How To Write A Winning Grant For Your Nonprofit: Step-by-Step Guide

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October 30, 2021

Last Updated:

December 13, 2023

Writing a compelling grant proposal is essential for securing funding for your nonprofit organization. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you craft an effective proposal:

  1. Create an Executive Summary: Summarize the key points of the proposal.
  2. Write a Problem Statement: Clearly define the issue your project addresses.
  3. State Your Goals and Objectives: Outline the specific goals and measurable objectives.
  4. Choose a Methodology: Describe the approach and activities to achieve your goals.
  5. Outline Your Budget and Financials: Provide detailed financial plans and budgets.
  6. Explain Evaluation and Outcome Measurement: Detail how you will measure the project's success.
  7. Conclusion and Call to Action: Restate your mission and the impact the funding will have on achieving it.

In this comprehensive, step-by-step guide, we will:

  • Explore and unravel the grant writing process
  • Provide expert insights on how to write grants for nonprofits that stand out
  • Provide you with all the resources you need to get you on your feet
Grant Proposal Template for Nonprofits (+5 Tips Included)

Getting Organized: What To Do Before You Begin Writing

You don’t start grant writing by sitting down and putting your fingers on the keyboard. It starts with carefully planning and organizing your approach to show what your nonprofit is all about and how it makes a difference.

Preparing Your Nonprofit

Being grant-ready means your organization is prepared to research, apply for, win, and manage nonprofit grant applications successfully. What you need is what we call an internal and external temperature check:

Internal Temperature Check

Do you have the following internally?

  1. Mission Statement: A clearly defined mission statement that aligns with the grant’s objectives.
  2. Board of Directors: An engaged Board of Directors who are committed to the organization’s mission.
  3. Legal Paperwork: All necessary legal paperwork associated with your tax-exempt status are in order, including your tax-exempt 501(c)3 letter, recent tax return (990 Form), DUNs number, EIN (Employer Identification Number), and any other document that is required by your potential funder.
  4. Financial Stability: Your organization has a stable financial history, financial tracking methods, and a clear financial plan.
  5. Programmatic Success: Evidence of programmatic success and impact in your community.
  6. Organizational Capacity: Your organization has the capacity to carry out the grant-funded project.

External Temperature Check

Have you done the necessary due diligence on the funder and general market you’re in? Do you have an idea behind why you want a grant?

  1. Funding Landscape: Understand who’s funding other organizations in your field. Are you a good match? Would the funders you’re pursuing empathize with your cause?
  2. Financial Match: Does the grant you’re applying for match your non-profit’s needs?
  3. Grant Guidelines: Have you thoroughly read and understand the grant guidelines provided by the funder?

Now, it’s time to figure out which grants are worth applying for.

Prioritizing Which Grants To Pursue

When you're looking for grants, it's important to decide which ones are most important to go after. This involves carefully evaluating each grant opportunity based on factors such as:

Alignment with Mission: The grant aligns with your organization's mission and goals.

Funder's Priorities: Your organization's programs and impact align with the funder's goals and priorities.

Eligibility Criteria: Carefully review the eligibility criteria of the grant to ensure your organization meets all the requirements.

Funding Availability: Consider the amount of funding available and whether it aligns with your project's scope and budget.

Application Deadline: Be mindful of the application deadline and set a realistic timeline for completing the proposal.

Considering all of these will guarantee that your organization and the grant are a good fit.

Related: To do more research, see our article on how to read a 990 form. Knowing how to review a funder’s 990 forms will give you a competitive edge when it comes to writing a winning grant.

The Grant Writing Process

Writing a grant involves a series of well-defined steps that will guide you from initial research to final submission. Writing a grant isn’t something you do in a day.

Some grants may take a few days, whereas federal grants can take months to prepare for.

Let’s look at each step.

1. Review Grant Details

First, carefully go through the grant details to make sure you understand what the funder expects, who is eligible, and the guidelines for submitting.

Make sure you pay attention to the purpose of the grant, how much funding it offers, when the application deadline is, and any specific requirements or preferences they have.

When you use Instrumentl to find grants, you’ll get relevant grant matches. From there, you’ll be able to quickly review the grant details.

So you don’t need dozens of tabs open to find grant details. Just go through the list.

Screenshot of Instrumentl grant matches

2. Send a Letter of Intent (LOI) (if required)

If the grant requires a letter of intent (LOI), draft a concise and compelling statement of interest. This brief document should highlight your organization's mission, qualifications, and the potential impact of your proposed project. The LOI is a key grant writing tactic that many grant managers use to win millions.

Related: Writing an effective LOI is more than drafting up a quick email. Watch our webinar on How to Write a Compelling LOI with Arnisha Johnson. Pair it with our Letter of Intent Template, so you don’t have to start from scratch.

3. Organize Your Team and Resources

Get your team together and gather all the information and data you need for your proposal. You might need financial statements, program evaluations, impact reports, and letters of support from community partners.

