Grant Proposal Template for Nonprofits (+5 Tips Included)


Why is this template useful?

In this article, we will take you through the basics of developing a compelling grant proposal and provide you with a comprehensive grant proposal template for nonprofits that will help prepare you for any opportunity that your organization comes across.

Who is this template for?

This template is for all nonprofit organizations.

What are the main sections covered in this template?

Grant proposal template you can use and adjust according to your nonprofit's needs. Edit the template to reflect your organization's branding (e.g. colors, fonts).

A well-crafted grant proposal is vital. 

Nonprofit organizations rely on funding awarded through grantmaking entities—making a compelling grant proposal a powerful tool for diversifying revenue. 

In the following article, we will take you through the basics of developing a compelling grant proposal, guiding you through each of the key elements and providing you with a comprehensive grant proposal template for nonprofits that will help prepare you for any opportunity that your organization comes across. 

Let’s dive in!

What is a Grant Proposal and its Key Components?

So let’s start with the basics. What is a grant proposal? 

A grant proposal is a request for support on behalf of your entire organization or for a specific project or program made to a grantmaking entity. In the proposal document, you are required to justify why your organization or project should be given a grant and if awarded how those funds will be used. 

Typically grant proposals are written documents but the required format and components depend on the needs and directions outlined by the grantmaker. 

Sometimes nonprofits will have the opportunity for flexibility and can create their own outline and include whatever information they feel is appropriate for the grantmaker to know. More frequently, grantmakers will provide an online application or form with specific questions, directions, and requests for supporting documentation. 

Take a look at the requirements for an application to the New York Community Trust for an example.

Since most grantmaking organizations typically provide strict guidelines or questions to adhere to when submitting a proposal, the components of a proposal can vary depending on the specific opportunity. However, there are common key features of grant proposals that are almost always required. 

For most grant proposals, grantmakers will expect that organizations provide the following: 

  • Executive Summary or Introduction
  • Mission Statement
  • Organization Background 
  • Proposal Summary 
  • Outcomes and Goals 
  • Budget Narrative

Through these components a nonprofit will provide important context about the organization’s history, mission, vision, and values; information about the proposed program or project; key metrics and outcomes that will be tracked to prove the efficacy of the project; and a budget narrative. 

We will break down each of these areas in greater detail further along in the article.. 

Types of Grant Proposals

While most grant proposals generally follow similar formats and require similar information, this can vary depending on the needs and requirements of the grantmaker as well as the type of grant request. 

Some grants may require more information, different information, or even less specific information depending on what type of proposal you are submitting. 

Let’s take a moment to review the different types of grants you will come across when researching new opportunities.  

1. Program or Project Grants

The most common type of grant proposal is a program or project grant. In a program grant, the funding is requested for a specific program or project with funds being used to increase the capacity of an existing program or support to begin an entirely new initiative. 

A program or project grant, for example, could fund an after school childcare program at a nonprofit center for families. However, this award would not extend to other areas or functions of the organization, such as unrelated classes or administrative and overhead costs. Program or project proposals are requests for restricted funding, meaning that the funds awarded can only be used for the purpose articulated in the grant proposal. 

2. General Operating Grants

Unlike program and project grants, general operating grants are unrestricted. Nonprofits rely on the support of general operating grants to provide flexible funding that can support day to day operations including administrative costs. 

While the majority of grants available are typically restricted, more and more grantmakers are making general operating requests available recognizing that flexibility of funding makes it easier to meet community needs. 

Foundations have become increasingly aware that many nonprofits, especially smaller, hyper-local nonprofits, led by marginalized communities and individuals, do not have the capacity to compete for restricted funding to sustain their operations. The flexibility that comes with general operating grants lets nonprofits use funds as they see fit and answer the needs of the populations they serve without limitation. 

3. Capital Grants

Maintaining capital and facilities is challenging to incorporate into a nonprofit organization’s budget. Due to the fact that nonprofit organization’s rely on donations, grants, and public subsidies that are allocated for specific purposes, it is not feasible to set aside large amounts of revenue for capital improvements or construction. 

That is why many organizations rely on capital grants for this specific purpose. 

Capital grants award large sums of money to organizations undergoing major capital projects. This can include building a new facility, purchasing new land or equipment, or even renovating old buildings or facilities the organization already owns. 

Due to the scope of these types of projects, they typically require multiple sources of funding to complete. Many capital grants require nonprofits to match a certain percentage or amount of the total capital project cost through grants, donations, or investments from other sources. 

