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How to write a grant proposal: a step-by-step guide

How to write a grant proposal

What is a grant proposal?

Why should you write a grant proposal, format of a grant proposal, how to write a grant proposal, step 1: decide what funding opportunity to apply for, and research the grant application process, step 2: plan and research your project, preliminary research for your grant proposal, questions to ask yourself as you plan your grant proposal, developing your grant proposal, step 3: write the first draft of your grant proposal, step 4: get feedback, and revise your grant proposal accordingly, step 5: prepare to submit your grant proposal, what happens after submitting the grant proposal, final thoughts, other useful sources for writing grant proposals, frequently asked questions about writing grant proposals, related articles.

You have a vision for a future research project, and want to share that idea with the world.

To achieve your vision, you need funding from a sponsoring organization, and consequently, you need to write a grant proposal.

Although visualizing your future research through grant writing is exciting, it can also feel daunting. How do you start writing a grant proposal? How do you increase your chances of success in winning a grant?

But, writing a proposal is not as hard as you think. That’s because the grant-writing process can be broken down into actionable steps.

This guide provides a step-by-step approach to grant-writing that includes researching the application process, planning your research project, and writing the proposal. It is written from extensive research into grant-writing, and our experiences of writing proposals as graduate students, postdocs, and faculty in the sciences.

A grant proposal is a document or collection of documents that outlines the strategy for a future research project and is submitted to a sponsoring organization with the specific goal of getting funding to support the research. For example, grants for large projects with multiple researchers may be used to purchase lab equipment, provide stipends for graduate and undergraduate researchers, fund conference travel, and support the salaries of research personnel.

As a graduate student, you might apply for a PhD scholarship, or postdoctoral fellowship, and may need to write a proposal as part of your application. As a faculty member of a university, you may need to provide evidence of having submitted grant applications to obtain a permanent position or promotion.

Reasons for writing a grant proposal include:

  • To obtain financial support for graduate or postdoctoral studies;
  • To travel to a field site, or to travel to meet with collaborators;
  • To conduct preliminary research for a larger project;
  • To obtain a visiting position at another institution;
  • To support undergraduate student research as a faculty member;
  • To obtain funding for a large collaborative project, which may be needed to retain employment at a university.

The experience of writing a proposal can be helpful, even if you fail to obtain funding. Benefits include:

  • Improvement of your research and writing skills
  • Enhancement of academic employment prospects, as fellowships and grants awarded and applied for can be listed on your academic CV
  • Raising your profile as an independent academic researcher because writing proposals can help you become known to leaders in your field.

All sponsoring agencies have specific requirements for the format of a grant proposal. For example, for a PhD scholarship or postdoctoral fellowship, you may be required to include a description of your project, an academic CV, and letters of support from mentors or collaborators.

For a large research project with many collaborators, the collection of documents that need to be submitted may be extensive. Examples of documents that might be required include a cover letter, a project summary, a detailed description of the proposed research, a budget, a document justifying the budget, and the CVs of all research personnel.

Before writing your proposal, be sure to note the list of required documents.

Writing a grant proposal can be broken down into three major activities: researching the project (reading background materials, note-taking, preliminary work, etc.), writing the proposal (creating an outline, writing the first draft, revisions, formatting), and administrative tasks for the project (emails, phone calls, meetings, writing CVs and other supporting documents, etc.).

Below, we provide a step-by-step guide to writing a grant proposal:

  • Decide what funding opportunity to apply for, and research the grant application process
  • Plan and research your project
  • Write the first draft of your grant proposal
  • Get feedback, and revise your grant proposal accordingly
  • Prepare to submit your grant proposal

5 steps for writing a grant proposal.

  • Start early. Begin by searching for funding opportunities and determining requirements. Some sponsoring organizations prioritize fundamental research, whereas others support applied research. Be sure your project fits the mission statement of the granting organization. Look at recently funded proposals and/or sample proposals on the agency website, if available. The Research or Grants Office at your institution may be able to help with finding grant opportunities.
  • Make a spreadsheet of grant opportunities, with a link to the call for proposals page, the mission and aims of the agency, and the deadline for submission. Use the information that you have compiled in your spreadsheet to decide what to apply for.
  • Once you have made your decision, carefully read the instructions in the call for proposals. Make a list of all the documents you need to apply, and note the formatting requirements and page limits. Know exactly what the funding agency requires of submitted proposals.
  • Reach out to support staff at your university (for example, at your Research or Grants Office), potential mentors, or collaborators. For example, internal deadlines for submitting external grants are often earlier than the submission date. Make sure to learn about your institution’s internal processes, and obtain contact information for the relevant support staff.
  • Applying for a grant or fellowship involves administrative work. Start preparing your CV and begin collecting supporting documents from collaborators, such as letters of support. If the application to the sponsoring agency is electronic, schedule time to set up an account, log into the system, download necessary forms and paperwork, etc. Don’t leave all of the administrative tasks until the end.
  • Map out the important deadlines on your calendar. These might include video calls with collaborators, a date for the first draft to be complete, internal submission deadlines, and the funding agency deadline.
  • Schedule time on your calendar for research, writing, and administrative tasks associated with the project. It’s wise to group similar tasks and block out time for them (a process known as ” time batching ”). Break down bigger tasks into smaller ones.

Develop a plan for your research project.

Now that you know what you are applying for, you can think about matching your proposed research to the aims of the agency. The work you propose needs to be innovative, specific, realizable, timely, and worthy of the sponsoring organization’s attention.

  • Develop an awareness of the important problems and open questions in your field. Attend conferences and seminar talks and follow all of your field’s major journals.
  • Read widely and deeply. Journal review articles are a helpful place to start. Reading papers from related but different subfields can generate ideas. Taking detailed notes as you read will help you recall the important findings and connect disparate concepts.

Notetaking for a grant proposal

  • Writing a grant proposal is a creative and imaginative endeavor. Write down all of your ideas. Freewriting is a practice where you write down all that comes to mind without filtering your ideas for feasibility or stopping to edit mistakes. By continuously writing your thoughts without judgment, the practice can help overcome procrastination and writer’s block. It can also unleash your creativity, and generate new ideas and associations. Mind mapping is another technique for brainstorming and generating connections between ideas.
  • Establish a regular writing practice. Schedule time just for writing, and turn off all distractions during your focused work time. You can use your writing process to refine your thoughts and ideas.
  • Use a reference manager to build a library of sources for your project. You can use a reference management tool to collect papers , store and organize references , and highlight and annotate PDFs . Establish a system for organizing your ideas by tagging papers with labels and using folders to store similar references.

Organize your library with a reference manager when writing a grant proposal

To facilitate intelligent thinking and shape the overall direction of your project, try answering the following questions:

  • What are the questions that the project will address? Am I excited and curious about their answers?
  • Why are these questions important?
  • What are the goals of the project? Are they SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely)?
  • What is novel about my project? What is the gap in current knowledge?
  • What methods will I use, and how feasible is my approach?
  • Can the work be done over the proposed period, and with the budget I am requesting?
  • Do I have relevant experience? For example, have I completed similar work funded by previous grants or written papers on my proposed topic?
  • What pilot research or prior work can I use, or do I need to complete preliminary research before writing the proposal?
  • Will the outcomes of my work be consequential? Will the granting agency be interested in the results?
  • What solutions to open problems in my field will this project offer? Are there broader implications of my work?
  • Who will the project involve? Do I need mentors, collaborators, or students to contribute to the proposed work? If so, what roles will they have?
  • Who will read the proposal? For example, experts in the field will require details of methods, statistical analyses, etc., whereas non-experts may be more concerned with the big picture.
  • What do I want the reviewers to feel, and take away from reading my proposal?
  • What weaknesses does my proposed research have? What objections might reviewers raise, and how can I address them?
  • Can I visualize a timeline for my project?

Create an actionable plan for your research project using the answers to these questions.

  • Now is the time to collect preliminary data, conduct experiments, or do a preliminary study to motivate your research, and demonstrate that your proposed project is realistic.
  • Use your plan to write a detailed outline of the proposal. An outline helps you to write a proposal that has a logical format and ensures your thought process is rational. It also provides a structure to support your writing.
  • Follow the granting agency’s guidelines for titles, sections, and subsections to inform your outline.

At this stage, you should have identified the aims of your project, what questions your work will answer, and how they are relevant to the sponsoring agency’s call for proposals. Be able to explain the originality, importance, and achievability of your proposed work.

Write first draft grant proposal

Now that you have done your research, you are ready to begin writing your proposal and start filling in the details of your outline. Build on the writing routine you have already started. Here are some tips:

  • Follow the guidelines of the funding organization.
  • Keep the proposal reviewers in mind as you write. Your audience may be a combination of specialists in your field and non-specialists. Make sure to address the novelty of your work, its significance, and its feasibility.
  • Write clearly, concisely, and avoid repetition. Use topic sentences for each paragraph to emphasize key ideas. Concluding sentences of each paragraph should develop, clarify, or summarize the support for the declaration in the topic sentence. To make your writing engaging, vary sentence length.
  • Avoid jargon, where possible. Follow sentences that have complex technical information with a summary in plain language.
  • Don’t review all information on the topic, but include enough background information to convince reviewers that you are knowledgeable about it. Include preliminary data to convince reviewers you can do the work. Cite all relevant work.
  • Make sure not to be overly ambitious. Don’t propose to do so much that reviewers doubt your ability to complete the project. Rather, a project with clear, narrowly-defined goals may prove favorable to reviewers.
  • Accurately represent the scope of your project; don’t exaggerate its impacts. Avoid bias. Be forthright about the limitations of your research.
  • Ensure to address potential objections and concerns that reviewers may have with the proposed work. Show that you have carefully thought about the project by explaining your rationale.
  • Use diagrams and figures effectively. Make sure they are not too small or contain too much information or details.

After writing your first draft, read it carefully to gain an overview of the logic of your argument. Answer the following questions:

  • Is your proposal concise, explicit, and specific?
  • Have you included all necessary assumptions, data points, and evidence in your proposal?
  • Do you need to make structural changes like moving or deleting paragraphs or including additional tables or figures to strengthen your rationale?
  • Have you answered most of the questions posed in Step 2 above in your proposal?
  • Follow the length requirements in the proposal guidelines. Don't feel compelled to include everything you know!
  • Use formatting techniques to make your proposal easy on the eye. Follow rules for font, layout, margins, citation styles , etc. Avoid walls of text. Use bolding and italicizing to emphasize points.
  • Comply with all style, organization, and reference list guidelines to make it easy to reviewers to quickly understand your argument. If you don’t, it’s at best a chore for the reviewers to read because it doesn’t make the most convincing case for you and your work. At worst, your proposal may be rejected by the sponsoring agency without review.
  • Using a reference management tool like Paperpile will make citation creation and formatting in your grant proposal quick, easy and accurate.

Get feedback on grant proposal.

Now take time away from your proposal, for at least a week or more. Ask trusted mentors or collaborators to read it, and give them adequate time to give critical feedback.

  • At this stage, you can return to any remaining administrative work while you wait for feedback on the proposal, such as finalizing your budget or updating your CV.
  • Revise the proposal based on the feedback you receive.
  • Don’t be discouraged by critiques of your proposal or take them personally. Receiving and incorporating feedback with humility is essential to grow as a grant writer.

Check requirements of granting agency

Now you are almost ready to submit. This is exciting! At this stage, you need to block out time to complete all final checks.

  • Allow time for proofreading and final editing. Spelling and grammar mistakes can raise questions regarding the rigor of your research and leave a poor impression of your proposal on reviewers. Ensure that a unified narrative is threaded throughout all documents in the application.
  • Finalize your documents by following a checklist. Make sure all documents are in place in the application, and all formatting and organizational requirements are met.
  • Follow all internal and external procedures. Have login information for granting agency and institution portals to hand. Double-check any internal procedures required by your institution (applications for large grants often have a deadline for sign-off by your institution’s Research or Grants Office that is earlier than the funding agency deadline).
  • To avoid technical issues with electronic portals, submit your proposal as early as you can.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief when all the work is done, and take time to celebrate submitting the proposal! This is already a big achievement.

Now you wait! If the news is positive, congratulations!

But if your proposal is rejected, take heart in the fact that the process of writing it has been useful for your professional growth, and for developing your ideas.

Bear in mind that because grants are often highly competitive, acceptance rates for proposals are usually low. It is very typical to not be successful on the first try and to have to apply for the same grant multiple times.

Here are some tips to increase your chances of success on your next attempt:

  • Remember that grant writing is often not a linear process. It is typical to have to use the reviews to revise and resubmit your proposal.
  • Carefully read the reviews and incorporate the feedback into the next iteration of your proposal. Use the feedback to improve and refine your ideas.
  • Don’t ignore the comments received from reviewers—be sure to address their objections in your next proposal. You may decide to include a section with a response to the reviewers, to show the sponsoring agency that you have carefully considered their comments.
  • If you did not receive reviewer feedback, you can usually request it.

You learn about your field and grow intellectually from writing a proposal. The process of researching, writing, and revising a proposal refines your ideas and may create new directions for future projects. Professional opportunities exist for researchers who are willing to persevere with submitting grant applications.

➡️ Secrets to writing a winning grant

➡️ How to gain a competitive edge in grant writing

➡️ Ten simple rules for writing a postdoctoral fellowship

A grant proposal should include all the documents listed as required by the sponsoring organization. Check what documents the granting agency needs before you start writing the proposal.

Granting agencies have strict formatting requirements, with strict page limits and/or word counts. Check the maximum length required by the granting agency. It is okay for the proposal to be shorter than the maximum length.

Expect to spend many hours, even weeks, researching and writing a grant proposal. Consequently, it is important to start early! Block time in your calendar for research, writing, and administration tasks. Allow extra time at the end of the grant-writing process to edit, proofread, and meet presentation guidelines.

The most important part of a grant proposal is the description of the project. Make sure that the research you propose in your project narrative is new, important, and viable, and that it meets the goals of the sponsoring organization.

A grant proposal typically consists of a set of documents. Funding agencies have specific requirements for the formatting and organization of each document. Make sure to follow their guidelines exactly.

how do you write a research grant proposal

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Grant Proposals (or Give me the money!)

What this handout is about.

This handout will help you write and revise grant proposals for research funding in all academic disciplines (sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts). It’s targeted primarily to graduate students and faculty, although it will also be helpful to undergraduate students who are seeking funding for research (e.g. for a senior thesis).

The grant writing process

A grant proposal or application is a document or set of documents that is submitted to an organization with the explicit intent of securing funding for a research project. Grant writing varies widely across the disciplines, and research intended for epistemological purposes (philosophy or the arts) rests on very different assumptions than research intended for practical applications (medicine or social policy research). Nonetheless, this handout attempts to provide a general introduction to grant writing across the disciplines.

