Summer Series – Proposal Writing Basics

Some funders will not invite a nonprofit to submit a full proposal until they have reviewed its letter of inquiry (LOI) and determined that the nonprofit is a good fit. Others will provide a full proposal template on their website for open submissions. Some funders remain open year-round, while others have funding cycles that only open for submissions at specific times during the year. It is always important to verify proposal submission deadlines early and make sure you submit your proposal a few days before the deadline to ensure all details have been double-checked. Sometimes a funder will communicate that there is information missing from the proposal and will give you the chance to fix it, but this is unlikely to happen if the funding deadline has passed.

The basic structure of a proposal should directly follow the request for proposals (RFP), which is a standard document provided by most funders. The RFP outlines the purpose of the grant, the types of entities who can apply, how much each can apply for, and the documentation and narratives each entity must submit for consideration. Some funders will provide a proposal template in a form that can be filled out on a computer or by hand, while others will just provide a list of proposal sections and information required of each applicant. Most funders will have a designated employee who can be contacted with questions about the proposal, usually listed in the RFP or the website. The first step in preparing a proposal is to make a list of all the documents the RFP requests you submit. Depending on the funder, this list may contain documents that your organization does not have on hand or that need to be requested from a different department. For this reason, it is always best to start gathering documents early.

The next step in proposal writing is mapping out the structure of the narrative. RFPs will usually be very specific about what the narrative needs to include. Once you find the list of proposal sections, copy it over into your word processor and turn each item on the list into a section header. Unless otherwise specified, it is best to stick with the standard Times New Roman, 12-point font with all text single or 1.5 spaced. If the RFP includes questions that each section should answer, copy those over as well. When you have finished writing the narrative, a great way to review whether it is complete is to go back and see if each narrative section addresses the questions at the top. You can opt to write in the first or third person, but try to keep it consistent. If you start out saying “We will use this grant for X purpose,” then use “we” throughout. If you start out saying “Nonprofit ABC will use this grant for X purpose,” then use the nonprofit’s name throughout. It is usually better to use the plural “we” rather than the singular “I” unless you are the only person working for the nonprofit. The next post will go further in depth on strategies for crafting proposal narratives.