Summer Series – Crafting Proposal Narratives

What is your nonprofit’s story? This is the key question in crafting proposal narratives. Successful grant applicants must be impeccable in providing documentation of their financials and program successes, but that is just the bare minimum to get your foot in the door. When it comes down to a decision between your nonprofit and a competitor, funders will be more likely to decide based on whose story is more compelling. Most nonprofit stories are rooted in personal experience. The person who started your nonprofit likely did so because of something they experienced that motivated them to make a difference. Many times the narrative follows a simple formula: “Our founder started Nonprofit ABC after their experience with X.” Sometimes the story is more complicated. Perhaps your nonprofit grew organically out of a community group that identified a need and worked to fill it. Perhaps it was created to honor the legacy of an important person. No matter the story, the first step is identifying the answer to the question “Why should I (the funder) care about your nonprofit?”

Proposal narrative writing does not require a big vocabulary or complex sentences. The best narratives are simple and memorable. Include only the details that matter most. Provide as much context as the funder needs to understand the problem you are addressing. If asked to describe your programs, focus on what sets your organization apart from others doing similar work. Clearly identify the community you serve and how you serve them. Most importantly, describe your organization’s need for funding. A proposal is more than just asking for money with fancy words. It is your chance to state what your organization does currently and what it could do if it received additional funding. Focus on the gaps in your current programming. You might be providing a service to one community and would like to expand it to similar communities. You might be providing one kind of program to your target community but would like to provide a whole other kind of program. Maybe all you want is to increase your capacity to do the work you are already doing. These are all valid types of funding requests. So long as it aligns with the RFP, the statement of funding need can encompass a wide range of funding requests. 

The statement should make the funder care about the problem the nonprofit is addressing and convince them that the solution it proposes will be effective. It should clearly state what the nonprofit is already doing and how more money would help it do more. No matter the grant size, funders want to see their money have a direct impact on your organization. For a small organization, a grant of $1000 could be a major step. For a larger organization, you could be asking for millions of dollars on a regular basis just to maintain existing programs. It is critical that the narrative conveys some sense of urgency to the funding request. The funder should be able to see how their money would affect the organization’s ability to function. You don’t want to come off as begging, but it is smart to include a specific statement like “If we cannot secure $X in funding, we will be unable to continue to provide Y program to Z community.” Don’t just tell the funder their grant will make a difference; show them how it will make a difference. Upon finishing the narrative, the funder should know what your nonprofit does, why you do it, and what kind of difference their contribution would make. If your proposal does not provide this information, they will have little incentive to offer you funding. If you concisely tell your organization’s story and the story of what it could do with the proposed grant funding, the funder will be much more likely to consider your proposal.