Before you begin writing your proposal, you need to know what kind of research you will be doing and why. You may have a topic or experiment in mind, but taking the time to define what your ultimate purpose is can be essential to convincing others to fund that project. Although some scholars in the humanities and arts may not have thought about their projects in terms of research design, hypotheses, research questions, or results, reviewers and funding agencies expect you to frame your project in these terms. You may also find that thinking about your project in these terms reveals new aspects of it to you.

Writing successful grant applications is a long process that begins with an idea. Although many people think of grant writing as a linear process (from idea to proposal to award), it is a circular process. Many people start by defining their research question or questions. What knowledge or information will be gained as a direct result of your project? Why is undertaking your research important in a broader sense? You will need to explicitly communicate this purpose to the committee reviewing your application. This is easier when you know what you plan to achieve before you begin the writing process.

Diagram 1 below provides an overview of the grant writing process and may help you plan your proposal development.

A chart labeled The Grant Writing Process that provides and overview of the steps of grant writing: identifying a need, finding grants, developing a proposal and budget, submitting the proposal, accepting or declining awards, carrying out the project, and filing a report with funding agencies.

Applicants must write grant proposals, submit them, receive notice of acceptance or rejection, and then revise their proposals. Unsuccessful grant applicants must revise and resubmit their proposals during the next funding cycle. Successful grant applications and the resulting research lead to ideas for further research and new grant proposals.

Cultivating an ongoing, positive relationship with funding agencies may lead to additional grants down the road. Thus, make sure you file progress reports and final reports in a timely and professional manner. Although some successful grant applicants may fear that funding agencies will reject future proposals because they’ve already received “enough” funding, the truth is that money follows money. Individuals or projects awarded grants in the past are more competitive and thus more likely to receive funding in the future.

Some general tips

  • Begin early.
  • Apply early and often.
  • Don’t forget to include a cover letter with your application.
  • Answer all questions. (Pre-empt all unstated questions.)
  • If rejected, revise your proposal and apply again.
  • Give them what they want. Follow the application guidelines exactly.
  • Be explicit and specific.
  • Be realistic in designing the project.
  • Make explicit the connections between your research questions and objectives, your objectives and methods, your methods and results, and your results and dissemination plan.
  • Follow the application guidelines exactly. (We have repeated this tip because it is very, very important.)

Before you start writing

Identify your needs and focus.

First, identify your needs. Answering the following questions may help you:

  • Are you undertaking preliminary or pilot research in order to develop a full-blown research agenda?
  • Are you seeking funding for dissertation research? Pre-dissertation research? Postdoctoral research? Archival research? Experimental research? Fieldwork?
  • Are you seeking a stipend so that you can write a dissertation or book? Polish a manuscript?
  • Do you want a fellowship in residence at an institution that will offer some programmatic support or other resources to enhance your project?
  • Do you want funding for a large research project that will last for several years and involve multiple staff members?

Next, think about the focus of your research/project. Answering the following questions may help you narrow it down:

  • What is the topic? Why is this topic important?
  • What are the research questions that you’re trying to answer? What relevance do your research questions have?
  • What are your hypotheses?
  • What are your research methods?
  • Why is your research/project important? What is its significance?
  • Do you plan on using quantitative methods? Qualitative methods? Both?
  • Will you be undertaking experimental research? Clinical research?

Once you have identified your needs and focus, you can begin looking for prospective grants and funding agencies.

Finding prospective grants and funding agencies

Whether your proposal receives funding will rely in large part on whether your purpose and goals closely match the priorities of granting agencies. Locating possible grantors is a time consuming task, but in the long run it will yield the greatest benefits. Even if you have the most appealing research proposal in the world, if you don’t send it to the right institutions, then you’re unlikely to receive funding.

There are many sources of information about granting agencies and grant programs. Most universities and many schools within universities have Offices of Research, whose primary purpose is to support faculty and students in grant-seeking endeavors. These offices usually have libraries or resource centers to help people find prospective grants.

At UNC, the Research at Carolina office coordinates research support.

The Funding Information Portal offers a collection of databases and proposal development guidance.

The UNC School of Medicine and School of Public Health each have their own Office of Research.

Writing your proposal

The majority of grant programs recruit academic reviewers with knowledge of the disciplines and/or program areas of the grant. Thus, when writing your grant proposals, assume that you are addressing a colleague who is knowledgeable in the general area, but who does not necessarily know the details about your research questions.

Remember that most readers are lazy and will not respond well to a poorly organized, poorly written, or confusing proposal. Be sure to give readers what they want. Follow all the guidelines for the particular grant you are applying for. This may require you to reframe your project in a different light or language. Reframing your project to fit a specific grant’s requirements is a legitimate and necessary part of the process unless it will fundamentally change your project’s goals or outcomes.

Final decisions about which proposals are funded often come down to whether the proposal convinces the reviewer that the research project is well planned and feasible and whether the investigators are well qualified to execute it. Throughout the proposal, be as explicit as possible. Predict the questions that the reviewer may have and answer them. Przeworski and Salomon (1995) note that reviewers read with three questions in mind:

  • What are we going to learn as a result of the proposed project that we do not know now? (goals, aims, and outcomes)
  • Why is it worth knowing? (significance)
  • How will we know that the conclusions are valid? (criteria for success) (2)

Be sure to answer these questions in your proposal. Keep in mind that reviewers may not read every word of your proposal. Your reviewer may only read the abstract, the sections on research design and methodology, the vitae, and the budget. Make these sections as clear and straightforward as possible.

The way you write your grant will tell the reviewers a lot about you (Reif-Lehrer 82). From reading your proposal, the reviewers will form an idea of who you are as a scholar, a researcher, and a person. They will decide whether you are creative, logical, analytical, up-to-date in the relevant literature of the field, and, most importantly, capable of executing the proposed project. Allow your discipline and its conventions to determine the general style of your writing, but allow your own voice and personality to come through. Be sure to clarify your project’s theoretical orientation.

Develop a general proposal and budget

Because most proposal writers seek funding from several different agencies or granting programs, it is a good idea to begin by developing a general grant proposal and budget. This general proposal is sometimes called a “white paper.” Your general proposal should explain your project to a general academic audience. Before you submit proposals to different grant programs, you will tailor a specific proposal to their guidelines and priorities.

Organizing your proposal

Although each funding agency will have its own (usually very specific) requirements, there are several elements of a proposal that are fairly standard, and they often come in the following order:

  • Introduction (statement of the problem, purpose of research or goals, and significance of research)

Literature review

  • Project narrative (methods, procedures, objectives, outcomes or deliverables, evaluation, and dissemination)
  • Budget and budget justification

Format the proposal so that it is easy to read. Use headings to break the proposal up into sections. If it is long, include a table of contents with page numbers.

The title page usually includes a brief yet explicit title for the research project, the names of the principal investigator(s), the institutional affiliation of the applicants (the department and university), name and address of the granting agency, project dates, amount of funding requested, and signatures of university personnel authorizing the proposal (when necessary). Most funding agencies have specific requirements for the title page; make sure to follow them.

The abstract provides readers with their first impression of your project. To remind themselves of your proposal, readers may glance at your abstract when making their final recommendations, so it may also serve as their last impression of your project. The abstract should explain the key elements of your research project in the future tense. Most abstracts state: (1) the general purpose, (2) specific goals, (3) research design, (4) methods, and (5) significance (contribution and rationale). Be as explicit as possible in your abstract. Use statements such as, “The objective of this study is to …”


The introduction should cover the key elements of your proposal, including a statement of the problem, the purpose of research, research goals or objectives, and significance of the research. The statement of problem should provide a background and rationale for the project and establish the need and relevance of the research. How is your project different from previous research on the same topic? Will you be using new methodologies or covering new theoretical territory? The research goals or objectives should identify the anticipated outcomes of the research and should match up to the needs identified in the statement of problem. List only the principle goal(s) or objective(s) of your research and save sub-objectives for the project narrative.

Many proposals require a literature review. Reviewers want to know whether you’ve done the necessary preliminary research to undertake your project. Literature reviews should be selective and critical, not exhaustive. Reviewers want to see your evaluation of pertinent works. For more information, see our handout on literature reviews .

Project narrative

The project narrative provides the meat of your proposal and may require several subsections. The project narrative should supply all the details of the project, including a detailed statement of problem, research objectives or goals, hypotheses, methods, procedures, outcomes or deliverables, and evaluation and dissemination of the research.

For the project narrative, pre-empt and/or answer all of the reviewers’ questions. Don’t leave them wondering about anything. For example, if you propose to conduct unstructured interviews with open-ended questions, be sure you’ve explained why this methodology is best suited to the specific research questions in your proposal. Or, if you’re using item response theory rather than classical test theory to verify the validity of your survey instrument, explain the advantages of this innovative methodology. Or, if you need to travel to Valdez, Alaska to access historical archives at the Valdez Museum, make it clear what documents you hope to find and why they are relevant to your historical novel on the ’98ers in the Alaskan Gold Rush.

Clearly and explicitly state the connections between your research objectives, research questions, hypotheses, methodologies, and outcomes. As the requirements for a strong project narrative vary widely by discipline, consult a discipline-specific guide to grant writing for some additional advice.

Explain staffing requirements in detail and make sure that staffing makes sense. Be very explicit about the skill sets of the personnel already in place (you will probably include their Curriculum Vitae as part of the proposal). Explain the necessary skill sets and functions of personnel you will recruit. To minimize expenses, phase out personnel who are not relevant to later phases of a project.

The budget spells out project costs and usually consists of a spreadsheet or table with the budget detailed as line items and a budget narrative (also known as a budget justification) that explains the various expenses. Even when proposal guidelines do not specifically mention a narrative, be sure to include a one or two page explanation of the budget. To see a sample budget, turn to Example #1 at the end of this handout.

Consider including an exhaustive budget for your project, even if it exceeds the normal grant size of a particular funding organization. Simply make it clear that you are seeking additional funding from other sources. This technique will make it easier for you to combine awards down the road should you have the good fortune of receiving multiple grants.

Make sure that all budget items meet the funding agency’s requirements. For example, all U.S. government agencies have strict requirements for airline travel. Be sure the cost of the airline travel in your budget meets their requirements. If a line item falls outside an agency’s requirements (e.g. some organizations will not cover equipment purchases or other capital expenses), explain in the budget justification that other grant sources will pay for the item.

Many universities require that indirect costs (overhead) be added to grants that they administer. Check with the appropriate offices to find out what the standard (or required) rates are for overhead. Pass a draft budget by the university officer in charge of grant administration for assistance with indirect costs and costs not directly associated with research (e.g. facilities use charges).

Furthermore, make sure you factor in the estimated taxes applicable for your case. Depending on the categories of expenses and your particular circumstances (whether you are a foreign national, for example), estimated tax rates may differ. You can consult respective departmental staff or university services, as well as professional tax assistants. For information on taxes on scholarships and fellowships, see .

Explain the timeframe for the research project in some detail. When will you begin and complete each step? It may be helpful to reviewers if you present a visual version of your timeline. For less complicated research, a table summarizing the timeline for the project will help reviewers understand and evaluate the planning and feasibility. See Example #2 at the end of this handout.

For multi-year research proposals with numerous procedures and a large staff, a time line diagram can help clarify the feasibility and planning of the study. See Example #3 at the end of this handout.

Revising your proposal

Strong grant proposals take a long time to develop. Start the process early and leave time to get feedback from several readers on different drafts. Seek out a variety of readers, both specialists in your research area and non-specialist colleagues. You may also want to request assistance from knowledgeable readers on specific areas of your proposal. For example, you may want to schedule a meeting with a statistician to help revise your methodology section. Don’t hesitate to seek out specialized assistance from the relevant research offices on your campus. At UNC, the Odum Institute provides a variety of services to graduate students and faculty in the social sciences.

In your revision and editing, ask your readers to give careful consideration to whether you’ve made explicit the connections between your research objectives and methodology. Here are some example questions:

  • Have you presented a compelling case?
  • Have you made your hypotheses explicit?
  • Does your project seem feasible? Is it overly ambitious? Does it have other weaknesses?
  • Have you stated the means that grantors can use to evaluate the success of your project after you’ve executed it?

If a granting agency lists particular criteria used for rating and evaluating proposals, be sure to share these with your own reviewers.

Example #1. Sample Budget

Jet travel $6,100 This estimate is based on the commercial high season rate for jet economy travel on Sabena Belgian Airlines. No U.S. carriers fly to Kigali, Rwanda. Sabena has student fare tickets available which will be significantly less expensive (approximately $2,000).

Maintenance allowance $22,788 Based on the Fulbright-Hays Maintenance Allowances published in the grant application guide.

Research assistant/translator $4,800 The research assistant/translator will be a native (and primary) speaker of Kinya-rwanda with at least a four-year university degree. They will accompany the primary investigator during life history interviews to provide assistance in comprehension. In addition, they will provide commentary, explanations, and observations to facilitate the primary investigator’s participant observation. During the first phase of the project in Kigali, the research assistant will work forty hours a week and occasional overtime as needed. During phases two and three in rural Rwanda, the assistant will stay with the investigator overnight in the field when necessary. The salary of $400 per month is based on the average pay rate for individuals with similar qualifications working for international NGO’s in Rwanda.

Transportation within country, phase one $1,200 The primary investigator and research assistant will need regular transportation within Kigali by bus and taxi. The average taxi fare in Kigali is $6-8 and bus fare is $.15. This figure is based on an average of $10 per day in transportation costs during the first project phase.

Transportation within country, phases two and three $12,000 Project personnel will also require regular transportation between rural field sites. If it is not possible to remain overnight, daily trips will be necessary. The average rental rate for a 4×4 vehicle in Rwanda is $130 per day. This estimate is based on an average of $50 per day in transportation costs for the second and third project phases. These costs could be reduced if an arrangement could be made with either a government ministry or international aid agency for transportation assistance.

Email $720 The rate for email service from RwandaTel (the only service provider in Rwanda) is $60 per month. Email access is vital for receiving news reports on Rwanda and the region as well as for staying in contact with dissertation committee members and advisors in the United States.

Audiocassette tapes $400 Audiocassette tapes will be necessary for recording life history interviews, musical performances, community events, story telling, and other pertinent data.

Photographic & slide film $100 Photographic and slide film will be necessary to document visual data such as landscape, environment, marriages, funerals, community events, etc.

Laptop computer $2,895 A laptop computer will be necessary for recording observations, thoughts, and analysis during research project. Price listed is a special offer to UNC students through the Carolina Computing Initiative.