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The Ultimate Grant Proposal Template 

Now that you have a basic understanding of what a grant proposal is and its key elements, it is time to dive into Instrumentl’s comprehensive grant proposal template. 

Before you begin, remember that this guide is an open ended template based on what is commonly required for most grant applications and proposals. Be sure to thoroughly review a foundation’s proposal requirements before submitting as they may have specific areas that are not present in the template we have provided. 

Follow this handy guide and you will be well on your way to writing an engaging, compelling proposal for your nonprofit organization. 

1. Executive Summary (Introduction)

A strong grant proposal should begin with an executive summary—a high level summary of the key components of your grant proposal. 

The executive summary should grab the reader’s attention and succinctly explain why your proposed project is worthy of funding. While it seems like it might be an easy segment of the proposal to complete, it can oftentimes be the most challenging. 

Grant proposals are complex and include several details and minutiae that can be difficult to summarize in a way that is engaging. Since this will be the lead into your proposal, be sure to set aside enough time to craft an executive summary that will capture the essence of your project and grab the reader’s attention. 

Executive summary length can vary depending on the purpose and detail required of the proposal. Typically, executive summaries won’t exceed one page. 

2. Organization Mission Statement and Background 

The second section of your proposal should be the organization mission statement and summary of the organization’s background. 

This may be a funder’s first interaction with your nonprofit and you will need to set the stage and provide important context before jumping right into the specifics of your initiative. 

Take a look at how Chicago based nonprofit Brave Space Alliance crafted their mission, organizational overview, and history for their annual report for guidance on how to approach this section of the grant proposal. 

3. Statement of Need

One of the most vital components of any grant proposal is a compelling statement of need. 

A statement of need articulates why your project is essential and how it is addressing a specific need in your community, region, nation, or the world. An effective statement of need will highlight the urgency of the issue your project is addressing. 

For example, say you are applying to a grant for a case management program for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. A successful statement of need will explain to the reader why people experiencing homelessness need case management and why the need is great. 

Completing outside research is a great way to help craft a compelling needs statement. Pulling in studies or community data about the issue your project is addressing will undergird the urgency of the problem and highlight why your project is needed to alleviate it. 

Establishing a clear, urgent need will help make a strong case for your proposal. Review this article for guidance on how to write a successful statement of need. 

4. Project Description 

The project description is the heart of your grant proposal! 

This is the section where you can dive into the specifics of your project or program. The previous sections should act as a lead up to this area of the proposal, with the project description filling in the gaps and building out the foundation you built in the executive summary.

Your project description will include an overview of what the project is, when the project will occur including a detailed timeline, and an outline of the actions or activities staff will engage in throughout the course of the project. 

You should also include goals for the project and what you intend to accomplish. Many grantmakers recommend using SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. You can learn more about SMART goals here to help guide you through the project description and create goals that will galvanize grantmakers.

5. Outcomes and Outputs 

Grantmakers will be especially interested in how your project will make an impact and will want to know how you will illustrate that impact throughout the project. That is why it is essential to include a set of projected outcomes and outputs in your grant proposal. 

In your project description you will have already established what your goals are for the proposal. With your objectives already set you can take it one step further by proposing outcomes or outputs to demonstrate the efficacy of your work. 

So what are outcomes and outputs?

Outputs represent the activities your organization is engaged in. This is the quantitative results your project is attempting to achieve, such as “# of meals served by a food bank” or the “% of households provided with services”. 

Outcomes are the effect or change that result from the actions taken by a nonprofit organization. These are qualitative indicators showing observable changes that result from a project’s activities. An example of an outcome would be “participants will improve their overall health and wellbeing.”

Many grant opportunities that your nonprofit will come across will require your organization to track a certain set of outcomes and outputs developed by the grantmaker. 

Even if the organization does not ask for specific outputs or outcomes it is good practice to provide them in your proposal. This shows funders that you are tracking and measuring your activities and collecting evidence on the effectiveness of your project.

6. Project Budget 

It is expected that funding requests will include detailed information on how the dollars will be spent. To meet this requirement, grant proposals should include a project budget. 

