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How to Write a Successful Non-Profit Proposal

Grant writing might be one of the basics but isn’t easy. There are a huge number of NGOs out there trying to get the same grant money. And you’ve often got to beat out the majority to get access to any of that cash. The truth is, for the vast majority of people the first grants won’t do very well. You see, it’s a skill much like any other. That means that you’ve got to practice.

And so, the very first piece of advice I’d like to give you right here is that even if you do write a grant and it does get rejected, don’t despair. Yes, your uncle Jimmy might have gotten a grant the first time around, but that probably means he was incredibly lucky. 

Things you'll need

  • For most of us, it takes a couple of rides on the merry go round before we’ve got it down. Got that? Then let’s move on to how to actually write these things.

Find the right grant

The first step is an obvious one and yet it is frequently forgotten (or done out of order) and that is to actually find the right grant to apply for. The reason that you want to do this first is that different grants have different expectations, from the length of the proposals they’re expecting to the many bits and bobs that you’ve got to include, they can require a completely different approach.

So it is important to know where you’re applying and what you need to do to apply there.

If you don’t know how to start with this part of it then ask. There are plenty of places where people are immensely helpful if you don’t come across as if you’re trying to get them to do all your work for you. 

Reddit and Quora are both good places to start. Just make sure than when you ask your question, you also include what you’ve already done and discovered. This will make it far more likely that people will help you out.

Alternatively, go ask at your local library. Often there will be people there who’ll be able to help you out. 


Do your homework

You’ll have a small number of grants that you’re interested in. The next step is to know everything about them. That means both reading their supporting documents as well as finding out what programs they’ve supported in the past, as that will give you an idea of what kinds of things they’re interested in.

From there, start gathering together all the pieces that you’ll need to make a convincing case. That means giving them the right numbers. Building an effective business plan and doing whatever else you’ll need to make sure that there isn’t some major part or piece of the puzzle missing. 


Put together the plan

Now it’s time to put together a plan. What do you need to do? Who is in the best position to do it? How can the work be shared out so that one person does not become overloaded?

This is also where you start thinking about your letter of intent. This is quite a common document across grants. It’s basically a short summary of what you’re planning, why you’re planning it and why it’s a way better idea than everybody else’s idea. You send it first and if they like it then you’ll be asked to submit the full proposal. 


The structure of the letter

Like every great letter, your page will have to start with a hook. This is the first paragraph and you need to catch your reader. This can be by posting a problem that most people aren’t aware of and offering a solution. It can be by turning a commonly conceived idea on its head or it can be anything else that will tug the heartstrings or interest people. What it cannot be is boring.

You need to include what you’ll need. This is where the grant givers get to see what you’re going to be doing with the money they supply. You’ll also need to explain how your model will work and what you’re hoping to achieve. 

Don’t forget to write about your company and the people that are working there, so that the organization knows that you’ve got the experience, skills, and knowhow to actually pull the plan that you’ve outlined off.

And finally, please forget your contact details!

The letter of intent has to be perfect. It’s the first document that people will read and if they’re not convinced by it, the rest won’t matter. So have one person write it, another person edit it and even get professionals involved (I’ve been satisfied with 


The whole proposal

If they invite you to submit your whole proposal then the letter of intent that you’ve written is a fantastic guideline for you to use to create the whole thing. Basically, just move through and expand everything you’ve written about until it’s been well and truly explored.

Make sure that you answer the questions that people ask. Also, make sure that you use simple language. Don’t try to sound more intelligent than you are in an attempt to hoodwink your audience (because often that will make you sound stupid instead). Focus on clarity above all. 


Don’t miss the deadline

Don’t. Really, truly, don’t. There are a lot of organizations that will dismiss your proposal out of hand if it’s too late. After all, they’ve got enough stuff to work their way through (your proposal won’t be the only one) and so, if they have a good reason to be able to reduce that workload, you can bet they’ll take it!

Deadlines are sacred. Meet them. Preferably by at least a day, so that if something goes horribly wrong (The printer doesn’t work, the internet goes down, there is a power outage) you’ll still have time to fix the problem.

Further information

The good news is that even if they do turn down your proposal, you’re free to take whatever bits that were really great from the last proposal and use them on the new one. There is nobody that’s going to scold you for re-using texts, images or idea.

That means that above all the first one is going to be the hardest. After that, as you realize what problems you’ve got to fix, it will get easier and your proposals will continually get better. Doesn’t that fill you with hope and confidence? So go on, get out there, get on the grant writing train.

For sooner or later you will be successful and – even better – you’ll get better at it besides, which is something that nobody can take away from you.  


Page last edited Jul 25, 2017 History

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