NUD*IST 4.0 software $373.00 NUD*IST, “Nonnumerical, Unstructured Data, Indexing, Searching, and Theorizing,” is necessary for cataloging, indexing, and managing field notes both during and following the field research phase. The program will assist in cataloging themes that emerge during the life history interviews.

Administrative fee $100 Fee set by Fulbright-Hays for the sponsoring institution.

Example #2: Project Timeline in Table Format

Example #3: project timeline in chart format.

A chart displaying project activities with activities listed in the left column and grant years divided into quarters in the top row with rectangles darkened to indicate in which quarter each activity in the left column occurs.

Some closing advice

Some of us may feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for money or promoting ourselves. Often, these feelings have more to do with our own insecurities than with problems in the tone or style of our writing. If you’re having trouble because of these types of hang-ups, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it never hurts to ask. If you never ask for the money, they’ll never give you the money. Besides, the worst thing they can do is say no.

UNC resources for proposal writing

Research at Carolina

The Odum Institute for Research in the Social Sciences

UNC Medical School Office of Research

UNC School of Public Health Office of Research

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Holloway, Brian R. 2003. Proposal Writing Across the Disciplines. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Levine, S. Joseph. “Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal.” .

Locke, Lawrence F., Waneen Wyrick Spirduso, and Stephen J. Silverman. 2014. Proposals That Work . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Przeworski, Adam, and Frank Salomon. 2012. “Some Candid Suggestions on the Art of Writing Proposals.” Social Science Research Council. .

Reif-Lehrer, Liane. 1989. Writing a Successful Grant Application . Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Wiggins, Beverly. 2002. “Funding and Proposal Writing for Social Science Faculty and Graduate Student Research.” Chapel Hill: Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science. 2 Feb. 2004.

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Home » Grant Proposal – Example, Template and Guide

Grant Proposal – Example, Template and Guide

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Grant Proposal

Grant Proposal

Grant Proposal is a written document that outlines a request for funding from a grant-making organization, such as a government agency, foundation, or private donor. The purpose of a grant proposal is to present a compelling case for why an individual, organization, or project deserves financial support.

Grant Proposal Outline

While the structure and specific sections of a grant proposal can vary depending on the funder’s requirements, here is a common outline that you can use as a starting point for developing your grant proposal:

  • Brief overview of the project and its significance.
  • Summary of the funding request and project goals.
  • Key highlights and anticipated outcomes.
  • Background information on the issue or problem being addressed.
  • Explanation of the project’s relevance and importance.
  • Clear statement of the project’s objectives.
  • Detailed description of the problem or need to be addressed.
  • Supporting evidence and data to demonstrate the extent and impact of the problem.
  • Identification of the target population or beneficiaries.
  • Broad goals that describe the desired outcomes of the project.
  • Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives that contribute to the goals.
  • Description of the strategies, activities, and interventions to achieve the objectives.
  • Explanation of the project’s implementation plan, timeline, and key milestones.
  • Roles and responsibilities of project staff and partners.
  • Plan for assessing the project’s effectiveness and measuring its impact.
  • Description of the data collection methods, tools, and indicators used for evaluation.
  • Explanation of how the results will be used to improve the project.
  • Comprehensive breakdown of project expenses, including personnel, supplies, equipment, and other costs.
  • Clear justification for each budget item.
  • Information about any matching funds or in-kind contributions, if applicable.
  • Explanation of how the project will be sustained beyond the grant period.
  • Discussion of long-term funding strategies, partnerships, and community involvement.
  • Description of how the project will continue to address the identified problem in the future.
  • Overview of the organization’s mission, history , and track record.
  • Description of the organization’s experience and qualifications related to the proposed project.
  • Summary of key staff and their roles.
  • Recap of the project’s goals, objectives, and anticipated outcomes.
  • Appreciation for the funder’s consideration.
  • Contact information for further inquiries.

Grant Proposal Template

Here is a template for a grant proposal that you can use as a starting point. Remember to customize and adapt it based on the specific requirements and guidelines provided by the funding organization.

Dear [Grant-making Organization Name],

Executive Summary:

I. Introduction:

II. Needs Assessment:

III. Goals and Objectives:

IV. Project Methods and Approach:

V. Evaluation and Monitoring:

VI. Budget:

VII. Sustainability:

VIII. Organizational Capacity and Expertise:

IX. Conclusion:

Thank you for considering our grant proposal. We believe that this project will make a significant impact and address an important need in our community. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss our proposal further.

Grant Proposal Example

Here is an example of a grant proposal to provide you with a better understanding of how it could be structured and written:

Executive Summary: We are pleased to submit this grant proposal on behalf of [Your Organization’s Name]. Our proposal seeks funding in the amount of [Requested Amount] to support our project titled [Project Title]. This project aims to address [Describe the problem or need being addressed] in [Target Location]. By implementing a comprehensive approach, we aim to achieve [State the project’s goals and anticipated outcomes].

I. Introduction: We express our gratitude for the opportunity to present this proposal to your esteemed organization. At [Your Organization’s Name], our mission is to [Describe your organization’s mission]. Through this project, we aim to make a significant impact on [Describe the issue or problem being addressed] by [Explain the significance and relevance of the project].

II. Needs Assessment: After conducting thorough research and needs assessments in [Target Location], we have identified a pressing need for [Describe the problem or need]. The lack of [Identify key issues or challenges] has resulted in [Explain the consequences and impact of the problem]. The [Describe the target population or beneficiaries] are particularly affected, and our project aims to address their specific needs.

III. Goals and Objectives: The primary goal of our project is to [State the broad goal]. To achieve this, we have outlined the following objectives:

  • [Objective 1]
  • [Objective 2]
  • [Objective 3] [Include additional objectives as necessary]

IV. Project Methods and Approach: To address the identified needs and accomplish our objectives, we propose the following methods and approach:

  • [Describe the activities and strategies to be implemented]
  • [Explain the timeline and key milestones]
  • [Outline the roles and responsibilities of project staff and partners]

V. Evaluation and Monitoring: We recognize the importance of assessing the effectiveness and impact of our project. Therefore, we have developed a comprehensive evaluation plan, which includes the following:

  • [Describe the data collection methods and tools]
  • [Identify the indicators and metrics to measure progress]
  • [Explain how the results will be analyzed and utilized]

VI. Budget: We have prepared a detailed budget for the project, totaling [Total Project Budget]. The budget includes the following key components:

  • Personnel: [Salary and benefits for project staff]
  • Supplies and Materials: [List necessary supplies and materials]
  • Equipment: [Include any required equipment]
  • Training and Capacity Building: [Specify any training or workshops]
  • Other Expenses: [Additional costs, such as travel, marketing, etc.]

VII. Sustainability: Ensuring the sustainability of our project beyond the grant period is of utmost importance to us. We have devised the following strategies to ensure its long-term impact:

  • [Describe plans for securing future funding]
  • [Explain partnerships and collaborations with other organizations]
  • [Outline community engagement and support]

VIII. Organizational Capacity and Expertise: [Your Organization’s Name] has a proven track record in successfully implementing projects of a similar nature. Our experienced team possesses the necessary skills and expertise to carry out this project effectively. Key personnel involved in the project include [List key staff and their qualifications].

IX. Conclusion: Thank you for considering our grant proposal. We firmly believe that [Project Title] will address a critical need in [Target Location] and contribute to the well-being of the [Target Population]. We are available to provide any additional information or clarification as required. We look forward to the

opportunity to discuss our proposal further and demonstrate the potential impact of this project.

Please find attached the required supporting documents, including our detailed budget, organizational information, and any additional materials that may be helpful in evaluating our proposal.

Thank you once again for considering our grant proposal. We appreciate your dedication to supporting projects that create positive change in our community. We eagerly await your response and the possibility of partnering with your esteemed organization to make a meaningful difference.

  • Detailed Budget
  • Organizational Information
  • Additional Supporting Documents]

Grant Proposal Writing Guide

Writing a grant proposal can be a complex process, but with careful planning and attention to detail, you can create a compelling proposal. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the grant proposal writing process:

  • Carefully review the grant guidelines and requirements provided by the funding organization.
  • Take note of the eligibility criteria, funding priorities, submission deadlines, and any specific instructions for the proposal.
  • Familiarize yourself with the funding organization’s mission, goals, and previous projects they have supported.
  • Gather relevant data, statistics, and evidence to support the need for your proposed project.
  • Clearly define the problem or need your project aims to address.
  • Identify the specific goals and objectives of your project.
  • Consider how your project aligns with the mission and priorities of the funding organization.
  • Organize your proposal by creating an outline that includes all the required sections.
  • Arrange the sections logically and ensure a clear flow of ideas.
  • Start with a concise and engaging executive summary to capture the reader’s attention.
  • Provide a brief overview of your organization and the project.
  • Present a clear and compelling case for the problem or need your project addresses.
  • Use relevant data, research findings, and real-life examples to demonstrate the significance of the issue.
  • Clearly articulate the overarching goals of your project.
  • Define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives that align with the goals.
  • Explain the strategies and activities you will implement to achieve the project objectives.
  • Describe the timeline, milestones, and resources required for each activity.
  • Highlight the uniqueness and innovation of your approach, if applicable.
  • Outline your plan for evaluating the project’s effectiveness and measuring its impact.
  • Discuss how you will collect and analyze data to assess the outcomes.
  • Explain how the project will be sustained beyond the grant period, including future funding strategies and partnerships.
  • Prepare a comprehensive budget that includes all the anticipated expenses and revenue sources.
  • Clearly justify each budget item and ensure it aligns with the project activities and goals.
  • Include a budget narrative that explains any cost assumptions or calculations.
  • Review your proposal multiple times for clarity, coherence, and grammatical accuracy.
  • Ensure that the proposal follows the formatting and length requirements specified by the funder.
  • Consider seeking feedback from colleagues or experts in the field to improve your proposal.
  • Gather all the necessary supporting documents, such as your organization’s background information, financial statements, resumes of key staff, and letters of support or partnership.
  • Follow the submission instructions provided by the funding organization.
  • Submit the proposal before the specified deadline, keeping in mind any additional submission requirements, such as online forms or hard copies.
  • If possible, send a thank-you note or email to the funding organization for considering your proposal.
  • Keep track of the notification date for the funding decision.
  • In case of rejection, politely ask for feedback to improve future proposals.

Importance of Grant Proposal

Grant proposals play a crucial role in securing funding for organizations and projects. Here are some key reasons why grant proposals are important:

  • Access to Funding: Grant proposals provide organizations with an opportunity to access financial resources that can support the implementation of projects and initiatives. Grants can provide the necessary funds for research, program development, capacity building, infrastructure improvement, and more.
  • Project Development: Writing a grant proposal requires organizations to carefully plan and develop their projects. This process involves setting clear goals and objectives, identifying target populations, designing activities and strategies, and establishing timelines and budgets. Through this comprehensive planning process, organizations can enhance the effectiveness and impact of their projects.
  • Validation and Credibility: Successfully securing a grant can enhance an organization’s credibility and reputation. It demonstrates to funders, partners, and stakeholders that the organization has a well-thought-out plan, sound management practices, and the capacity to execute projects effectively. Grant funding can provide validation for an organization’s work and attract further support.
  • Increased Impact and Sustainability: Grant funding enables organizations to expand their reach and increase their impact. With financial resources, organizations can implement projects on a larger scale, reach more beneficiaries, and make a more significant difference in their communities. Additionally, grants often require organizations to consider long-term sustainability, encouraging them to develop strategies for continued project success beyond the grant period.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships: Grant proposals often require organizations to form partnerships and collaborations with other entities, such as government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or community groups. These collaborations can lead to shared resources, expertise, and knowledge, fostering synergy and innovation in project implementation.
  • Learning and Growth: The grant proposal writing process can be a valuable learning experience for organizations. It encourages them to conduct research, analyze data, and critically evaluate their programs and initiatives. Through this process, organizations can identify areas for improvement, refine their strategies, and strengthen their overall operations.
  • Networking Opportunities: While preparing and submitting grant proposals, organizations have the opportunity to connect with funders, program officers, and other stakeholders. These connections can provide valuable networking opportunities, leading to future funding prospects, partnerships, and collaborations.

Purpose of Grant Proposal

The purpose of a grant proposal is to seek financial support from grant-making organizations or foundations for a specific project or initiative. Grant proposals serve several key purposes:

  • Funding Acquisition: The primary purpose of a grant proposal is to secure funding for a project or program. Organizations rely on grants to obtain the financial resources necessary to implement and sustain their activities. Grant proposals outline the project’s goals, objectives, activities, and budget, making a compelling case for why the funding organization should invest in the proposed initiative.
  • Project Planning and Development: Grant proposals require organizations to thoroughly plan and develop their projects before seeking funding. This includes clearly defining the problem or need the project aims to address, establishing measurable goals and objectives, and outlining the strategies and activities that will be implemented. Writing a grant proposal forces organizations to think critically about the project’s feasibility, anticipated outcomes, and impact.
  • Communication and Persuasion: Grant proposals are persuasive documents designed to convince funding organizations that the proposed project is worthy of their investment. They must effectively communicate the organization’s mission, vision, and track record, as well as the specific problem being addressed and the potential benefits and impact of the project. Grant proposals use evidence, data, and compelling narratives to make a strong case for funding support.
  • Relationship Building: Grant proposals serve as a platform for organizations to establish and strengthen relationships with funding organizations. Through the proposal, organizations introduce themselves, highlight their expertise, and demonstrate their alignment with the funding organization’s mission and priorities. A well-written grant proposal can lay the foundation for future collaborations and partnerships.
  • Accountability and Evaluation: Grant proposals outline the expected outcomes, objectives, and evaluation methods for the proposed project. They establish a framework for accountability, as organizations are expected to report on their progress and outcomes if awarded the grant. Grant proposals often include plans for project evaluation and monitoring to assess the project’s effectiveness and ensure that the funding is being used appropriately.
  • Sustainability and Long-Term Planning : Grant proposals often require organizations to consider the long-term sustainability of their projects beyond the grant period. This includes identifying strategies for continued funding, partnerships, and community involvement. By addressing sustainability in the proposal, organizations demonstrate their commitment to long-term impact and the responsible use of grant funds.

