How to Write a Successful Non-Profit Proposal

by Veronica Hunt

There is no ultimate recipe of success when it comes to grant writing. It is a rare case when you apply for only one grant and receive it like in a fairy tale. More often than not, the first try ends up in frustration. You probably won’t get it the very first time you try. It takes time to learn, revise, create new proposals, and finally compose a really good one.

There are more than a million of registered non-profits in the USA. And all of them are gunning for the same money. And, of course, corporations cannot afford to gift money to each one of them. Well, the truth is that there is a lot of fish in the sea, and there is still enough grant money to get by those who are willing to go after it.

The steps below will help you write a winning grant proposal with less effort and frustration. Use them as your guide and good luck!

Step#1: Find the best grant for you

If you have no idea where to start and how to find a grant – search online for the local foundations in your field or go to the library. Yes, in your local library there are usually people with grant finding experience in staff that can help you with your research process. Be nice to them and chances are that they will provide you with what you want.

Do not waste your time on corporations that are not related to your own niche. Focus on those who have similar goals.

Step#2: Do your research just like with your school papers 

Usually, corporations have guidelines for grant proposal writing. If you have already chosen a good one, read the guidelines attentively and find out about the basics like when the proposal is due, financial limitations, and don’t forget to find out whether a detailed LOI (“Letter of Intent”) is required (we’ll talk about this one later). Thereafter you are highly recommended to visit their corporate website and take a close look at the other organizations they have previously funded. It is even better for you to Google these organizations and read the feedback left by the previous grantees. Be sure to find some samples of nicely-composed grants online. This website will provide you with some good examples.

Step #3: Have a clear plan

Meet your team members and subdivide the work among them. As mentioned above, some grantors require a LOI, which is a small proposal (one or two pages long) that summarizes your main ideas and goals. This document should provide a quick and clear insight about your organization, plans, and the ways the donors can benefit from supporting you. This one is a perfect way for both, you and the funding corporation, to get to know whether you can successfully cooperate. Your grantors can learn whether your ideas are a good fit without reading those endless proposals, and you have a chance to explain everything briefly, without a necessity to write tons of pages. The scheme is simple – you provide your LOI, and a funding corporation recognizes your effort and requests a complete proposal.

Step #4: LOI writing

Despite the fact that your LOI should be concise, it still needs to be eye-catching. If the funding organization has a template on their website – follow it. If not – follow this sample and make sure to include these points:

  • First paragraph that summarizes your request. From the very beginning, you should explain what you offer, how much money you need and for what reason.
  • Needs. Include the needs your project is addressing.
  • Program model. How are you going to address the needs?
  • Final goals. Include measurable outcomes you are trying to achieve. We know that you are not a psychic, but be as specific as possible!
  • Budget. How much money do you need in total?
  • Time. When will you start the project, what obstacles are the most likely, and what will you do to prevent them?
  • Partners (optional). If you have any – highlight their roles.
  • General organizational background. Here you are welcome to say a couple of words about your organization, a brief history or main mission would suffice.
  • Contact information. Don’t forget to include your name, phone, email, and website.

Yes, you have to try hard and squeeze all of this into one or two pages. After your LOI is finalized, submit it, and hope for the best.

Step #5: Write a full version of a proposal

Yes, we believe that your awesome LOI will be accepted and you should prepare to write a complete proposal. Gather your team, consult with them, sit down and start composing a full version. This one should be 5-10 pages long and cover all the issues you have mentioned in your LOI just in more detail.

If you shudder at the memories of when you had to write those boring papers at college, grant writing is not like that at all. Grant writing is great fun! And you are free to copy and paste, take information from your previous proposals, and stuff! Moreover, unlike your academic papers, grant writing doesn’t require any highbrow language. All you have to do is to answer all the questions and include all the details. Add some research data, statistics, or citations, if needed. Keep it mind, citations and statistics which refer to the current research can work like magic and make your proposal look awesome.

Step #6: Meet the deadline

Do not wait until the last minute with your submission. Some funding corporations are strict enough to reject your request if you miss the deadline by ten seconds. Give yourself time for revisions, editing, and for technical surprises (like computer freezing, loss of Internet connection, or something else).

This way you write a proposal for your organization. Hopefully, you will get the grant to fulfill your ideas. If not, take a day off to have some rest and watch your favorite comic show to cheer up. Then start at Step #1 again. Good luck!

Veronica Hunt is an edtech expert, blogger and freelance content manager at She loves traveling and science fiction.