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How to write a grant proposal for nonprofits (free template!)

Explore the benefits of grants, an overview of the application process, and some helpful tips on how to write a grant proposal.

Kylie Davis
December 29, 2023
June 22, 2022
Nerd Mr Butter

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Each year, hundreds of billions of dollars in grants are awarded to small businesses, nonprofits, and other entities to fund seemingly limitless endeavors. The right grant can make a significant difference to your ability to accomplish your mission, and they’re a lifeline when fundraising dollars just aren’t enough.

However, contrary to popular belief, a nonprofit grant is not simply “free money” to use as you wish. Typically, grants have stringent rules and guidelines for how funds can be used. And before you even gain access to the funds, you’ll need to write a proposal explaining why your organization is best suited to receive the grant.

Applying for a grant may take time, but it’s always worth it if it’s a good match for your mission, campaign, or goal. In this guide, we’ll share how to write a grant proposal and include some of our must-have tips to help yours stand out for funders.

What is a grant proposal?

A grant proposal is a request for funding that you submit to the grant-giving organization. Your proposal will be tailored to the grant giver’s specific rules and requirements, and the document should set out why your organization would benefit from the funding and how it’ll be used. Grant proposals often take the form of a written document, though you can also include other elements like presentation slides or printed booklets.  

The biggest advantage of a grant can be described in two words: breathing room. A grant awards money to your organization that you don’t have to scrape, fundraise, or otherwise campaign for.

Your grant funding can be used in a number of ways. The funding organization may set some restrictions, but here’s what it could potentially cover: 

  • General operating costs 🏢 Some grant funding agencies can provide much-needed contributions to keep your organization afloat. These types of grants become increasingly common following natural disasters or other emergencies (such as the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • Marketing and advertising 🎉 Many federal and government agency grants are designed to stimulate economic growth, and are suitable to help cover marketing and advertising costs.
  • Capital projects 🏗️ Unexpected large costs like a new roof can have a huge impact on your budget. These capital projects can often benefit from grant funding. 
  • New initiatives 🌏 A grant from a private foundation or funding organization can help launch new projects or programs to make a difference in your community.

⭐ Pro tip: Certain companies offer nontraditional grant programs to nonprofits. Look into Google Ad Grants and Microsoft Ad Grants to see if you can reach a wider audience with their offerings.

How to write a grant proposal for nonprofits: 9 steps to follow

Grants are a vital source of funding for nonprofit organizations, and it’s always worth applying for relevant grants when you see them. 

There are plenty of generous funding organizations out there, but competition for grant funding is still fierce. To make sure your charitable organization stands out you’ll need to craft an engaging proposal that shows the funder exactly why you’re the perfect grant recipient. 

Remember: Always refer to the grant giver’s instructions on what to submit as part of your proposal.

Writing a winning proposal is all about following a step-by-step process. Here’s how to write a grant proposal for nonprofit funds in 9 simple steps. 

1. Write a succinct cover letter ✔️

Every grant proposal should start with a cover letter, which should be short, sweet, and to the point. Make your cover letter no more than four paragraphs long, and use the space wisely.

Explain who you are, which funds you are requesting, and why you’re requesting them. This is your first chance to signal to the funding organization that you’re an ideal match, so make it easy for them to want to continue reading. 

2. Summarize your proposal 📝

After your cover letter, the next section should be a summary. This overviews your proposal and project description and offers you a chance to introduce the grant giver to what you’re proposing to do with the funds.

Your executive summary should highlight the key points of your proposal, and act as a guide to the reader on what to expect next. Include a table of contents so it’s easy for the funder to find what they’re looking for. 

3. State your case 📣

Next, introduce who you are and the nonprofit you work for. This section should give the reader an insight into the organization and mission they’d potentially be contributing funds towards.

Share your organization’s history, and introduce your Executive Director, board members, or other key stakeholders. Highlight your track record of using funds appropriately, and overall explain why you are the best fit for this program.

4. Write your statement of need 📄

After you’ve explained who you are, it’s time to turn your attention to why you’re asking for funding. Your problem statement, or statement of need, should outline exactly why you’re making this request.

In your statement, tell the funding organization all about the problem you’re trying to solve. Use facts, data, and letters of support to evidence this need. 

5. Explain your desired outcomes 🎉

The funding organization doesn’t just want to know what you’ll use the funds for—they want to know what success looks like. Share what you hope to achieve to help convince them you’re the right nonprofit for the job.

List your initiatives and project goals for the year ahead, with projections for the next few years as well, if it’s a long-term project. Highlight how this grant can help you make a bigger difference or create change faster. 

⭐ Pro tip: Nonprofit storytelling techniques like individual impact stories and visuals can help you demonstrate successes from past programs and support your case on a personal level.

6. Establish your project plan 💼

Part of the nonprofit grant writing process involves detailing how you would allot the funds if you’re awarded them. This means you’ll need to prepare a project plan, so the funding organization feels confident you can deliver.