When to Write a Grant Proposal

Knowing when to write a grant proposal is crucial for maximizing your chances of success. Here are a few situations when it is appropriate to write a grant proposal:

  • When There is a Funding Opportunity: Grants become available through various sources, including government agencies, foundations, corporations, and nonprofit organizations. Keep an eye out for grant announcements, requests for proposals (RFPs), or funding cycles that align with your organization’s mission and project goals. Once you identify a relevant funding opportunity, you can begin writing the grant proposal.
  • When You Have a Well-Defined Project or Program: Before writing a grant proposal, it’s important to have a clearly defined project or program in mind. You should be able to articulate the problem or need you are addressing, the goals and objectives of your project, and the strategies and activities you plan to implement. Having a solid project plan in place will help you write a more compelling grant proposal.
  • When You Have Conducted Research and Gathered Data: Grant proposals often require evidence and data to support the need for the project. Before writing the proposal, conduct thorough research to gather relevant statistics, studies, or community assessments that demonstrate the significance and urgency of the problem you aim to address. This data will strengthen your proposal and make it more persuasive.
  • When You Have a Strong Organizational Profile: Funding organizations often consider the credibility and capacity of the applying organization. Before writing a grant proposal, ensure that your organization has a strong profile, including a clear mission statement, track record of accomplishments, capable staff or volunteers, and financial stability. These factors contribute to the overall credibility of your proposal.
  • When You Have the Time and Resources to Dedicate to Proposal Writing: Writing a grant proposal requires time, effort, and resources. It involves conducting research, developing project plans, creating budgets, and crafting compelling narratives. Assess your organization’s capacity to commit to the grant proposal writing process. Consider the timeline, deadline, and any additional requirements specified by the funding organization before deciding to proceed.
  • When You Have Identified Potential Partnerships or Collaborators: Some grant proposals may require or benefit from partnerships or collaborations with other organizations or stakeholders. If your project can be enhanced by partnering with other entities, it’s important to identify and secure these partnerships before writing the grant proposal. This demonstrates a collaborative approach and can strengthen your proposal.
  • When You Are Committed to Project Evaluation and Accountability: Grant proposals often include requirements for project evaluation and reporting. If you are willing and able to commit to evaluating the project’s outcomes, tracking progress, and reporting on the use of funds, it is an appropriate time to write a grant proposal. This shows your dedication to transparency, accountability, and responsible use of grant funds.

Also see Proposal

About the author

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Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer

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Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Grant Proposal

Writing a grant proposal is incredibly time-consuming.

No joke. It's one of the most complicated documents you could write in your entire life.

There are different requirements, expectations, and formats—not to mention all the prep work you need to do, like market research and clarifying your project timeline.

Depending on the type of company or organization you represent and which grants you’re applying for, your grant could run anywhere from a dozen to a hundred pages. It’s a lot of work, and we’re here to help.

In this guide to grant proposals, we offer writing steps and examples, as well as resources and templates to help you start applying for funding right away.

Graphic showing increased success when writing grant proposals

Types of grant proposals

Grant proposals typically fall into one of these main categories:

Research grant proposals - Research grant proposals are usually sent by university professors or private research organizations in order to fund research into medical, technological, engineering, and other advancements.

Nonprofit grant proposals - Nonprofits send grant proposals to philanthropic organizations and government agencies to acquire funds for community development, health, education, and similar projects.

Technology grant proposals - Grant proposals can also be sent by technology companies (software, hardware, solar, recycling, environmental, manufacturing, health, and other types of tech companies). These proposals are often sent to large government organizations looking for solutions to current and future problems, as well as VC firms looking to invest in smart startups.

Small business grant proposals - Local governments often give grant awards to small businesses to help them kickstart, market, or expand.

Arts grants - Grants allow artists that would otherwise lack the financial resources to devote extended periods of time to their art. They might need to complete an installation that can be enjoyed by the community as part of the grant.

Grant RFP proposals - There can also be a request for proposals (RFP) for just about anything. From multinational organizations like the UN to family philanthropic grants, you can find RFPs for a variety of projects.

How to prep before you write

Before you can sit down to write your grant proposal, you’ll need to have a deep understanding of:

Existing scientific literature (for research grants) or relevant reports and statistics

Market and competitor landscape

Current available solutions and technologies (and why they’re not good enough)

Expected positive impact of your project

The methods and strategies you’ll employ to complete your project

Project phases and timelines

Project budget (broken down into expense categories)

With these things all buttoned down, you’ll have a much easier time writing the sections that cover those details, as well as the sections that highlight their meaning and importance (such as your statement of need and objectives).

Create a document where you can play around. Take notes, write down ideas, link out to your research, jot down different potential budgets, etc.

Then, when you’re ready to write, create a fresh document for your actual grant proposal and start pulling from your notes as needed.

How to write a grant proposal (ideal format)

Now, let’s get writing.

The ideal outline for a grant proposal is:

Cover Letter

Executive summary, table of contents, statement of need, project description, methods and strategies, execution plan and timeline, evaluation and expected impact, organization bio and qualifications.

If you’re not writing a super formal grant proposal, you might be able to cut or combine some of these sections. When in doubt, check with the funding agency to learn their expectations for your proposal. They might have an RFP or other guidelines that specify the exact outline they want you to follow.

Note: In business proposals, the cover letter and executive summary are the same, and those phrases are used interchangeably. But for grant proposals, the cover letter is a short and simple letter, while the executive summary offers a description of key aspects of the proposal.

In your cover letter, you'll write a formal introduction that explains why you are sending the proposal and briefly introduces the project.

What to include :

The title of the RFP you are responding to (if any)

The name of your proposed project (if any)

Your business or nonprofit organization name

A description of your business or organization, 1-2 sentences

Why you are submitting the proposal, in 1-2 sentences

What you plan to do with the funds, in 2-4 sentences

Dear [Name], The Rockville Community Garden is responding to the city of Rockville’s request for proposals for nonprofit community improvement projects. The Rockville Community Garden is a space for relaxation, healthy eating, exercise, and coming together. We are submitting a proposal to request funding for Summer at the Garden. Every summer, parents are tasked with finding childcare for their children, and we have received countless requests to host a summer camp. We're requesting funding to cover tuition for 100 low-income children ages 5 to 12. The funds will make our summer camp accessible to those who need it most. Thank you for your consideration, [Signature] [Title]

The executive summary of a grant proposal goes into far more detail than the cover letter. Here, you’ll give

Statement of Need overview, in 2 - 5 sentences

Company Bio and Qualifications, in 2 - 5 sentences

Objectives, in 2 - 5 sentences

Evaluation and Expected Impact, in 2 - 5 sentences

Roman architecture stands the test of time until it doesn’t. Roman building techniques can last thousands of years but will crumble to dust instantaneously when earthquakes strike. Meanwhile, our own building techniques of reinforced concrete and steel last only a couple of centuries. Ancient Architecture Research firm is dedicated to modernizing roman building techniques to create new structures that are earthquake safe and sustainable. Our principle investigators hold PhDs from renowned architecture universities and have published in numerous journals. Our objectives for the research grant are to create a prototype structure using Roman building techniques and test it on a shake table to simulate an earthquake. The prototype will pave the way for our application for an amendment to the California building code to permit unreinforced masonry construction. With the success of the prototype, we will prove the safety and viability of this technique. This project will have an enormous potential impact on several crises plaguing the state of California now and in the future: disaster relief, affordable housing, homelessness, and climate migration. Unreinforced masonry construction can be taught and learned by amateur builders, allowing volunteers to quickly deploy temporary or permanent structures.

Next up, you need your Table of Contents! Make sure it matches the names of each of your following sections exactly. After you’ve written, edited, and finalized your grant proposal, you should then enter accurate page numbers to your TOC.

Next up is the statement of need. This is where you sell why you’re submitting your grant request and why it matters.

A description of who will benefit from your proposal

Market and competitive analysis

Statistics that paint a picture of the problem you’re solving

Scientific research into how the problem is expected to worsen in the future

Reasons why your small business deserves funding (founder story, BIPOC founder, female founder, etc.)

While women hold 30% of entry-level jobs in tech, they only make up 10% of C-suite positions. The Female Leadership Initiative seeks to develop women tech leaders for the benefit of all genders. Female leaders have been proven to positively impact work-life balance, fairer pay, creativity, innovation, teamwork, and mentorship.

In this section, you’ll describe the basics of your research project, art project, or small business plan. This section can be kept fairly short (1 - 3 paragraphs), because you’ll be clarifying the details in the next 5 paragraphs.

The name of your project (if any)

Who will benefit from your project

How your project will get done

Where your project will take place

Who will do the project

The Fair Labor Project will seek to engage farm workers in the fields to identify poor working conditions and give back to those who ensure food security in our communities. Trained Spanish-speaking volunteers will visit local farms and speak with workers about their pay and work conditions, helping to uncover any instances of abuse or unfair pay. Volunteers will also pass out new work gloves and canned food. Volunteers will also place orders for work boots and ensure that boots are later delivered to workers that need them.

You should also write out clear goals and objectives for your grant proposal. No matter the type of agency, funding sources always want to see that there is a purpose behind your work.

Measurable objectives tied directly to your proposed project

Why these objectives matter

We seek to boost volunteer turnout for our voter registration efforts by 400%, allowing us to reach an additional 25,000 potential voters and five additional neighborhoods.

Now it’s time to clarify how you’ll implement your project. For science and technology grants, this section is especially important. You might do a full literature review of current methods and which you plan to use, change, and adapt. Artists might instead describe their materials or process, while small business grant writers can likely skip this section.

The names of the methods and strategies you will use

Accurate attribution for these methods and strategies

A literature review featuring the effectiveness of these methods and strategies

Why you are choosing these methods and strategies over others

What other methods and strategies were explored and why they were ultimately not chosen

“We plan to develop our mobile app using React Native. This framework is widely regarded as the future of mobile development because of the shared codebase that allows developers to focus on features rather than create everything from scratch. With a high workload capacity, react native also provides user scalability, which is essential for our plan to offer the app for free to residents and visitors of Sunny County.”

You’ll also need to cover how you plan to implement your proposal. Check the RFP or type or grant application guidelines for any special requirements.

Project phases

The reasoning behind these phases

Project deliverables


In our experience and based on the literature,11,31-33 program sustainability can be improved through training and technical assistance. Therefore, systematic methods are needed to empirically develop and test sustainability training to improve institutionalization of evidence-based programs. This will be accomplished in three phases. In Phase 1, (yr. 1, months 1-6) we will refine and finalize our Program Sustainability Action Planning Model and Training Curricula. As part of this refinement, we will incorporate experiential learning methods3-6 and define learning objectives. The Program Sustainability Action Planning Training will include action planning workshops, development of action plans with measurable objectives to foster institutional changes, and technical assistance. We will also deliver our workshops in Phase 1 (yrs. 1 and 2, months 6-15) to 12 state TC programs. Phase 2 (yrs. 1, 2, and 3) uses a quasi-experimental effectiveness trial to assess the Program Sustainability Action Planning Training in 24 states (12 intervention, 12 comparison). Evaluation of our training program is based on the theory of change that allows for study on how a change (intervention) has influenced the design, implementation, and institutionalization of a program.7,8,11,28 We will collect data on programmatic and organizational factors that have been established as predictors of sustainability9,11 using state level programmatic record abstraction and the Program Sustainability Assessment Tool (PSAT)43 to assess level of institutionalization across intervention and comparison states at three time points. Data will be used to establish the efficacy of the Program Sustainability Action Planning Model and Training Curricula. In Phase 3 (yr. 4, months 36-48), we will adapt our training based on results and disseminate Program Sustainability Action Planning Model and Training materials. - From Establishing The Program Sustainability Action Planning Training Model

A budget table with various expense categories

An explanation of what each category entails

Expenses broken down by month or year (if this fits your proposal)

Here’s an example budget table with expense categories:

Grant proposal budget table

You can then include a brief description of each category and the expenses you expect within them.

A great grant proposal should clarify how you will measure positive outcomes and impact.

Details on the expected impact of your project

Who will benefit from your project and how

Your plan for evaluating project success

How you will measure project success

We will measure the success of the project by monitoring the school district’s math scores. We are expecting an 8% increase in state testing scores from the fall to the spring across grades 1 through 3.

And lastly, finish up your grant proposal with a bio of your organization, your company, or yourself.

Company name

The names of people on your team

Professional bios for everyone on your team

Your educational background

Any relevant awards, qualifications, or certifications

Jane Doe received her masters in fine arts specializing in ceramics from Alfred University. She has received the Kala Fellowship and the Eliza Moore Fellowship for Artistic Excellence.

Successful grant proposal examples

Want to write winning grant applications?

We’ve rounded up examples of successful, awarded grants to help you learn from the best.

Check out these real examples across science, art, humanities, agriculture, and more:

Funded arts and research grants from the University of Northern Colorado

Samples of awarded proposals from the Women’s Impact Network

National Cancer Institute examples of funded grants

Institute of Museum and Library Services sample applications

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program awarded grants examples

Grant application and funding resources

To help you get started writing and sending grant proposals, we’ve found some great application resources.

Research grants:

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants

William T. Grant Foundation grants on reducing inequality

Russel Sage Foundation research grants

Nonprofit grants:

Walmart’s Local Community Grants

Bank of America’s Grant Funding for Nonprofits

Canada GrantWatch’s database of nonprofit grants

Technology grants:

Google Impact Challenges

UN Sustainable Development Goals Fund

US Department of Energy Funding

Small business grants:

US Chamber of Commerce Small Business grants

Canada Small Business Benefits Finder

US Small Business Administration (SBA) grants

Arts grants :

National Endowment for the Arts grants

Art Prof Artist Grants

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  • 20 December 2019

Secrets to writing a winning grant

  • Emily Sohn 0

Emily Sohn is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

When Kylie Ball begins a grant-writing workshop, she often alludes to the funding successes and failures that she has experienced in her career. “I say, ‘I’ve attracted more than $25 million in grant funding and have had more than 60 competitive grants funded. But I’ve also had probably twice as many rejected.’ A lot of early-career researchers often find those rejections really tough to take. But I actually think you learn so much from the rejected grants.”

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How to Write a Successful Grant Proposal

Research budgets are getting tighter. Funding agencies are enforcing stricter guidelines and restrictions. All the while, few researchers receive formal training on how to write effective grant applications. Here we improve your career prospects as a researcher by writing better grant proposals.

Updated on May 26, 2022

Hospital Researchers' binders that are full of successful grant proposals

Research budgets have become more stressed, while funding agencies enforce strict guidelines and restrictions. At the same time, few researchers receive formal training on how to write effective grant applications. Writing better grant proposals will hugely improve your career prospects as a researcher.

Grant writing is especially challenging if you're an early-career researcher and/or English isn't your first language. However, it's not rocket science (unless it's a grant for researching rocket science). You can get what you want if you know how to get it.

