Tips on writing proposals

Craft competitive grant applications

Understanding key financing issues, including the cost of programs and trends in available funding sources, is essential to the success of initiatives seeking to expand positive opportunities for youth during non-school hours. For more information, see

Steps involved in creating a proposal:

  • Review funder guidelines
  • Summarize guidelines for dissemination to staff and partners
  • Establish proposal development timeline
  • Develop proposal outline
  • Develop proposal checklist that includes submission requirements
  • Convene program staff to present and validate summary, checklist and timeline
  • Create proposal development team, including grantwriter. Begin to respond to funder guidelines and pull together pieces of proposal in narrative format
  • Create mock proposal in submitted format. Blank pages for missing pieces of information or narrative
  • Consider graphics plan: logo, cover, index tabs, maps, organizational chart, management figure, project timeline, evaluation and other supporting charts
  • Create draft narrative from proposal development team assignments
  • Content review of narrative by proposal development team

If a foundation/giving program states limitations or application guidelines such as "applications not accepted, " or "giving only to pre-selected organizations," you can still make yourself known to these funders by sending information such as your newsletter, brochure, etc. so that the foundation will be aware of your program.

As you seek funding, it is important to consider where your steering committee, volunteers and community members work. If there is a connection to one of its employees, many corporations will make donations to organizations through employee matching gift programs.

In addition to monetary donations, corporations may also make in-kind donations such as used computers, office equipment, products and time for employees to volunteer.

Make sure that you have a clear understanding of the terms used in the foundation world. Always ask about something you do not understand. Listed below are frequently used fundraising terms that may be unfamiliar to you:

Annual Campaign – any organized effort by a nonprofit organization to secure gifts on an annual basis.

Cause-related Marketing – linking charitable gifts with marketing promotions.

Endowment Funds – a bequest or gift intended to be kept permanently and invested to provide income for continued support of an organization.

IRS Determination Letter – proof of 501(c)(3) status (the Internal Revenue Code that defines nonprofit, charitable, tax-exempt organizations).

Seed Money – a contribution used to start a new project or organization.

If your request is denied, ask why you were turned down. The reasons could range from the presentation, writing style or format of the document you submitted to the content of the program for which you are seeking funding. It is important to be equipped with accurate information should you attempt to seek funding from this source again and as you pursue other sources.

Be sure to find out if the potential funder hosts workshops, seminars, meetings and networking sessions for grant seekers. These events are very informative and are usually free or offered at a low cost.

For advice and tips on preparing and submitting competitive grant applications, visit this 2005 article from the Chronicle of Higher Education.