is about relationships. A real person will read your proposal, and foundation staff are often receptive to phone calls if they can help you submit a better proposal. It makes their job easier too!

We share more successful strategies in Foundation Center proposal writing training that are offered both in person and online. Here’s what’s coming up through the end of the year:

Unpack the Winning Proposal (webinar)

Join Caroline Herbert and Sarah Jo Neubauer online on Thursday, November 6, 2-3pm ET, for a closer look at sample funded proposals.

Proposal Writing Workshop (classroom)

Create a proposal outline and start drafting specific pieces of the proposal for peer review. Join:

  • Sarah Jo Neubauer in San Francisco on November 7; or
  • Kim Patton in Washington DC on December 11.

3-day Proposal Writing Boot Camp (classroom)

You can get even further in this three-day intensive. Start writing your proposal and submit it to our mock grantmaker review panel, the highlight of the Boot Camp. You’ll also learn about research and the budget (see tips 1 and 4). Join:

  • Kim Patton and Val Porter in Atlanta on November 12-14;
  • Leeanne M. G-Bowley in New York on December 8-10; or
  • Leeanne M. G-Bowley and Sarah Jo Neubauer in San Francisco on December 16-18.

What are YOUR top 5 tips for writing a fabulous proposal? Show & share your wisdom in the Comments area.

Caroline Herbert

Caroline Herbert

Sarah Jo Neubauer

Sarah Jo Neubauer

-- Caroline Herbert
Instructional Design Manager

CAROLINE HERBERT has been teaching courses in fundraising, grants research, proposal writing, and related topics since joining Foundation Center in 1998. As an instructional design manager, she is responsible for designing, implementing, and delivering the Center’s training programs online. Her focus is on creating optimal learning experiences for nonprofit professionals in the virtual environment. 

-- Sarah Jo Neubauer
Capacity and Leadership Development Manager

SARAH JO NEUBAUER is responsible for designing, managing, and delivering training programs to build the capacity of nonprofits in the Bay Area and throughout the Western United States. Her professional interests include research and instructional technology. She has been with Foundation Center since 2006.


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