Here we outline the key components of a successful grant proposal to help you navigate the intricacies of the application process, including:

  • Searching for and identifying grant opportunities
  • Writing and reviewing a grant proposal
  • What to do after you submit your proposal

What's a grant proposal and why do you need one?

A grant proposal or application is a document (or set of documents) addressed to an organization or funding agency to get funding for a research project.

Grant proposals differ widely across the scientific disciplines, but there are general tips that work universally.

A successful grant proposal can be a key to achieving your research goals by getting money. But writing a grant application also offers many indirect benefits, such as:

  • If you're a researcher on a fixed-term contract, getting funding can extend your contract.
  • You can use a successful grant proposal to take on a temporary position with another research group or institution.
  • Receiving a research grant can mean that an expert review panel views your research ideas as better than others.

Conducting pre-proposal research

The efforts you put in before you send your proposal can improve your chances of acceptance a great deal. You'll hone in on what you really need and you'll see ways of successfully getting it. Think ahead and you'll benefit.

Tough competition

Competition for grants has never been tougher.

Look at the European Commission's Horizon 2020 program. Horizon is the EU's most extensive research and innovation program. Nearly 80 billion euros (~US$84 billion)in funding was set aside in 2014–2020.

A Nature article shows that EU Horizon 2020 reported a 14% success rate for its first 100 calls for proposals—submissions to some categories had lower success rates.

Don't play the short game, think longer-term

Considering those odds, it's critical to start the process early. Give yourself at least 4–6 months to put your proposal together.

To increase your chances of success, before you begin drafting your grant proposal, you need to develop a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and anchored within a Timeframe) plan for what you want to do and why you want to do it.

View samples of successful grant proposals

Look at what's worked (and what hasn't) and you'll save yourself time repeating other people's mistakes. Look for previous proposals you can get from your:

  • University library
  • Trusted peers
  • Supervisor or mentor
  • Past or prospective funding body
  • Online sites and databases

For example, on Open Grants, you can read 250+ grant proposals , both successful and unsuccessful, for free.

Focus on samples of successful proposals in your discipline or applications that have obtained the grant you're applying for. But don't overlook the failures. Read them critically and think how you can do better.

Identifying a grant opportunity and pitching your proposal

Just like choosing the right school, scientific niche, and journal to publish your research, you're seeking the right grant for your future work.

Search grant databases

The easiest way to find grant opportunities is via a database. Although some require a subscription, they can do in seconds what could take days of Googling. This is also a much easier way to organize and keep track of grant opportunities.

Pivot , Scientifyresearch , and ResearchConnect are free, structured databases providing global funding information. They also guide you on how to navigate their interface and use filters (scientific field, submission deadline, allocated budget, etc.) to refine your results.

Evaluate requirements in the solicitation

Finding the right funding body takes more than researching available grants. It takes a critical eye.

If you're unclear about what they're looking for, then writing that grant application may not be worth your time. And knowing that will save you time.

Once you decide to apply for funding, read the grant guidelines carefully. Stick to the suggested structure (e.g., subheadings), format (e.g., font), and language (terminology used).

While reading the instructions, make a list of everything needed for submission, and who on your side will be responsible for gathering this information.

Understand the sponsor's scoring system

Find out how the grant will be evaluated. This will ensure your proposal is tailored to the assessment criteria. For example, the UK Research and Innovation scoring matrix is based on

  • Scientific quality and impact
  • Scientific leadership
  • Justification of resources
  • Other: ethical and governance issues

The deadline is also a critical factor, not just in terms of being on time. If it's in three weeks, it might not be worth your time trying to prepare a proposal. As noted above, it's more realistic to think in months rather than weeks. You'll save yourself wasted time, not to mention stress.

Identify the funder's mission

Granting agencies don't exist solely to give out money. Their priorities vary based on their foundations' missions. Research the organization to see if its mission statement closely aligns with your project and target your request to their mission.

Among others, the Economic and Social Research Council funding priorities now include understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals, groups, and institutions in society. So, a medical researcher studying the impact of COVID-19 on neonatal mortality is better off targeting a different funder.

For example, the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Research focuses on health and social care research.

Make friends with the program manager

Directly contact the granting source if you've read the grant instructions and you're still not sure if your project is eligible. Making a human connection is generally a good thing, unless they specifically indicate they don't want to be contacted. In this regard, it's quite like a job application and networking.

They'll have a dedicated grants officer (maybe called a program manager or director) helping applicants like you. Beyond clearing up what's eligible and what's not, developing a relationship with them can help build their confidence in you and your work.

Note that the role of the program manager varies greatly among granting agencies. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, encourages young researchers to contact program managers. It offers step-by-step instructions on whom you should contact and how .

In some smaller foundations, however, program officers are very busy and might discourage you from getting in touch. To figure this out, you need to research the sponsor's culture on a case-by-case basis.

Make friends with your research support office

Writing a grant proposal doesn't have to be a solo journey. Your institution will likely have a research support office/department (also called a sponsored research office).

These valuable folks can give administrative help with the grant submission process. They'll be able to help fill out relevant forms and double-check that the proposal meets the granting agency's guidelines.

Writing the main body of your grant proposal

All the agencies, people, and processes of grant writing are crucial. But the fundamental part of any grant application remains the written proposal itself.

To get your grant, you need to make a strong case for the importance of your research, particularly regarding community benefit and social impact.

Prove your research will solve real-world problems

Many researchers don't put much thought into the real-world relevance of their work. Yet, most funders want to finance proposals that promise to solve society's biggest challenges.

Before you draft your proposal, you need to consider how your research will confer value to society.

You want to be able to argue that it might save lives or money, improve people's well-being, or have another tangible impact.

Team up with project partners

Involving suitable research collaborators can also increase your chance of success.

If you're conducting cancer research, you could liaise with hospital clinicians or an association against a particular type of cancer. You could team up with a museum or heritage foundation if you're a history researcher. This will help translate your research into practice.

You don't have to go far to find collaborators. Start from your peers and direct contacts or links that your institution or research group might have.

Networking with fellow researchers or industry representatives in your field in conferences and seminars will also help you identify suitable grant collaborators. You can also look for them when you go through previously funded research projects.

Involve peers from relevant disciplines

Interdisciplinary research is seen as innovative because insights from each field contribute to the others. This extends the impact across different scientific specialties and across society.

For example, if you're a social psychologist studying drivers' perceptions of speeding risks. Involving researchers in transport studies, engineering, and related disciplines, not to mention community organizations and law enforcement, will make your proposal look more robust. And it'll actually be more robust.

Adopt research storytelling

Grant proposals can all start to sound the same for those who read and assess them. They're like job applications. As the applicant, you need to set yourself apart and inspire the reader.

You can do this by marketing yourself and your science in an engaging story. Spend less time formulating complex research questions and more time stressing how your research will benefit society. Providing an effective solution will give the reviewers positive emotions. It's like storytelling.

Getting some science communication training will help with this. Try using free science-storytelling tools, like Message Box . This easy-to-use solution lets you convey the information in your head about your work in ways that resonate with your audience. Start by reading real Message Boxes .

Set realistic research questions

A common mix-up among first-time applicants is that promising lots of work will make your proposal look better. It might be tempting to argue that you can solve these big, challenging problems in a single project. But, realistically, that's not often feasible.

For a 2–3-year project, have no more than four research questions. Even after you have proposed these, you'll have just enough space to provide a literature review, a research plan, and a list of expected impacts for each question.

Gather supplementary documents

The proposal itself is the core document, but it's the product of many supporting documents.

Describe the research environment

Other than your expertise, the funders will also want to confirm if you (or your research team) have the capacity to deliver the proposed project successfully.

Do you have access to the necessary facilities to complete the project? This might include access to a university library, to laboratory resources and equipment, or to your study population.

Your proposal needs to prove that you have everything required to start and complete the proposed research project successfully (within time and budget). You cannot be too thorough here.

Create biosketches for the research team

Most funding agencies and institutions ask for a biographical sketch (biosketch): a simplified version of the research team members' CVs. Biosketches stress team members' expertise and experience related to the research project.

Agencies like the National Institutes of Health ( NIH ) and the National Science Foundation both use standard biosketch formats that are regularly updated. They even provide tools to help you create your biosketch and format it according to NIH requirements.

We can't reprint them here, but you can view NIH sample biosketches here .

However, foundations and industry sponsors also set specific requirements for your CV/Biosketches. Follow these precisely.

Create a project timeline

Explain the timeframe for the research project in some detail. When will you begin and complete each step? Presenting a visual version of your timeline makes it easier to understand.

For complex multi-year research proposals, a timeline diagram can clarify the study's feasibility and planning (see below).

Here's a sample timeline to give you a general idea.

productivity table for work packages in a grant proposal

Gather supporting documentation

The supporting documents you'll need entirely depend on the sponsors' requirements. Most often, these include a cover letter, letters of support, and CVs.

Write the executive summary

The executive summary (abstract) outlines the most critical elements of your proposal in a condensed form. For longer proposals, you may be able to use a whole page. For others, you'll have to stick to just one paragraph. Either way, tell the reviewers:

  • What's the goal of your project, the need you're addressing, and/or the real-world problem you're solving?
  • What are your project's projected outcomes and broader impact, and how will you achieve them?
  • How will you evaluate your project's success?
  • Who are you, and why do you deserve this funding?

Let the mission and funding proprieties of the granting agency inform your abstract. Although the summary is the first part of your proposal, it's best to write it at the end. In the same way, it's best to write your manuscript abstract after writing your manuscript. That's the point where you have all your details, your entire story. Now you just have to write it out in a concise and accessible way.

Develop a grant budget

The funder will want to know precisely how you plan to spend their money. They want to ensure that your research project's cost-effective and that you've considered the actual costs of running your project.

In their calls for proposals, agencies provide information on the number of grants expected to be funded and the estimated size of each grant award. This information should inform the creation of your budget.

Meet with the grant office to talk through expenses

As mentioned, most institutions have grant administrators who can work with you to create the budgets and complete any budget forms required by the funder. If you're awarded the grant, they are most likely to manage these budgets.

In preparing a grant budget, there are three main considerations:

  • Policies and requirements of the funding agency
  • Policies of your institution
  • Costs related to each project task

Knowing these rules before developing a grant application will save you time. The grant office can help you understand them, plus translate your project's goal and objectives into money.

Identify categories

Budgets are typically formatted in tables and figures. They contain three components:

  • Direct costs
  • Facilities and administrative costs
  • Institutional commitments

The latter describes your institution's agreement to share the expenses of a research project with the funding body.

Each component is divided into separate categories.

For example, direct costs refer to expenses linked to the performance of specific activities and the resources needed to deliver the project. These often comprise:

  • Personnel: research project team members' salaries
  • External consultants: e.g., you might need an expert adviser to do a cost-benefit analysis for your project
  • Equipment: furniture or laboratory equipment
  • Travel expenses: transportation, accommodation, and/or daily subsistence costs

Create and justify a budget

On top of providing a line-by-line budget, you'll need to justify each expense. This involves a brief explanation for each line item in your budget. When writing this, follow the order in which budget items are presented.

In computing your budget, be as realistic as possible.

If your proposed budget is under the grant limit, think bigger. Think about how your research plans could be better, such as by choosing a bigger population sample or conducting more experiments.

If your estimated budget is over the available limit, you may be proposing too much. Think about removing a research question or staff involved.

The following is a sample 12-month research project budget (in which the university and sponsor share project expenses):

Budget Period: 10/15/2022 to 10/14/2023

budget costs for work packages in a grant proposal

Create a budget timeline

You've established your project's specific aims. Now it's time to create a timeline of key activities and specify when each activity will be completed. This is key to the construction of a sound budget.

Imagine you're proposing a two-year study. You plan to enroll 80 research participants over 12 months (around six people monthly). You'll interview each one for 1 hour in their home.

In year one, you'll need to budget for recruiting and interviewing study participants and traveling to their houses. In year two, though, the project won't involve such activities. Instead, the budget might reflect data entry, analyses, and report generation.

Get down to specifics. Explain yourself clearly. Show your plan.

Finalize, review, and polish your proposal

Think like the reviewer (just like you need to think like a journal editor when you submit a manuscript, or a job interviewer when you're trying to get hired).

Suppose you're tired and hungry. You've got multiple applications to read in a short period. How can you make it as easy as possible for the reviewers?

Avoid jargon

No matter how innovative your ideas are, sloppy or unfocused writing can hide them.

Use clear, concise, and accessible language. Flow clearly from one idea to the next. Use a “plain” word instead of a “smart-sounding” one.

Compare these pairs of sentences:

Bad: I propose dissecting the wartime mnemonic practices of externally displaced Afghan populations.

Better: I would like to see how Afghan refugees remember and talk about the war in their country.

Bad: I aim to explore the heterogeneity of forest ecosystems in spatial and temporal recovery following numerous turbulences.

Better: I hope to see what occurs when a forest grows back after being logged, burned, and cultivated.

Avoiding scientific jargon will help you tell your story from the heart, in words that many more people can understand. Take that type of thinking into your manuscript writing, and you'll increase your research impact.

Use reader-friendly formatting

Along with omitting jargon, formatting also increases readability.

White space, bold headings, standard fonts, and illustrations all make proposals easier to read. Widening margins and reducing the font size to 9-point (or less!) to squeeze in more text may add detail. But it also makes your document harder to read.

Organize ideas with numbered lists. Lists are easier to scan and encourage succinctness. Preface the lists with phrases like, “This project's three main goals are:” or “This work will involve four stages:”

Make sure your English is grammatically correct and readable

Spelling errors, bad grammar, unnatural word choice, exceeding the word limit... these issues can make the reader doubt how rigorous your research is. They might also wonder how careful you'll be with their money.

English errors can result from both a lack of English skills and from hurried writing.

Apart from the usual advice about getting a professional edit or proofread , and using a grammar tool , allow plenty of time. If you wait until the last day, week, or even month to prepare your grant, you're almost guaranteed to make language mistakes.

Even if you're a good writer, you'll probably miss a chance to write something more clearly, remove jargon and idioms, and have a consistent, professional tone.

Once your proposal's clearly written and you've edited it until it seems “perfect,” set it aside for a week. Yes, you're in a hurry, but you'll benefit from this break.

Then go back to it and edit/proofread/revise. Better yet, do it twice.

Get lots of feedback

Peer review is key to all research funding applications.

Even if you follow the advice outlined above, there might still be unclear bits of your proposal (at least to some). To strengthen your proposal, get other people to read it. Don't limit yourself to colleagues from your field. They'll probably be familiar with research jargon and methods.

  • Former grant recipients
  • The funding agency you're applying to
  • Trusted peers in your field

They'll all help you learn more about what successful grant proposals look like in your career stage.

