Apply for grants

Three children hold hands as they walk along a path in a well-manicured park surrounded by trees.
Image credit Christopher T. Martin

Writing a grant proposal can be an intimidating process. While all funders have their own requirements, most proposals stick to a general format, outlined below. Be sure to follow the format the funder requests exactly, answering all questions clearly and specifically.

It is important to remember that most grants receive many more applications than can be funded. Be sure you meet the guidelines of the grant you are seeking. And do everything you can to make sure that if you are not funded it is for reasons you cannot control—not because you misspelled the name of the funder!

Tips to remember when writing proposals:

1. Design your project well

  • Clearly describe your project and your plan. Know what you want to accomplish, who will benefit, and the specific tasks involved. Provide a timetable and a budget.
  • Be realistic. Funders will be most impressed by a project that your group is clearly capable of handling.

2. Make your proposal engaging and easy to read

  • Use your proposal to tell a story. Remember, the funder knows nothing about your project. Paint a picture.
  • Make the proposal as easy to read as possible—use clear headings and subheadings.
  • Write clear, declarative sentences using the active voice:
    • Yes: “We will hold three concerts and collect names and addresses from sign-in sheets at the events.”
    • No: “Three concerts will be held. Names will be collected on sign-in sheets.”

3.  Follow directions

  • Get your application in on time; funders are serious about deadlines.
  • Make sure to include all requested information, and don’t put in things that you’ve been asked to leave out. Don’t try to make square pegs fit into round holes—if your project doesn’t fit the funder’s criteria, you won’t get funded.
  • Choose your attachments carefully. Attach a handful of your best newsletters, flyers, press clips, and so on that demonstrate your group’s overall credentials and specific ability to carry out the proposed project.

4. Be positive

  • Say “We will,” not “We hope to.”
  • Don’t appear desperate. Funders like to support programs with a proven track record. Even when seeking funds for new initiatives, demonstrate how your past efforts show that you’ll be able to succeed this time around.
  • Funders like to be part of a good idea; they don’t respond well to the argument that “If you don’t fund us, the project won’t happen.”

5. Get a second opinion

  • Have someone unconnected to your group read your completed application. You may understand what you’re talking about, but a stranger may not.
  • Proofread thoroughly—your presentation (neatness, spelling) matters a lot.

6. Call the funder with any questions

  • The administrators of most small grants programs are more than happy to answer your questions—do not be afraid to call them.

7. Keep records

  • Make sure you keep a copy of the completed application and attachments for your records.

8. Maintain the relationship with the funder whether you receive the grant or not

  • Remember that applying for small grants is a very competitive process. Many programs aren’t funded simply because available funds are limited.
  • If you don’t get the grant, it can be useful to call the funder to find out why so that you can write a better application next time. Remember to send a thank-you note even if you are rejected.
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