The information required for a grant proposal budget varies depending on the needs and directions prepared by the funder. Some grantmakers do not provide any guidelines and will accept a very brief budget spreadsheet with little detail, while some funders will provide a premade template for nonprofits to fill out in addition to requesting a budget narrative

Even if a funder does not ask for specific financial information it is important to have a project budget and narrative prepared. You should be prepared to include an attached spreadsheet or a table embedded in the proposal with a list of expenses where funds from the grant will be allocated. This could include line items such as staff salaries and benefits, supplies and equipment, or contracts. This will vary based on the needs of your program. 

You will also want to include your other sources of program revenue. Many funders are concerned about the sustainability of a program or project. By showing other sources of revenue in your budget document, you are demonstrating your project’s long term sustainability through an existing network of support. 

These are just a few key components of a successful grant proposal that you should be prepared to include when you begin to apply. For more insight on how to approach your next grant proposal, check out these tips and tricks for strong grant proposals.

Where to Find Other Grant Proposal Templates

Not all grant proposals are the same. While a template is immensely helpful for getting you started, it is important to remain flexible and craft each proposal to meet the needs of the specific opportunity and funder you are applying to. 

While our comprehensive grant proposal template for nonprofits may not work for every grant, there are several other resources across the web you can check out to help guide you and create a successful proposal. 

Instrumentl has a collection of comprehensive blog articles that provide templates and other detailed step by step guides that can help you develop a compelling and successful grant proposal. You can even find articles that will provide a detailed breakdown on every individual proposal features (budget, executive summary, narrative, etc.). 

Final Tips to Write The Best Grant Proposal

You now have all the tools and resources you need to get started on writing an effective grant proposal. 

But wait just one second! Before you get started, here are some final tips to keep at the top of your mind when you get started writing your grant proposal. 

1. Do Your Research 

Never forget to do your research!

Do not just jump at the chance to submit a proposal to the first opportunity you come across. You want to make sure that your organization and project are perfectly aligned with the opportunity before getting started on the proposal. 

This means you will need to be prepared to undergo extensive prospect research to ensure you are applying for appropriate grant opportunities. Try a 14-day trial with Instrumentl to utilize the platform’s smart matching tool to optimize your approach to prospect research. 

2. Tell an Engaging Story

When it comes to developing an effective grant proposal, narrative is key.  

Every nonprofit organization, project, program, or initiative has a compelling story attached to it, whether that is in the impact being made on the lives of participants or the story of its founding. A great story can help pull your reader in and make them feel like they are part of something monumental! 

3. Focus on the Solutions 

The work of nonprofit organizations can sometimes be dire. Nonprofits fill critical gaps to address the pressing issues of our day. Many nonprofits work with vulnerable or marginalized populations and as such it is important to talk about the issues these communities are facing. 

It can be challenging to turn focus away from the challenges communities are facing, especially when those problems are grave. The point of your nonprofit and your proposed project should be to find a solution to the problems your participants face, and solutions are what your proposal should be firmly centered on. 

Lean on the positive impact your project will make, or if this is an existing project or program, share stories of your participants and community to demonstrate effectiveness and strengthen your request. 

4. Know Your Audience

There is nothing more important than knowing exactly who your audience is when you start writing your grant proposal. 

When you begin developing your proposal, start by thinking about who the funder is and what is the best approach for communicating with them.

Do you know exactly who from the organization will be reviewing the proposal? Are the reviewers persons who have experience with your work? Does this funder need additional context and information to fully understand what this project is? These are questions that will come up when you consider who your grant proposal audience is. 

Take time to learn about the funder. Many foundations will provide you with detailed information about their board of directors or profiles on their program officers. Learn about these key people and consider what they may bring to the review as an individual in addition to what you already know about the organization’s broader priorities, values, and objectives.  

Knowing the grantmaking organization inside and out will help prepare you to write the most effective proposal possible. 

5. Be Concise 

Engaging your reader is key with a grant proposal, which means you will want to be concise. 

While funders will want to know the details of how their dollars may possibly be spent that does not mean that you should take them through the minutiae of the project. Consider if the information you are sharing in your proposal is relevant to the grantmaker. 

Too much text and your reader may get confused, bored, or hung up on certain specifics and details that may not even be necessary for them to know in the first place. 

Wrapping Up: Grant Proposal Template for Nonprofits

With the grant proposal template and supplementary resources in this article you are well on your way to preparing a successful proposal. 

Instrumentl can provide you with the tools, support, and resources you need to identify grant opportunities that align with your nonprofit organization. Sign up for a 14-day free trial to take advantage of Instrumentl’s features. 

Apply what you have learned in this article and start implementing it at your own nonprofit today! 

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