4. Create the Grant Proposal

Now, it's time to craft the heart of your application – the grant proposal. Be sure to address all of the required sections and provide clear, concise, and compelling content by adhering to the funder's specific guidelines and structure (if any).

You or your grant writer can also use our non-profit grant proposal templates to make sure your proposal stands out from the rest.

From a high level, however, your goal should be to craft a cohesive grant narrative that shows why you deserve the funding. The grant narrative is the story that carries through each section of the proposal.

For a detailed walkthrough of how to write a grant application, jump to the next section.

5. Leadership Review

Once you've completed a draft, submit it for review by your organization's leadership team. Seek feedback on the proposal's overall alignment with your mission, clarity and persuasiveness, and adherence to the funder's expectations.

6. Revise the Proposal Based on Feedback

Incorporate the feedback from your leadership review and make any necessary revisions to refine your proposal. Ensure it is well-organized, error-free, and effectively communicates your organization's potential impact.

7. Submit the Grant Proposal or Application

By the specified deadline, submit your grant proposal or application using the funder's preferred method.

Double-check all submission requirements and ensure you've included all necessary supporting documents.

8. Patiently wait for a Response

The grant review process can take time, so exercise patience and avoid contacting the funder for updates unless absolutely necessary. Understand that they are evaluating numerous applications and will notify you of their decision in due time.

9. Follow-Up and Communication

After the submission deadline, maintain open communication with the funder. You do not want to sound too desperate, but be sure to tell them again and again what their money will achieve and how many lives it will change. If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to them professionally and courteously.

10. Grant Management (if awarded)

If your proposal is successful and you receive funding, you'll enter the grant management phase. Here, you’ll be carefully managing the grant funds, adhering to the funder's reporting requirements, and ensuring the project's successful implementation.

For more guidance on how to manage grants effectively, leverage our checklist and how-to guide on managing grants in Instrumentl.

11. Evaluation and Reporting (if awarded)

Throughout the grant period, conduct regular evaluations to assess the project's progress and impact. Prepare grant reports for the funder, documenting your achievements and demonstrating the effective utilization of their grant.

12. Acknowledgment and Stewardship (if awarded)

Upon completion of the grant-funded project, express gratitude to the funder for their support and highlight the positive impact their funding has made. Acknowledge their contributions in public announcements, press releases, and other forms of communication.

Find Your Next Grant

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7 Steps To Writing A Grant That Will Win Funding For Your Nonprofit

Before diving into the details of each section of the grant proposal, it's essential to have a clear understanding of the components of a grant proposal.

Below, we’ll provide a roadmap for your application, ensuring you're covering all the sections.

While our headings are suitable for most situations, Holly Rustick, bestselling author and grant expert, advises to:

Look at the scoring criteria from the foundation, and then make those your primary headers in your proposals. Adapt accordingly, but make it crystal clear to the grant reviewer what part of the criteria you are writing for.

Step 1: Create an Executive Summary

The executive summary of the grant presents the problem you are trying to solve, the solution you are suggesting, and the impact you believe it will have.

The executive summary serves as the first impression of your grant proposal, so you have to make it count. This concise overview should capture the essence of your project and entice the funder to dig deeper.

Here are the Elements Your Compelling Executive Summary Must Not Miss

  • Clearly state the problem you're addressing and its impact.
  • Articulate your organization's mission and expertise in addressing this problem.
  • Describe your proposed solution and its potential impact.
  • Highlight your organization's track record of success and impact.
  • Conclude with a call to action requesting funding for your project.

Related: 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing an Executive Summary (and How to Fix Them)

Step 2: Write a Problem Statement

The problem statement's purpose is to describe the problem or challenge you want to solve. It should explain why it's important and how it affects the community.

It is your opportunity to paint a vivid picture of the need you're addressing, emphasizing its urgency and significance.

Related: How To Perfect Your Needs Statement [With Examples]

This section should convince the funder that the problem is worth solving and that your organization is the right team to do it.

Tips for Crafting a Compelling Problem Statement:

  • Provide concrete examples and data to illustrate the scope and impact of the problem.
  • Use storytelling techniques to engage the reader and evoke empathy.
  • Connect the problem to the funder's mission and priorities.
  • Demonstrate your organization's deep understanding of the problem and its root causes.

Step 3: State Your Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives are the cornerstones of your grant proposal writing, providing a clear roadmap for evaluating your project's success.

These statements should follow the S.M.A.R.T. model: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

They should contain clear and measurable objectives that define the project's goals and provide a framework for evaluating its success.

“You should not put a specific timeline in the first blank, as you may not know when a particular funding opportunity will be awarded. Try to stay away from months and go with quarters or years since funders typically fund in cycles of twelve months.” - Dr. Bev Browning

Learn more:
Connecting Smart Project Goals, SMART Objectives, and Grant Research Keywords with Dr. Bev Browning | Instrumentl

Why Do You Need Clear and Measurable Goals?

