How to Get Started on a Grant Proposal for Your Nonprofit
Generally, a grant writer for a nonprofit organization develops a proposal by talking with staff members, volunteers, or the board about a project idea. The writer builds the members’ enthusiasm and refines the project idea with their knowledge. Before setting fingers to keyboard, the writer should investigate the following:
Who are the constituents who will benefit from the project? (Find out everything you can about them.)
What are others doing in this field?
What particular strengths does your nonprofit bring to doing the project?
Specifically, what do you want to accomplish?
What will it cost to do this work?
Sometimes a funding source announces a specific initiative for which it’s inviting proposals — called a Request for Proposal (an RFP) or a Program Announcement. In responding to an RFP, the grant writer resembles a job seeker who’s convincing a prospective employer (in this case the foundation or government agency) that she (or rather the nonprofit she represents) is the best one for the job.
Ask for permission to ask for the grant
Many funding sources want to screen proposal ideas before they receive extensive, detailed documents. This allows them to encourage only truly promising proposals, saving both themselves and grant seekers the time and effort that goes into reviewing and writing longer proposals.
When a grant writer encounters a request for a letter of inquiry, he should boil down the essence of the proposal into a readable, compelling letter. The letter doesn’t ask for a grant directly, but it asks for permission to submit more detailed information. Most letters of inquiry are two or three pages in length. Follow the foundation’s stated preferences.
Pass the grant screening questionnaire
Some funding agencies screen potential applicants by asking them to respond to questionnaires, which are often found on funders’ websites. Questions may determine specific eligibility — such as whether the nonprofit organization provides services in a particular geographic area — while others ask for substantive answers to questions.
As with a letter of inquiry, this questionnaire may seem like a barrier to applying but is intended as a tool to keep unlikely applicants from wasting their time and efforts.
A grant seeker shouldn’t pass off the letter of inquiry or a questionnaire as an inconsequential hurdle: First impressions can be lasting impressions.