The more feedback you receive, and from a greater variety of people, the better. Arrange early on when and which person will look at your proposal and revise the proposal after each set of feedback.

Life after grant submission

There's no guarantee of funding, no matter how strong your application is. In fact, rejection is common because of the tough competition (see above).

Even renowned scientists aren't always successful.

The Nature article cited above notes that on the day molecular biologist Dr. Carol Greider was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, she learned her recently submitted grant proposal got the thumbs down. Wonder how that grant funder felt when they read the news the next day!

So, even if your proposal ends up not getting funded, the process of planning and writing is valuable, to say the least. Why? Because…

  • You'll generate new ideas.
  • You'll expand your horizons by talking to peers or involving project partners.
  • You may even decide there's a better way to do your study or another research question that's important for you.

Grant writing can be frustrating and tiring, especially if you're an early-career researcher and not used to it.

Take your time to learn from past rejections and negative feedback. It will increase your chances of nailing your next grant proposal.

Final thoughts

Need help with your grant proposal? We can create a concise and polished proposal according to the funder's requirements while communicating the impact of your proposed research project. Learn more about our grant services .

Additional resources

  • Ardehali, H. (2014). How to Write a Successful Grant Application and Research Paper. Circulation Research, 114(8), 1231–1234.
  • Brownson, R. C., Colditz, G. A., Dobbins, M., Emmons, K. M., Kerner, J. F., Padek, M., Proctor, E. K., & Stange, K. C. (2015). Concocting that Magic Elixir: Successful Grant Application Writing in Dissemination and Implementation Research . Clinical and Translational Science, 8(6), 710–716.
  • Chung, K. C., & Shauver, M. J. (2008). Fundamental Principles of Writing a Successful Grant Proposal . The Journal of Hand Surgery, 33(4), 566–572.
  • MacKellar, P. H. (2011). Writing Successful Technology Grant Proposals: A LITA Guide. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
  • Pequegnat, W., Stover, E., & Boyce, C. A. (1995). How to Write a Successful Research Grant Application: A Guide for Social and Behavioral Scientists. New York: Plenum Press.
  • Porter, R. (2005). What Do Grant Reviewers Really Want, Anyway? (PDF)
  • Przeworski, A., & Salomon, F. (2012). Some Candid Suggestions on the Art of Writing Proposals . Revised for the Drugs, Security and Democracy Fellowship Program by SSRC staff (PDF)
  • Ries, J. B., & Leukefeld, C. (1994). Applying for Research Funding: Getting Started and Getting Funded (1st ed.). California, London: SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Squitieri, L., & Chung, K. C. (2014). Funding Research in the Twenty-First Century . Hand Clinics, 30(3), 367–376.
  • Wisdom, J. P, Riley, H, Myers, N. (2015). Recommendations for Writing Successful Grant Proposals , Academic Medicine: 90(12), 1720-1725.

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How to Use Annotated Sample Grants

Are these real grants written by real students.

Yes! While each proposal represents a successfully funded application, there are two things to keep in mind: 1) The proposals below are  final products;  no student started out with a polished proposal. The proposal writing process requires stages of editing while a student formulates their project and works on best representing that project in writing. 2) The samples reflect a wide range of project types, but  they are not exhaustive . URGs can be on any topic in any field, but all must make a successful argument for why their project should be done/can be done by the person proposing to do it.  See our proposal writing guides for more advice. The best way to utilize these proposals is to pay attention to the  proposal strengths  and  areas for improvement  on each cover page to guide your reading.

How do I decide which sample grants to read?

When students first look through the database, they are usually compelled to read an example from their major (Therefore, we often hear complaints that there is not a sample proposal for every major). However, this is not the best approach because there can be many different kinds of methodologies within a single subject area, and similar research methods can be used across fields.

  • Read through the Methodology Definitions and Proposal Features  to identify which methodolog(ies) are most similar to your proposed project. 
  • Use the Annotated Sample Grant Database ( scroll below the definitions and features) filters or search for this methodology to identify relevant proposals and begin reading!

It does not matter whether the samples you read are summer grants (SURGs) or academic year grants (AYURGs).  The main difference between the two grant types is that academic year proposals (AYURG) require a budget to explain how the $1,000 will be used towards research materials, while summer proposals (SURG) do not require a budget (the money is a living stipend that goes directly to the student awardee) and SURGs have a bigger project scope since they reflect a project that will take 8 weeks of full time research to complete.  The overall format and style is the same across both grant cycles, so they are relevant examples for you to review, regardless of which grant cycle you are planning to apply.  

How do I get my proposal to look like these sample grants?

Do not submit a first draft:  These sample proposals went through multiple rounds of revisions with feedback from both Office of Undergraduate Research advisors and the student’s faculty mentor. First, it helps to learn about grant structure and proposal writing techniques before you get started. Then, when you begin drafting, it’s normal to make lots of changes as the grant evolves. You will learn a lot about your project during the editing and revision process, and you typically end up with a better project by working through several drafts of a proposal.

Work with an advisor:  Students who work with an Office of Undergraduate Research Advisor have higher success rates than students who do not. We encourage students to meet with advisors well in advance of the deadline (and feel free to send us drafts of your proposal prior to our advising appointment, no matter how rough your draft is!), so we can help you polish and refine your proposal.

Review final proposal checklists prior to submission:  the expectation is a two-page, single-spaced research grant proposal (1″ margins, Times New Roman 12 or Arial 11), and proposals that do not meet these formatting expectations will not be considered by the review committee.  Your bibliography does not count towards this page limit.

Academic Year URG Submission Checklist

Summer URG Application Checklist


Research methodologies.

The proposed project involves collecting primary sources held in archives, a Special Collections library, or other repository. Archival sources might include manuscripts, documents, records, objects, sound and audiovisual materials, etc. If a student proposes a trip to collect such sources, the student should address a clear plan of what will be collected from which archives, and should address availability and access (ie these sources are not available online, and the student has permission to access the archive).

Computational/Mathematical Modeling

The proposed project involves developing models to numerically study the behavior of system(s), often through computer simulation. Students should specify what modeling tool they will be using (i.e., an off-the-shelf product, a lab-specific codebase), what experience they have with it, and what resources they have when they get stuck with the tool (especially if the advisor is not a modeler). Models often involve iterations of improvements, so much like a Design/Build project, the proposal should clearly define parameters for a “successful” model with indication of how the student will assess if the model meets these minimum qualifications.

Creative Output

The proposed project has a creative output such playwriting, play production, documentary, music composition, poetry, creative writing, or other art. Just like all other proposals, the project centers on an answerable question, and the student must show the question and method associated with the research and generation of that project. The artist also must justify their work and make an argument for why this art is needed and/or how it will add to important conversations .


The proposed project’s output centers around a final product or tool. The student clearly defines parameters for a “successful” project with indication of how they will assess if the product meets these minimum qualifications.

The project takes place in a lab or research group environment, though the methodology within the lab or research group vary widely by field. The project often fits within the larger goals/or project of the research group, but the proposal still has a clearly identified research question that the student is working independently to answer.

Literary/Composition Analysis

The project studies, evaluates, and interprets literature or composition. The methods are likely influenced by theory within the field of study. In the proposal, the student has clearly defined which pieces will be studied and will justify why these pieces were selected. Context will be given that provides a framework for how the pieces will be analyzed or interpreted.

Qualitative Data Analysis

The project proposes to analyze data from non-numeric information such as interview transcripts, notes, video and audio recordings, images, and text documents. The proposal clearly defines how the student will examine and interpret patterns and themes in the data and how this methodology will help to answer the defined research question.

Quantitative Data Analysis

The project proposes to analyze data from numeric sources. The proposal clearly defines variables to be compared and provides insight as to the kinds of statistical tests that will be used to evaluate the significance of the data.

The proposed project will collect data through survey(s). The proposal should clearly defined who will be asked to complete the survey, how these participants will be recruited, and/or proof of support from contacts. The proposal should include the survey(s) in an appendix. The proposal should articulate how the results from these survey(s) will be analyzed.

The proposed project will use theoretical frameworks within their proposed area of research to explain, predict, and/or challenge and extend existing knowledge. The conceptual framework serves as a lens through which the student will evaluate the research project and research question(s); it will likely contain a set of assumptions and concepts that form the basis of this lens.

Proposal Features

Group project.

A group project is proposed by two or more students; these proposals receive one additional page for each additional student beyond the two page maximum. Group projects must clearly articulate the unique role of each student researcher. While the uploaded grant proposal is the same, each student researcher must submit their own application into the system for the review.

International Travel

Projects may take place internationally. If the proposed country is not the student’s place of permanent residence, the student can additionally apply for funding to cover half the cost of an international plane ticket. Proposals with international travel should likely include travel itineraries and/or proof of support from in-country contacts in the appendix.

Non-English Language Proficiency

Projects may be conducted in a non-English language. If you have proficiency in the proposed language, you should include context (such as bilingual, heritage speaker, or by referencing coursework etc.) If you are not proficient and the project requires language proficiency, you should include a plan for translation or proof of contacts in the country who can support your research in English.


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How to write a grant proposal

Michael zlowodzki.

Division of Orthopedic Surgery, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada

Anders Jönsson

* Association Internationale Pour l' Ostéosynthèse Dynamique, Nice, France

Philip J Kregor

** Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

Mohit Bhandari

Academic success and promotion in medicine largely depends on the quality and quantity of received grants. Grant money brings prestige and notoriety to the writer and his institution. However, writing a grant proposal can be a challenging task especially for the inexperienced researcher. As research budgets are being reduced by many funding agencies and more researches are competing for it, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to write a grant proposal of high quality.

The purpose of this article is to give the reader guidance on how to organize a research proposal in order maximize chances to obtain the desired funding. Key aspects will be highlighted and practical tips emphasized. This article will primarily focus on writing a grant for a clinical study.


Good research starts with a good idea! Once you have identified a good idea, you need to clearly define the problem that needs to be addressed and formulate a research question. Subsequently you need to ask yourself if that question is already answered [ Table 1 ]. A thorough literature review is therefore mandatory. If you have a truly good idea, you might find out that you are not the first one having it. You do not want to spend a lot of time and energy into a project only to find out later that there have been already 17 trials and a meta-analysis performed and your research question is answered.

It is not only important to know how much was already published on that topic, but also what the quality of the current evidence is. Rarely in medicine does a question have a definitive answer. If you are trying to compare two interventions for a certain disease, after performing a thorough literature search, you have to ask yourself the following questions: 1) Are there already multiple case series published on that topic? If yes, then it might not be worth it to add another case series to the literature. However, that might be your chance for the first comparative study (cohort study or randomized controlled trial). 2) Are there already multiple comparative studies? If yes, are they cohort studies or randomized trials (RCT)? If there is no RCT maybe you should do one. 3) Are there already multiple RCTs published? If yes, what are the results and what is their sample size? Maybe they were underpowered? If yes you might consider doing a meta-analysis of the existing RCTs and subsequently a larger trial.

After you decided to perceive with your study proposal, you need to determine how many study subjects you need, how much money you need and who your collaborators will be. In order to be successful in obtaining a grant you will need convincing data, which might require several preliminary studies and you will need to prove to the granting agency that you are capable of performing the study the way you propose it. The purpose of the research plan is to describe what will be done, why it is important and how the study will be conducted.


The key elements of the study protocol are the executive summary, specific aims, background and significance, preliminary results and research design and methods [ Table 2 ]. The research design and the methodology used in the process of planning and conducting the project should be described in detail. Prior work relevant to the proposed project should be included. Also if a pilot study was conducted, the results should be included.

Elements of a study protocol

Abstract (Executive summary)

The abstract is an important part of a study protocol because it is the first page that a reviewer reads. Reviewers of granting agencies may make their opinion based on the abstract alone. It may be difficult to overcome a bad first impression and conversely there may be a lot to gain with a good first impression. The purpose of the abstract is to describe succinctly every key element of the proposed project. It is good to be complete but concise.

Specific aims

The purpose of the specific study aims is to clearly describe what research question the investigators are trying to answer by conducting the study. What is the problem to be addressed? The investigators need to describe why the study is needed now. In detail, the hypothesis of the study and the primary and secondary goals should be stated. Typically, the study question should be formulated to include the following: 1) the population to be studied, 2) the intervention, 3) any comparison group to be studied (if relevant) and 4) the study outcomes. The study outcomes should be reported as the primary (main) outcome and any secondary outcomes.

Background and significance

The purpose of the background and significance section is to lay out the rationale for the proposed research project and to summarize currently available data in the literature that is relevant to the project. If no systematic review or meta-analysis was done on the topic, you should do one. Describe the magnitude of the problem to be addressed. What is the patient population you are targeting? What is the incidence of the problem? Is the problem likely to increase in the future (e.g. geriatric fractures)? You need to describe the historic management of the problem and whether or not there is any consensus on the current management of the problem. Are there any uncertainties about the treatment that need to be resolved? If you hypothesize that intervention A is better than intervention B you need to designate your primary outcome parameter and have some baseline data for a sample size calculation. Depending on the project, you might want to survey surgeons for their treatment preferences. Also consider surveying patients to find out about what outcome they consider to be important. There might be some disagreements between the surgeons and patients perspectives. 1 The purpose of the background and significance chapter is to justify the study you are proposing. Describe how the result of your study will benefit society. You need to convince the granting agencies that it is worth their money.

Study design

In order to answer the question you need to choose an appropriate study design. The main clinical study designs are interventional studies, observational studies and diagnostic studies - some overlaps may exist [ Table 3 ]. Which study design is most likely to answer the research question, which one is most feasible and which one gives the highest quality results? The choice of the study design has a significant implication on the magnitude of the required funding. Ethical considerations also need to be taken into account e.g. in some cases a certain study design might not be ethical. A clear description of the eligibility criteria (inclusion / exclusion) is essential. Also describe how outcomes will be measured during follow-up and what the follow-up schedule will be like (frequency and duration).

Types of clinical study designs

Sample size calculation

The sample size calculation is a crucial part of the study protocol. The required sample size has major implications on your required funding and the size of the team. Before you can calculate the sample size you need to designate the primary outcome. It is advantageous to choose an objective, reliable and highly validated outcome in order to limit bias. Ultimately, you should choose the clinically most important outcome that is feasible.