  • Goals and objectives provide direction and focus for your project.
  • They help you define and track progress toward success.
  • They demonstrate to the funder that you have a well-defined plan and are serious about achieving results.
Why Do You Need Clear and Measurable Goals?

Step 4: Choose A Methodology

Choose A Methodology

This section outlines your organization’s plan to solve said problem in more detail. Here, you showcase your organization's expertise and demonstrate how you intend to implement your project effectively.

Critical Elements of a Strong Methodology and Approach

Like in the image above, in this section, you should:

  • Provide a detailed description of your project's activities, timeline, and milestones.
  • Explain the rationale behind your chosen approach and how it aligns with your goals.
  • Use the SOAR methodology (strength, opportunities, aspirations, and results) to write this section.
  • Highlight your organization's experience and expertise in implementing similar projects.
  • Address potential challenges and outline mitigation strategies.

Step 5: Outline Your Budget and Financials

A well-structured grant budget is essential for demonstrating your program or project’s financial viability.

This section should provide a transparent breakdown of all project costs and revenue sources, justifying each expense and demonstrating financial viability.

Importance of a Transparent Budget:

  • A clear budget demonstrates financial responsibility and accountability.
  • It ensures that the funder has a realistic understanding of the project's costs.
  • It helps identify potential funding gaps and explore additional funding sources.

Develop a realistic budget that accounts for all necessary expenses, demonstrating a thoughtful and responsible approach.

Step 6: Explain Evaluation and Outcome Measurement

The grant evaluation is a clear outline of how you will measure the success of your project. Evaluation is crucial for assessing the effectiveness of your project and demonstrating its impact on the funder.

Key Elements of a Strong Evaluation Plan:

  • Clearly define the project's expected outcomes and metrics for success.
  • Identify the data needed to measure these outcomes and how you will collect it.
  • Establish a timeline for evaluation activities and reporting.
  • Demonstrate your organization's capacity to conduct rigorous evaluation.
Present a well-structured outline of your proposed action plan, including key milestones, activities, and expected outcomes.

Here is an example of how well-articulated expected outcomes and evaluation methods can sound.

Expected Outcome: Reduce the number of homeless youth in our community by 20% within two years.

Evaluation Method: Conduct a pre- and post-program survey of homeless youth to measure changes in their housing status, employment, and overall well-being.

Explain Evaluation and Outcome Measurement

Step 7: Conclusion and Call to Action

The conclusion provides the final opportunity to reiterate the importance of your project and make a compelling call to action. This is your chance to leave a lasting impression on the funder and encourage them to support your endeavor.

Key Elements of a Strong Conclusion and Call to Action:

  • Summarize the key points of your proposal and emphasize the potential impact of your project.
  • Reiterate your organization's commitment to addressing the problem and achieving the stated goals.
  • Issue a clear call to action, requesting the specific funding amount and outlining how it will be used.
  • Express gratitude for the funder's time and consideration.

Here is an example of a call to action:

Conclusion and Call to Action

Throughout the grant writing process, remember to

  • Tailor your proposal to the specific funder and their guidelines.
  • Use clear, concise, and persuasive language, and avoid jargon or overly technical terms.
  • Proofread carefully to ensure your proposal is error-free and presents a professional image of your organization.

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Submitting and Continuing to the Next Application

Submitting your grant proposal marks a significant milestone, but your work doesn't end there.

While you wait for the funder's decision, there are proactive steps you can take to increase your chances of success and prepare for the next application cycle.

1. Follow Up (Sparingly)

After submitting your grant proposal, it's always a good practice to send a polite thank-you email or letter to the funder. Express your gratitude for the opportunity to present your project, reiterate your enthusiasm for making a positive impact, and show them again that you understand their mission.

Remember to be patient and avoid sending excessive follow-ups, as this will come across as pushy or unprofessional.

2. Consider Alternative Funding Sources

While waiting for a response from one funder, don't put your hopes on hold. Continue researching and pursuing other grants that align with your organization's goals and mission.

3. Stay Informed About Funder Updates

Funding landscapes can change, so it's essential to stay informed about any updates to the funder's priorities, guidelines, or application processes.

Regularly check their website or sign up for their newsletter.

4. Keep Your Team and Leadership Informed

Throughout the nonprofit grant application process, maintain open communication with your organization's leadership and team. Provide regular updates on the status of your applications, share feedback from funders, and involve them in strategic decision-making.

This collaborative approach will foster a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for securing funding.

Wrapping Up: Writing Winning Grant Applications

This comprehensive resource provides a step-by-step guide to help you create winning grant proposals that stand out and improve your chances of success.

Remember, each grant application is an opportunity to make a strong case for your organization's potential to make a lasting difference in the communities you serve.

Increase your chances of applying for grants that perfectly align with your nonprofit by taking action today and utilizing Instrumentl for your search and application process.

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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