Write from the perspective that the funding is secured, and outline exactly which activities or programs you’ll fund. Include project milestones, proposed launch dates, staff members, resources, and outcomes. 

7. Create a proposed project budget ⚖️

Now it’s time for one of the most crucial elements of any funding request—the proposal budget. Write a project budget that covers all your costs and requirements, so the grantmaker can see that you’ve done the research on the amount of funding you need and how you’ll spend it.

Calculate your project costs including materials, office or venue expenses, staff and consultant pay, and overhead. It’s also wise to set aside some extra funds in the event that material costs increase, your project runs overtime, or an unexpected hurdle reveals itself. 

⭐ Pro tip: Good budgets reiterate and bolster the key storylines of your grant narrative. Reorganize and reformat your budget to make clear to the funder how you spend your money and why.

8. Look ahead for long-term stability 🌲

An effective grant proposal shows how the funds will help accomplish your organization’s mission, not just now, but over the long term. Include a statement that shows that awarding a grant now helps secure the future of your nonprofit and the impact you make on your community.

Explain how you’ll use these funds not just to apply a Band-Aid, but to further your mission and create lasting change. Investing in staff training, a new building, or community resources are all ways to show that you’re serious about your long-term future. 

9. Review your proposal ✏️

Finally, take your grant proposal through a full review process before you submit it. This isn’t just about catching any awkward typos, but it’s a final chance to make sure your mission, goals, and passion shine through clearly.

Send your grant proposal to team members, an external editor, or a consultant to review. Ask them to read it thoroughly and point out any glaring mistakes, as well as any opportunities to make your proposal stronger. When you’ve heard all the feedback, implement the necessary changes then give your entire proposal one last read-through. You’re now ready to submit! 🎉

Download your grant proposal template

Use this nonprofit grant proposal template to guide you toward writing better grant requests.

Top do’s and don’ts of grant writing

Grant writing for nonprofits isn’t just about knowing what to include—it’s also about following some basic do’s and don’ts. 

Whether it’s your first time writing a proposal or you’re an experienced grant writer looking for fresh ideas, here are our must-have rules on how to write a successful grant proposal—starting with the DOs:

DO focus on building a relationship ✅ Try to make personal connections at the organization that is awarding the grant. Send an email or letter of inquiry (LOI) to introduce yourself, and play an active role in the process, balancing staying visible with respecting your contact’s time.

DO make your proposal reader-friendly ✅ Structure your grant proposal in a way that’s easy to read with skimmable content, plenty of white space, and succinct sentences. The best test for reader friendliness? Read your proposal out loud. You’ll immediately know where it’s clunky or needs improvement.

DO give yourself time to prepare your materials ✅ Every funder will have its own set of requirements and instructions. Especially for state and federal grants, treat all instructions as sacred and never deviate from them. If anything is unclear, reach out to the grantor for clarification.

Writing a great grant proposal isn’t just about knowing what to do, but about what not to do as well. Here’s what you should avoid when drafting a grant proposal request to funding organizations:

DON’T gloss over why you’re the organization for this task ❌ Make sure your grant proposal clearly states not just why your nonprofit is great in general, but specifically why it is the right organization to address the particular issue this grant addresses. Show how you’re unique and why nobody else can make the impact you can. 

DON’T overlook the funder’s priorities ❌ You’re passionate about what you do, but don’t let that affect how clear your proposal is. Review the grant documents to understand how applications are scored and what the funder cares most about, so you can submit a highly relevant and more successful application. 

DON’T lose sight of your mission, values, and goals ❌ Chasing dollars is tempting, but no grant or project should compromise your values or mission. Don’t seek funding for a program that doesn’t support your goals. 

Where to find nonprofit grant opportunities

Grant funding can introduce a much-needed injection of funds for a specific program or capital project, but how do you find grants in the first place? 

Regularly check these sources to help your organization secure grant funding:

  • Grants.gov: In the United States alone, there are more than 1,000 grant programs across 26 federal agencies, awarding more than $500 billion annually.
  • GrantWatch: For a database of new funding opportunities for nonprofits, GrantWatch is an invaluable resource. 
  • Google: Search engines can also help you find funding opportunities. Create an alert with specific parameters so you learn the second a new grant is announced.
  • Grant management firms: Different local firms are constantly awarding community grants to small businesses and nonprofits of all sizes.

Start writing your best grant proposal yet

A grant can help cover operating expenses, launch new programs, or fund a capital campaign—but first, you need to write a winning request. Use this guide to help craft a compelling grant proposal that demonstrates you’re the right organization to make a difference with those funds. 

As you explore new possibilities through grant proposal writing, don’t forget that there’s a whole world of fundraising opportunities out there. With Givebutter, you can diversify your funding sources through auctions, events, fundraising pages, and more. 

Sign up for free today and discover how Givebutter can help your cause build a more sustainable future.

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