Grant Narrative Tips: The Ultimate 2024 List

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February 13, 2022

Last Updated:

January 29, 2024

So you’ve identified a project that you need funding for and you’ve found a potential funder. Now it’s time to work on writing your grant proposal. Most grantmakers will request a proposal narrative as the core focus of your overall proposal.

Some grantmakers will use an online grant application process with a series of guiding questions for your proposal while others will ask you to create a document of your own. No matter which type of method is used, most narratives will request similar information.

In this article, we will provide some information on what a grant narrative is along with grant narrative tips and keys to writing an effective proposal narrative.

10 Best Lessons from 10 Grant Writing Experts

What is a Grant Narrative?

A grant narrative is the core of your grant application. You may also see it referred to as the proposal narrative or project narrative depending on the funder. The narrative will help the grantmaker determine if your work deserves to be funded.

The grant narrative will typically cover the “meat” of your proposal, including:

  • purpose or objectives
  • significance or impact (why your is program important)
  • program description
  • timeline
  • projected outcomes

The budget may or may not be included in the narrative, but you will still have to reference it in relation to your project plan, timeline, and outcomes.

Think of the grant narrative as the story that you want to tell the grantmaker. Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning of your proposal narrative might incorporate background information on your organization or a detailed description of your project.

The middle of the narrative should get more specific with a proposed timeline and information on how you plan to actually complete the work. You should include more specifics about your audience or those you plan to serve as well as your objectives or goals for the project.

The end of your project narrative should discuss your anticipated outcomes as well as any potential challenges. The final part of the narrative also typically includes plans for sustainability. You can learn more about proposal narratives by checking out our blog post here.

What are the Keys to Effective Grant Narratives?

An effective grant narrative will provide the grantmaker with the details about your proposed work. You need to “sell” your organization and your project while also demonstrating that your staff and/or partners have the necessary qualifications to make good use of the funds.

Writing an effective grant narrative is a combination of multiple factors, so we have broken down a few key points to keep in mind below.

Know Your Project

Think through all the details of the project to make sure that you can describe them to the funder thoroughly. Typical sections within the grant narrative may include organization background, project plan, anticipated outcomes, and sustainability.

Within these sections, you will need to provide clear details so that the funder understands the work that you intend to complete with their funds.

Details should include the specific audience you plan to serve, the location(s) where your project will take place, qualifications of your staff and/or partner organizations related to your project, potential challenges you may face, and background information about your organization—especially why you are capable of completing your planned project. You will also need to describe the proposed timeline for your project within your project plan.

Keep in mind details like how you will recruit program participants or challenges such as transportation (if applicable to your project). Having a good grasp on all of the details will help you explain your project clearly to the grantmaker. They need to be able to understand exactly what their funds will support and see why your project is important.

Follow Funder Guidelines

You will need to make sure that you know the requirements of the funder and include all appropriate information in your proposal narrative. Many funders will provide information in their request for proposal (RFP) or within the grant application about what to include in the grant narrative.

Some proposal narratives will be built into an online application and will utilize guiding questions rather than a more traditional grant narrative structure. Regardless of the format, make sure that you provide all the necessary information.

Align Project Plan and Budget

Whether or not the budget is actually part of the proposal narrative, you need to make sure that your proposal narrative aligns with your budget. The most likely place where you will reference your budget is within the project plan section of the grant narrative.

You want the grantmaker to see that you understand all the details and aspects of your project and that you are consistent in your budget planning.

The Best Tips & Tricks for Making Grant Narratives Stand Out

Grantmakers will receive hundreds if not thousands of applications each year, so it is important to make your application stand out. The proposal narrative is your chance to do just that. Use these grant narrative tips and tricks to write a narrative that the grantmaker will remember.

Be Prepared

Being prepared is an important step in the overall grant writing process and particularly for writing an effective grant narrative. Gather necessary information before you begin writing, such as resumes for key staff and supporting documents or literature.

Being prepared also means understanding your project and all the funder requirements from the start. Spending time compiling all of the required information will make writing your grant narrative a more seamless and productive process.

Start at the End

Writing your anticipated outcomes/results, budget, and other details first can help you flesh out your proposed project. If you write the end of your proposal narrative to start, you can make sure that you truly understand your project and how the grantmaker can help you achieve your goals.

The details you include are a key part to your proposal narrative as the funder will want to make sure that you understand your project fully. If your project narrative does not show the funder that you have a solid project plan, then you are less likely to be awarded the grant.

Write to a Non-specialist 

Another important grant writing tip is to make sure that you explain things in enough detail so that someone unfamiliar with your nonprofit or your work can understand your plans. The funder may not be familiar with your organization or even the type of work that you do.

If you are writing a proposal for a grantmaker that you have worked with previously, it may still be reviewed by someone new, so be sure to explain things well and avoid jargon. You can also utilize references as a way to explain your proposed project and demonstrate the importance of your work.

For example, if you are seeking funds to support a nutrition program for children, you could cite sources that show how many children do not currently receive proper nutrition.

