Five Elements of a Strong Grant Proposal

In our last blog post, we introduced the basics of crafting an LOI (letter of intent), a concise yet impactful grant letter. Now, let’s take things a step further. This month, we’re excited to guide you through the process of creating a full-fledged grant proposal. It’s like adding another layer to your grant writing skills!

Because grant requirements can vary greatly in length and complexity, crafting a truly “universal” grant proposal isn’t feasible. One size doesn’t fit all in this context. However, fear not: there are key sections of information that most grant funders commonly seek. And grasping these sections and their construction can genuinely streamline your efforts and make the process of applying for grants much smoother.

Below, we provide a description of how to create five central grant proposal sections: the need statement, project description, goals and objectives, budget/budget narrative, and evaluation plan.

Need/Problem Statement

The need statement is a description of the problem your project aims to solve. For example, if the goal of the project for which you are seeking funding is to provide clinical, Christian-based counseling to low-income children and families in Fresno County, the problem you are trying to solve may be that there is a lack of affordable Christian counseling services in Fresno. 

The need statement should be backed up by research (including statistics) from credible sources. To provide evidence for the problem in our example, it could be helpful to provide statistics that show a disparity between the number of affordable Christian counselors in Fresno and the number of clients in need of those services. 

Information in a Problem Statement can include:

  1. Economic/Demographic statistics
  2. Relevant, current research
  3. Anecdotal stories/information
  4. Focus groups
  5. Newspaper/media reports
  6. Government Agencies—Police, Health Dept., Social Services, Dept. of Justice, HUD, etc.

      Project/Program Description

      NOTE: The terms “project” and “program” are often used interchangeably in grant writing.

      The project description is the description of the actual activities you plan to accomplish using the grant funds. Stated another way, the project description describes how you plan to accomplish your stated goals and objectives- the project description should flow out of the goals and objectives. Activities should be clearly described and justified by an explanation of the underlying rationale.

      The project/program description should include the following components:

      • Description of program staff (Who will run the project? How are they equipped to make the program successful?)                 
      • Plan for participant outreach/selection (How will you identify participants and enroll them in services? Who is eligible for the program?)
      • Description of activities/services (What will you actually be doing?)
      • Rationale for methods (Why have you chosen to address your stated problem with these activities? Why will these activities be an effective solution? Why will these activities be more effective than alternative solutions?)
      • Implementation Plan (When does the project begin? Does it have a set end date? At what junctures in the project do you anticipate completing key milestones?)

      PRO TIP: Using illustrations in your project description is a great way to catch the reader’s attention and clearly explain key information. Photos, charts, graphs, tables, and diagrams are all great additions to a project description!

          Goals & Objectives

          One of the keys to constructing clear goals and objectives for your program is understanding the difference between a goal and an objective. In grant terminology, a goal is a broad, general, long-term projection of what the project will achieve, while an objective is a specific, quantifiable, result that acts as a stepping stone to reach the stated goals(s). 

          One way to help you construct objectives is to follow the SMART method:

          • S: SPECIFIC: Objectives must be specific rather than vague/general
          • M: MEASURABLE: Objectives must be measurable through the identified evaluation plan
          • A: ATTAINABLE: Objectives must be realistic (can you “pull it off”?)
          • R: RELEVANT: Objectives must support the overall mission and vision of the program
          • T: TIME BOUND: Objectives must have a time limit 

          Grant projects can have multiple goals and multiple objectives. For example, an after-school program for under-served students might have the following goals and objectives:

          1. Goal #1: Improve reading scores of third graders
          2. Goal #2: Develop/Improve sports program
          3. Goal #3: Involve parents in activities
          1. Objective #1: Improve reading scores by an average of 25% for 30 third-graders during the 2023-2024 school year.
          2. Objective #2: Develop and implement two new weekly sports activities for students by October 2023.
          3. Objective #3: Engage 14 parents through “parent nights” during the 2023-2024 school year.

              Evaluation Plan

              For many, creating an evaluation plan is the most challenging part of grant writing to understand. The word “evaluate” comes from the Latin, “e” or “ex”, meaning “from”, or “out of”, and “valere”, meaning to be strong or of worth. Funders look for evaluation plans in proposals because a strong evaluation plan indicates that the applicant organization can keep itself accountable for meeting its stated goals. 

              Why is evaluation important?

              1. To know whether or not you have met your stated objectives
              2. To identify what works and what doesn’t
              3. To make adjustments for improved results
              4. To demonstrate success to others
              5. To provide evidence of success to current/future funders

              A good evaluation plan should include:

              1. A review of the objectives and how you will know/demonstrate they have been met.
              2. How the program will be evaluated—quantitatively, qualitatively, or both.
              3. Who will collect the information (data), how it will be collected, and when the data will be collected.
              4. Who will analyze and interpret the data.
              5. Timeline for completing the evaluation.
              6. If the evaluation will include a cost/benefit analysis to measure cost-effectiveness.
              7. How the evaluation results will be reported.

                    Get Started!

                    We’re excited to encourage you to take a shot at crafting your own grant proposal using the outline provided! It’s a wonderful opportunity to put into practice the insights we’ve shared above.

                    To get started, consider using the content you already have at your disposal. Plug that content into the outline we’ve laid out based on the information you’ve just read. This approach offers a fantastic way to assess what content you’ve already created and identify areas where you might need to create new content or enhance existing parts.

                    Remember, the length of grant proposals can vary significantly depending on the grant’s specific requirements. When dealing with private funders like foundations and individuals, the proposals tend to be more concise. On the other hand, proposals submitted to government agencies usually demand more depth and detail. Keep in mind that while our grant proposal outline isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, it serves as an excellent starting point on your grant proposal journey. Happy writing!