The sample size calculation is different depending on the type of the outcome; if you choose a categorical dichotomous outcome parameter (e.g. nonunion rate, infection rate) the sample size requirements are much higher than if you choose a continuous outcome like a score (e.g., SF-36, DASH, SMFA, pain score). 2 , 3 In order to perform a sample size calculation for dichotomous outcomes, you must have an event rate (e.g., nonunion rate) for your gold standard treatment (e.g., treatment A) and you must hypothesize by how much treatment B is going to decrease or increase that event rate. For continuous outcomes you need to have a mean value for the gold standard treatment and hypothesize a difference for the alternative treatment. Using an alpha error rate of 0.05 (=accepting the probability of a false-positive result) and a beta error rate of 0.20 (=accepting the probability of a false-negative result), which corresponds to a power of 80% is a commonly accepted standard.

You can obtain baseline numbers either from a pilot study or reports in the literature. Ideally the “hypothesized” differences should be in the magnitude of what you consider clinically significant. You can calculate the sample size by hand 4 or use one multiple tools to help with the sample size calculations 5 [ Table 4 ]. Be aware that the sample size calculation is based on assumptions; calculate the best-case and the worst-case scenario.

Useful Books, Software and Websites

The justification of the estimated sample size should be presented as a separate section in a grant proposal. Investigators can present estimates of sample size varying across different mean differences between groups. Alternative approaches are to present the study power across varying sample sizes and mean differences or the estimated mean differences of the outcome parameter across varying study power. 4

Protecting against bias

Study results can be negatively affected by multiple types of bias, mainly selection bias and measurement bias. Investigators need to describe proposed methods for protecting against bias. The most powerful techniques for protecting against bias are 1) randomization, 2) concealment of randomization, 3) blinding and 4) the choice of an objective outcome measure.

If you are comparing the effect of multiple interventions on a specific outcome, the best method of protecting against selection bias is random treatment allocation. Randomization balances known and unknown prognostic factors between groups. Additionally, you can use techniques like blocking and stratification in order to avoid random imbalances in small randomized trials. If you do not allocate treatment options randomly, you should account for imbalances in prognostic factors between groups, by matching the patients to the different treatment groups based on the known prognostic factors upon enrollment in your study or if that is not possible, account for it in the data analysis. However, the only way to balance unknown prognostic factors is randomization.

Blinding is another important technique for protecting against bias. Investigators should blind whoever they can: the patient, the physician (not possible in surgical trials), the outcome assessor and the data analyst. Lastly it is helpful to choose an objective outcome measure like a validated functional outcome scale. If the outcome parameter is subjective (e.g., union/nonunion), you should consider to have an adjudication committee to assess the outcome.


Grants are critical for success in academic medicine. The key to a good grant is a good idea and the ability to “sell” your idea to the reviewers of the granting agency. In order to “sell” your idea, good background research, the appropriate study design and a well thought out methodology are imperative. It is also important to recognize that research is a team effort. Convincing the grant reviewer of your expertise is crucial; choosing experienced team members therefore improves the chances to obtain the desired grant. A successful pilot study and preliminary studies that serve as a justification for your study proposal can prove feasibility to the grant reviewers and be therefore a persuasive factor. You should propose an appropriate budget and a realistic timeline; otherwise failure is almost certain. Lastly, you should tailor their grant application towards the granting agency's goals and use the requested format for their application as that might differ from agency to agency. Targeting multiple government and industry-funded agencies increases the chance of getting funded.

Disclaimer: Michael Zlowodzki was funded by a clinical research fellowship grant of the Association Internationale pour l' Ostéosynthèse Dynamique (AIOD)

Source of Support: Nil


how do you write a research grant proposal

  • How to Write Winning Grant Proposals: 9 Tips and Techniques

Securing grant funding is not just about having a great project idea—it’s about effectively communicating that idea to align with the funding organization’s goals. Winning grant proposals act as a bridge between the potential of your project and the priorities of the funder, presenting a compelling case for why your project deserves support.

This article will guide you through the essential elements of crafting effective grant proposals, including how to structure your proposal, what key details to include, and how to ensure your proposal resonates with the funder’s objectives.

By mastering these elements, you can enhance your ability to secure funding and bring your project visions to life.

Download our checklist of the best free nonprofit tools of 2024

How to write winning grant proposals: tips and techniques, 1. understand the funder’s objectives.

Before you start writing, it’s crucial to thoroughly understand what the funder is looking for. Review the funder’s mission and past funded projects to gauge their priorities and interests.

This knowledge will help you tailor your proposal to clearly align with their goals, increasing your chances of success. Delve into the specific criteria that the funder uses to evaluate grant proposals and look for any strategic themes or focus areas emphasized in their recent grant cycles .

Engaging with the funder’s published materials, such as annual reports or strategic plans, can also provide deeper insights into their long-term objectives and how they measure impact.

By aligning your proposal with these insights, you not only demonstrate your project’s relevance but also show your commitment to contributing to the funder’s overarching goals, significantly strengthening your grant proposals.

2. Structure Your Proposal Clearly

grant proposals

A well-structured proposal makes a strong first impression. Most grant proposals include the following sections:

  • Executive Summary: A concise overview of your project that includes the need for the project, the expected outcomes, and the amount of funding requested.
  • Statement of Need: Why the project is necessary and what issues it seeks to address.
  • Project Description: Detailed outline of the project including goals, timeline, and activities.
  • Budget: An itemized list of how funds will be used.
  • Organization Information: Background information that establishes credibility and capacity to complete the project.
  • Conclusion: Briefly recap the proposal’s key points, reinforcing the project’s importance and your organization’s capacity to successfully implement it.

3. Focus on the Need

Your proposal should clearly articulate the problem or need your project addresses. Use data and research to back up your statements and show the funder why this issue is important.

This section should evoke a sense of urgency and demonstrate that your project can effectively address this need. Be sure to present a compelling narrative that connects the need to real-world impacts, illustrating the consequences of inaction and the benefits of timely intervention.

Detailing the specific populations or ecosystems affected and citing recent studies or statistics not only validates the significance of the need but also positions your organization as well-informed and capable of handling the challenge.

Furthermore, by articulating a clear, direct connection between the funder’s objectives and your project’s aims, you enhance the relevance of your grant proposals, making it more compelling to the decision-makers.

4. Define Clear Goals and Objectives

grant proposals

Clearly state what your project intends to achieve. Goals should be broad, long-term aims, and objectives should be narrow, specific, and measurable. This clarity helps the funder understand your project’s scope and the specific outcomes you aim to achieve, which makes your grant proposals more compelling.

5. Develop a Detailed Project Plan

This is where you outline how you intend to achieve your objectives. Include a timeline, the specific activities to be completed, and who will be responsible for each activity. This section should convey a realistic and well-thought-out plan that instills confidence in your ability to manage the project .

Elaborate on the resources you will need, including any tools, technologies, or support services that are essential to project execution. Additionally, delineate the milestones you expect to reach throughout the project duration, providing clear markers of progress that align with your goals.

This level of detail not only demonstrates your thorough preparation but also reassures the funder that your organization has the competence and foresight to navigate any challenges that may arise.

By presenting a robust, actionable plan, you effectively communicate your commitment to making the project a success and your accountability in using the funder’s resources responsibly.

6. Include a Comprehensive Budget

grant proposals

The budget should be detailed, realistic, and justified. It should clearly align with your project activities and reflect a prudent use of funds. Be sure to include a narrative that explains each budget item. This transparency helps build trust with the funder.

7. Make Your Case Compelling

Use persuasive language to make your case. While your grant proposals should be based on facts and evidence, remember that conveying a compelling story can also capture the funder’s interest.

Show how your project will change lives, improve systems, or transform communities. Incorporate testimonials or case studies from past initiatives that demonstrate your organization’s impact and expertise.

These narratives can humanize your data, giving a face and a story to the numbers and making the outcomes of your proposed work more relatable and tangible.

Moreover, explain the broader implications of your project: discuss how the changes you propose will lead to significant societal, environmental, or economic benefits.

This approach helps the funder visualize the ripple effects of their investment, further solidifying the value and urgency of your proposal.

By intertwining factual data with emotive storytelling, you can engage the funder on both intellectual and emotional levels, making a memorable and persuasive case for your project.

8. Revise and Proofread

grant proposals

Grant proposals that are well-written and error-free reflect your organization’s professionalism and attention to detail. Before submitting, revise your proposal several times and have it proofread by someone who can provide a fresh perspective.

9. Follow Submission Guidelines

Carefully review the submission guidelines provided by the funder. Adhering to these guidelines is crucial as failure to do so can lead to your proposal being disqualified before it is even reviewed.

Crafting winning grant proposals is a crucial skill that can significantly impact your organization’s ability to fund and execute projects. By aligning your proposal with funder priorities, articulating a clear need, and detailing a sound project plan and budget, you increase your chances of success.

Remember, the key to effective grant writing is not just in following a template but in understanding how to tell your project’s story in a way that engages funders and clearly shows the value of your work.

As you apply these tips and refine your approach, each proposal becomes an opportunity to learn and improve, enhancing your ability to secure funding and make a meaningful difference in your community and beyond.

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Candid learning offers information and resources that are specifically designed to meet the needs of grantseekers..

Candid Learning > Resources > Knowledge base

How do I write a grant proposal for my individual project? Where can I find samples?

Few proposal writing resources are specifically for individual grantseekers. Foundations that give to individuals have highly specific criteria, so creating a comprehensive "how-to" guide is hard.

If you don't qualify, don't apply

Remember one important rule: If you don't qualify, don't apply. Approach only foundations that have demonstrated interest in your field and geographic area. These funders are more likely to consider your proposal.

Parts of a grant proposal

Your proposal should be a compelling presentation of your project, which includes reasonable objectives, a plan to achieve them, and your ability to carry out the plan. Your proposal should suggest that you are a potential partner in furthering the funder's mission, not just a person asking for money.

Click here if the funder has asked you to provide an artist's statement.

Proposals from individuals usually do not exceed five single-spaced pages, in addition to the cover letter and the budget. Below is a typical breakdown:

Cover Letter: Written specifically to the appropriate contact person at the foundation. 1 page.

Abstract (also known as executive summary): Describes concisely the information that will follow. 250 words or fewer.

Introduction: Helps to establish your credibility as a grant applicant. 1 sentence to 2 paragraphs.

Statement of Need: Describes a problem and explains why you require a grant to address the issue. 1 page.

Objectives: Refine your idea and tell exactly what you expect to accomplish in response to the need. 1 page.

Methods: What you will do to accomplish your objectives within a stated time frame. 1 page.

Evaluation: Measures your results and effectiveness. This should correspond to your objectives. 1 page.

Future Funding: Details feasible plans to sustain your project. This applies only if the project will run indefinitely. 1 paragraph.

Budget: Itemized list of income and expenses that shows precisely how much money you will need and how you will spend it to accomplish your objectives. 1 page.

To learn more about how to prepare each section listed above, and how to write proposals in general, check out the following training resources. Although the trainings were created for nonprofit organizations, much of the content can be applied to individual grantseekers:

  • Introduction to Proposal Writing , available free as an online webinar or in-person class.
  • Proposal Writing : Browse trainings, articles, videos, and more on this topic.

See also "Document Checklist for Grant Proposals" , a 3-part blog post series that covers the many types of documents often needed during this process.

Sample Proposals

Sample grant proposals for individual projects are hard to find. Applicants want to guard their ideas, and a proposal is very specific to the project and donor.

Sample proposals from nonprofit organizations might help, in terms of how to write the sections required from both individual and nonprofit grantseekers, like the statement of need. Also, some resources below link to sample proposals from individual grantseekers.

Have a question about this topic? Ask us!

Candid's Online Librarian service will answer your questions within two business days.

Este artículo está disponible en español

Explore resources curated by our staff for this topic:, staff-recommended websites, on the art of writing proposals.

Eight pages of proposal writing advice for scholarly researchers.

Writing a Fellowship Proposal

Provides general advice and questions to consider in formulating a fellowship proposal.

Grant Proposal Writing Tips

Offers a helpful overview for preparing and writing a grant proposal. This information is general in nature and would apply to many kinds of projects.

Grant Applications: 5 Mistakes Not to Make

This article outlines common mistakes in applying for grant funding and how to avoid them.

Grant Proposals (or Give me the money!)

This handout will help you write and revise grant proposals for research funding in all academic disciplines (sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts). Targeted primarily to graduate students and faculty, but also helpful to undergraduates who are seeking funding for research (e.g. for a senior thesis). Includes sample budget and project timeline.

Sample Grant Application Questions and Narrative

An excellent example from an arts nonprofit.

Sample Project Description for Young Artist Grant Proposal

2006 recipient of DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities' Young Artist Grant shares the project description from his winning proposal.

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How to Write an RFP for Grants – Everything You Need to Know

Kasia Kowalska

Updated: May 09, 2024

Published: May 08, 2024

Beth Goldowitz, who’s been managing nonprofit organizations for the past 20 years, says that when “managed correctly, grants can keep organizations afloat. They’re stable and predictable, a revenue stream that the organization can count on for the duration of a contract.”

rpf grant preparation

But do you know how long it takes to write a single grant application?

Over 30 hours, and considering that grant writers usually get paid between $25 and $100 per hour, depending on their experience, it’s a significant cost. That’s why it’s so important for nonprofits to decide which grants to pick.

Your organization can make it much easier for applicants to assess if they’re the right fit for your project. It all comes down to getting your RFP for grants right, including adding the right sections and asking the right questions.

Before I dive deeper into the subject, let’s answer the question: what is an RFP for grants?

What is an RFP for grants?

The challenges of writing an rfp for grants, the anatomy of an rfp for grants, how to write an rfp for grants, best practices for writing an rfp for grants, rfp for grants resources.

Download Now: Free RFP Templates

An RFP for grants, or Request for Proposals, is a document issued by grantors such as foundations and government agencies encouraging nonprofit organizations to submit proposals for funding.

Essentially, RFPs offer nonprofits an opportunity to secure funding for various initiatives, irrespective of whether they relate to education, healthcare, or environmental causes.

Each RFP is tailored to achieve a specific goal, so submitted proposals must be in line with the objectives outlined in the RFP.

how do you write a research grant proposal

Free RFP Templates

Fill out the form to get these templates.

  • One-Pager RFP
  • Longer In-Depth RFP
  • Designed PDF RFP

You're all set!

Click this link to access this resource at any time.

I have spoken to a few people working at nonprofits to find out what challenges they came across, either while creating their own RFPs or preparing RFP proposals. Here are the most common obstacles.

Lack of Sufficient Information About the Procurement Process

The quality of your procurement process will impact the quality of the applications you receive. If you don’t share enough information about it, like the timeline, budget, selection criteria, etc., then two things might happen:

  • You will receive applications that aren’t the right fit for the project.
  • A lot of applicants who are the right fit won’t take part in the process as they’ll feel discouraged by the lack of clarity.

The more detailed and logical your procurement process is, the higher the chances of receiving high-quality proposals.