Find a Friend

Ask someone else within your organization to read the completed narrative. Getting another opinion will help you determine if the narrative reads well. You may even ask someone outside of your organization to review it as well. Receiving feedback from an outsider will help you pinpoint areas that may need more explanation.

You might also benefit from reading your proposal narrative aloud to someone else. By reading what you have written, you can better understand how well it flows and whether or not it is easily understood.

Share Your Passion

One grant narrative tip that will help your proposal narrative stand out is to share your passion. While it is important to make sure to follow all of the “rules”, it’s also important to tell your story in a compelling manner.

Grantmakers read many proposal narratives and they will appreciate it if you find a way to help them connect with your organization and your work. One good way to demonstrate your passion could be to incorporate a story about a person or group that you hope to serve through your project.

Explain the struggles or issues that your target audience faces and how your project will help them. Maybe you could even include a personal story about why you are involved with your organization and why you are passionate about its mission. Funders will relate to and remember a project narrative that pulls at their heart strings.

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Even More Helpful Tips for Writing Awesome Grant Narratives

We are providing a few more grant narrative tips to help you as you work on your proposal narrative.

Admit Weaknesses or Challenges

While your grant narrative or project narrative needs to highlight the strengths of your organization, it is also important to be honest. Funders will appreciate it if you are transparent about areas where your organization may not be as strong or faces potential challenges.

You can also use this transparency as an opportunity to discuss your partners. Perhaps you have chosen certain partners because they have a strength where you have a weakness.

Mentioning potential or planned partnerships within your narrative will also help you score points with the grantmaker. Most funders like to support partnerships because they see this as capacity building while simultaneously supporting your project. Partnerships also help grantmakers feel that they are getting more “bang for their buck” because they are supporting more than one organization with their funds.

Review Awarded Proposals

When available, review information on projects that have received funds from the grantmaker in the past. Some funders will provide access to previously approved projects and these are a great resource for writing effective narratives.

You may not be able to view the full proposal, but even a snapshot can provide insight into what the grantmaker is looking for.

You may also be able to find sample project narratives through a google search or other source. At a minimum, most grantmakers list organizations that they have funded and then you may be able to search that organization to learn more about their grant proposal.

Use your Contacts

If you know another organization that has been funded by the same grantmaker, reach out for advice. These contacts can help share insider information about the process, including grant narrative guidance.

You can also consult with other nonprofits who have written successful grant narratives to other funders. Grant narrative tips and advice can come from anyone who has written successful grant proposals, but the best advice will come from someone who has received funding from the same grantmaker to which you are applying.

Let the Writing Flow

While it is important to be prepared and understand the requirements before writing your grant narrative, when you finally go to write your first draft, you should just write. You hopefully will already have a good grasp on your project and once you start writing the information should flow easily.

You can always go back and work on editing, but letting the writing flow at first will keep you from getting caught up on each and every little fact or figure. Allowing your writing to flow will also help your narrative come across as a story and convey your passion for your work.

Additional Resources to Help with Your Grant Proposal Narratives

Here are a few additional resources if you still want more help writing an effective grant proposal narrative.

1. Grant Writing Courses

There are many grant writing course options available. You can learn more about some of these options through our ultimate list of resources here. You may find a full grant writing course helpful, but there are also training sessions that cover grant narratives specifically.

2. Instrumentl

Instrumentl provides nonprofits with tools to streamline the grant writing process. You can store your organization background and information about your project in your profile so they are easily accessible when writing a grant narrative. You can also view information about past awardees which can help you learn more about effective grant narratives.

Below is a screenshot of Instrumentl’s project details feature which can help you prepare your project details prior to writing your grant narrative. The feature walks you through different factors that are good to know for your project. Once this information is saved, you can use it for multiple grant narratives.

We have also included a screenshot of the past awards received feature which can help you identify other organizations and projects that have received funding from a particular grantmaker. Once you know which other organizations have been funded, you may be able to find their grant narrative as a reference.

3. Local or Regional Nonprofit Association

Your local or regional nonprofit association is always a good resource when it comes to grant writing. You can make connections with other nonprofits and reach out to them for grant narrative advice and tips. The association may also provide grant writing training. One example of a nonprofit association is the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits.

4. Grant Databases

Grant databases such as Foundation Directory, Grant Station, or Instrumentl can be good resources as well. These databases provide background information on funders and may have links to information on who they have previously funded. Some of these databases may also offer additional training or resources of their own relating to grant writing.

Wrapping Things Up: What to Remember About Grant Narratives

It is important to remember that grant narratives are the main body of your grant proposal. The narrative is your chance to describe your organization and your project while demonstrating to the funder that you are qualified to complete the proposed work. Your proposal narrative should follow all guidelines provided by the funder and be written to a non-specialist.

We have provided you with some grant narrative tips that will hopefully make the proposal narrative process easier. We have also provided a few additional resources that you may find useful if you are new to writing grant narratives. Keep in mind that Instrumentl has many additional grant writing resources and tips available to assist in all of your grant seeking efforts.

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