RFP Grants Failing to Communicate the Vision Clearly

This is an RFP grant challenge that has come up the most frequently.

Gauri Manglik, CEO and co-founder of Instrumentl , says that “many organizations struggle to articulate what specific issues they are trying to address and how the grant they offer will drive impact.”

What often happens is that RFP grant writers take a scattered approach instead of having a cohesive strategic framework. As a result, it’s hard for founders who give out grants to evaluate the proposal’s purpose and potential.

Manglik adds that “the most effective RFPs have a sharply defined focus outlining the goals, target population, and theory of change for proposed activities.”

Not Understanding the Legal Implications of the Grant

Grants often come with terms and conditions that must be followed to stay compliant. Failing to do so might result in penalties or even in grants being revoked.

These terms and conditions should be clear and easy to understand to minimize the risk of breaching them.

Jonathan Feniak, general counsel at LLC Attorney , says, “When writing RFP grant proposals, it’s crucial to understand the legal implications of the grant and factor any liabilities into your plan.

If any IP is developed with grant funding, you must specify ownership rights to avoid potential conflicts with donors later.”

Feniak also notes that proposals should clearly outline your expectations, and you must agree on whether the charity or the investor owns its rights.

“Generally, it’s best to consult your legal team throughout the RFP writing process to manage the risks and clearly outline IP ownership,” adds Feniak.

Ensuring clarity and specificity in the language used.

It’s vital to use a language that is not only clear but also specific so it’s easier for potential bidders to understand what’s expected of them. This applies to the requirements, objectives, and expectations of the project.

Kimberly Wall, co-founder of BibleKeeper , says, “The challenge lies in articulating the project’s goals, objectives, and expected outcomes clearly using words that are not really overwhelming the potential applicants with unnecessary details.”

Using the right language will eliminate confusion among nonprofits and make sure that their proposals accurately correspond to the needs of the RFP issuer.

RFPs for grants come in two forms: concise, short tables, where information is filled out in bullet points, and longer ones, which cover each section in detail.

The former aims to give a high-level overview, while the latter is where applicants take a deep dive into their proposal.

So, there isn’t such a thing as an “ideal” length for an RFP. These types of documents can take up multiple pages and usually function as downloadable PDFs.

If you’re wondering what elements grantors should include, then here’s an RFP structure we recommend at HubSpot.

RFP: [Project Name]

Proposal Due By: [Date]

[Organization Name]

In addition to the name, this section could also feature a short overview of your mission. Don’t include a long history of your organization. Instead, use this space to provide a bit of context on what it does and its target market.

Project Overview

A brief introduction to the project itself to let nonprofits know right away if it’s something worth bidding on — no longer than 1-2 paragraphs.

Project Goals

This section identifies what you hope to accomplish through assigning funds to relevant organizations. Specify what you’ll see as a “win” so everyone is on the same page.

Scope of Work

A description of the project and a scope of work — either detailed, if it’s a long RFP, or bullet points if it’s short.

Current Roadblocks and Barriers to Success

In this section, mention any potential constraints that could either disqualify certain candidates or increase the operational complexity of meeting goals.

Evaluation Metrics and Criteria

Here, you outline how you’re going to choose grantees. There are different approaches — some companies use simple “yes” or “no” evaluations to check if a proposal meets the project objectives.

Other organizations use percentages to score more important criteria higher than others.

Submission Requirements

Exact guidelines bidders must adhere to.

Project Due By

If there is a specific project delivery date, mention it in the RFP. This will help you filter out applicants who can’t guarantee completing it within the required timeline.

Here, you should include the target budget. Specify if this budget will be distributed among multiple organizations or assigned to a single grantee.

General Conditions of Contract

This could include information like:

  • Applicant’s legal status.
  • Your stance on subcontracting.
  • Indemnification, insurance, and liabilities.

Some templates also suggest asking questions that you expect bidders to answer — these can serve as a way to further check their alignment with your mission.

So, now that you know what goes into an RFP, let’s learn how to write them. Below, I’ll describe the steps you should take when tackling this paperwork.

In each section, I’ll work through the steps, as I build a mock RFP for sustainability nonprofits.

My sample organization, Earthly Partners, is looking to fund sustainability projects based in the Southwestern United States. Let's get started.

How to Write an RFP for Grants

1. Identify the objectives.

In this step, I want to list all the key information, like goals, timeline, budget, and applicant profile.

As you gather these, you’ll likely come across some informational gaps or considerations that require expert knowledge, like legal considerations and grantor/grantee obligations.

This is an important preliminary stage, which should end with a complete list of information you’ll need to evaluate bidders.

Testing It Out

So, what does my organization, Earthly Partners, want to accomplish? We want to focus on fighting climate change in the South West, particularly through drought relief and community advocacy.

We are able to provide grants of up to $50,000 to each nonprofit.

2. Write an introduction.

Now, I want to provide a bit of information about the organization and the area we focus on. I may also include my organization’s values, current challenges, and the problems we would like to address.

Here is an example of an intro to Earthly Partners’ RFP. Here, we highlight the mission that we focus on and a little bit about our mock organization’s history.

Earthly Partners is pleased to announce the availability of grant funding to support projects that align with our mission of environmental conservation and advocacy.

Established in 2010, Earthly Partners has been dedicated to promoting eco-friendly practices, water conservation, and community empowerment. We recognize the importance of fostering innovative solutions and collaborations within our community, and through this grant opportunity, we aim to support projects that demonstrate creativity, sustainability, and significant impact.

We are most interested in projects focused on community advocacy for climate policies and drought relief.

3. Provide a project description.

This section should serve as a high-level overview. Potential applicants will look at it to quickly assess whether they can propose a relevant project within the required timeline and available budget.

Here’s my project description for my mock sustainability nonprofit:

Grant Purpose: The purpose of this Request for Proposals (RFP) is to solicit proposals for projects that address environmental conservation, climate change mitigation, or sustainable development.

We seek proposals that offer innovative approaches, foster community engagement, and contribute to the long-term sustainability and resilience of ecosystems and communities.

Grant Details:

  • Total Funding Available: $50,000
  • Grant Duration: 12 months
  • Grant Amount: Grants may range from $2,500 to $10,000
  • Eligibility: Nonprofit organizations and community groups operating within the Greater Metropolitan Area are eligible to apply.
  • Application Deadline: July 31, 2024.

4. List clear requirements.

Here, I can specify what exactly I need to know about the proposal. That includes asking the applicants for the project description and how it will help fulfill the goals of your grant.

Continuing with the sustainability grant project from above, this section could look like the following:

Proposal Guidelines:

Applicants are invited to submit proposals that address the following key components.

  • Project Description: Provide a detailed description of the proposed project, including its objectives, activities, target population, and anticipated outcomes.
  • Project Impact: Clearly articulate the potential impact of the project on the environment or the local community. Describe how the project will contribute to positive change and address identified environmental or social needs.
  • Innovation and Creativity: Highlight any innovative approaches or strategies proposed to address the identified environmental or social challenge. We encourage applicants to think creatively and propose solutions that may be outside traditional approaches.
  • Sustainability: Demonstrate the project’s sustainability beyond the grant period. Describe plans for ongoing funding, partnerships, and stakeholder engagement to ensure the long-term success of the project.
  • Roadblocks to Success: Identify potential challenges or roadblocks that the project may face and describe strategies to overcome them. Consider factors such as regulatory hurdles, community resistance, funding constraints, or technical limitations.
  • Budget and Timeline: Provide a detailed budget that outlines how grant funds will be used. Include a project timeline with key milestones and deliverables.

5. Include a submission deadline.

Here, I want to call out the deadline for submissions and explain my preferred way of submitting proposals.

For Earthly Partners, I want to have proposals by the end of July. I call that out, along with my preferred submission format, below.

Submission Instructions:

Please submit your proposal electronically to [email address] no later than July 31, 2024. Proposals should be submitted in PDF format and include the organization's name, contact information, and the title of the proposed project in the subject line.

​​​​6. Be clear on the evaluation factors.

It’s important to explain all the elements your organization will pay attention to while evaluating applications.

Applicants who do not meet your criteria will likely withdraw from submitting their proposal if they don’t see they’re a good fit. This, in turn, will help you pre-qualify organizations and shorten the selection process.

For Earthly Partners, I want to explain how we plan to evaluate applicants and give an overview of next steps. This allows me to explain what projects are likely to receive funding and the timeline for these evaluations.

Evaluation Process:

Proposals will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Alignment with Earthly Partner’s mission and grant objectives.
  • Clarity and feasibility of the project proposal.
  • Potential impact and sustainability of the project.
  • Innovation and creativity of proposed approaches.
  • Budget justification and cost-effectiveness.


Applicants will be notified of funding decisions by August 31, 2024. Successful applicants will receive further instructions regarding grant agreements, reporting requirements, and funding disbursement.

7. Proofread and edit the document.

I use the editing process to make sure that all the necessary elements are included in my RFP and that the instructions are easy to follow.

Failing to use easy-to-understand language might result in low-quality submissions. It’s a good idea to ask a few of your colleagues for feedback to ensure you’ve not missed any important details.

Here are a few considerations to take into account while preparing your RFP.

best practices rfp

Dedicate time to selecting the right eligibility and application criteria.

This is, arguably, the single most important section of your RFP — perhaps even more important than “budget,” as NGOs will want to quickly assess their eligibility.

Esther Strauss, co-founder of Step by Step Business , agrees:

“Given the diversity of causes we support, from education to environmental conservation, finding a grant that provides the necessary funding and also aligns with our goals can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.”

Strauss says that, whenever applying for a grant herself, she needs to know if her organization can genuinely meet the grantor’s requirements while staying true to the organization’s objectives and values.

The need to get the application “right” can also extend to selecting the right application format or method. “The pressure to get it right is immense, as these grants can significantly impact our ability to serve our community,” she adds.

So, how can you make it easier for applicants to assess if they’re the right fit and avoid application mistakes?

Include clear information like:

  • Only bidders who meet at least X out of Y criteria will be considered.
  • Proposals must be sent in [FORMAT] by [DEADLINE]. Applications sent in through other channels will not be considered.
  • Application needs to include a proposed schedule.
  • Proposals must be shorter than [NUMBER] pages. Failure to comply with this guideline will result in an automatic rejection.

For a real-life example, you can also look at this RFP proposal from the U.N. , which keeps the requirement descriptions clear and concise.

As you can see, the quality of the proposals and organization fit lies largely in your hands.

grant examples

Image Source

Simplify negotiations by including key contract terms.

Earlier, I’ve mentioned that many RFP grant writers struggle with translating legal requirements in the RFP.

Wayne Tung of Sendero wrote a great piece on this subject, encouraging RFP publishers to give it the same level of attention as requirements and scope.

“Many people do not include contract term requirements, such as legal and commercial terms, in RFPs. This results in prolonged negotiations,” or even failed grants, he says.

Featuring the main contract terms in the RFP shows respect for both parties — you as the project operator and the organizations seeking funding.

Sometimes, fewer questions are better.

I spent quite some time going through Reddit threads popular among the RFP community, and one of the most interesting points I’ve seen was about question-fit.

One Redditor, roger_the_virus , blatantly says grantors should avoid “useless questions that won’t provide helpful answers. I do my best to make sure we’re not asking for a bunch of information we don’t need and won’t do anything with.”

That said, when it comes to questions, don’t automatically discredit applicants who can’t answer all of them. Offer organizations that have pitched a fitting project and budget the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.

This will prevent them from submitting answers with low informational value, i.e., responses that are vague or unrelated to your query.

Speaking of supplementary questions, this leads to the next point.

Provide clear contact information.

The larger your organization, the less likely it is that there will only be one person responsible for proposal reception and answering questions from applicants.

However, even if it’s an entire office, you should provide contact information with the relevant communication method — either walk-ins between a specific time, like Monday to Friday, email address, or phone number.

Bear in mind that many nonprofits apply to RFPs ongoingly and will only do so if they see that the grantor can help with applicant requests. Here’s an opinion on Reddit from an RFP proposal writer, which garnered multiple upvotes:

“I won’t respond to an RFP unless they commit to giving me their time for detailed discovery and a chance for them to read me the RFP requirements line by line and why they’re important.”

what is an rfp for grants; insights from Reddit

Disclose any potential blockers.

Finally, be transparent about any potential roadblocks winning bidders might come across.

When applying for grants, NGOs need to know if they have the means to complete the project and if there are any other issues, like conflict of interest.

For example, say your organization wishes to assign funds to boost literacy rates in remote rural areas. One of the prerequisites could be having established relationships within target communities.

Such an approach will help preselect applicants, particularly those who don’t have the operational capacity to navigate around any potential constraints.

Here are three resources that might come in handy while drafting an RFP for grants.

1. Candid’s Foundation Directory

Candid’s Foundation Directory shares essential information to help you make smart and strategic funding requests. These resources and tools give you access to funding opportunities that go beyond RFPs.

It includes a list of foundations, including their profiles, funding priorities, application procedures, and contact information.

RFP writers can go through the proposals that have been published already and use them as inspiration to create their own.

2. Free RFP Templates From HubSpot

HubSpot’s Free RFP templates are a great starter kit and will help you draft your request in no time.

This resource gives you two RFP versions — a shorter one and a longer one. Both documents are fully customizable, allowing you to easily add your company name and logo.

You can download them in PDF or turn them into a Microsoft Word or Google Docs file.

These templates include all the crucial elements of an RFP, such as:

  • Company name and background.
  • Project goals.
  • Expected project timeline.
  • Submission requirements.
  • Evaluation criteria.
  • Potential roadblocks.

Each section comes with a quick explainer to help you get the contents right.


Download HubSpot’s RFP Templates for Free

3. Reddit – RFP Subreddits

Unsurprisingly, Reddit is one of the best places to learn from RFP experts as well as understand the applicant’s perspective.

I especially recommend following the RFP subreddit and navigating into more intricate conversations and topics from there.

While many of the discussions cover not only grants but also commercial projects, the advice is universal.

It also goes without saying that you shouldn’t just lurk around the corner — if there’s a challenge you’ve come across while drafting your RFP, this is the community you should ask for advice.

Getting Your RFP for Grants Right

Writing the RFP is the first — and arguably — most important step in the entire grant process. How so? It’s up to you as the grantor to select the right questions and criteria and explain the purpose of the project.

Remember, the more information you provide potential applicants, the easier it will be for them to assess if they fit the grant objectives. And this, in turn, will lead to a higher quality of proposals.

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all template for each project, there are certain must-have sections to include. So, refer to this article to get a head start next time you need to create an RFP for grants.

rfp templates

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Essentials of Grant Proposal Development Course

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