Nonprofit Kit For Dummies, 6th Edition
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Generally, a grant writer develops a proposal by talking with staff members, volunteers, or the board about a project idea. Before setting fingers to keyboard, the writer should investigate the following:
  • What is the demonstrated need in the community for the work you intend to do?
  • Who are the constituents who will benefit from your efforts? (Find out everything you can about them.)
  • What are others doing in this field?
  • What particular strengths does your nonprofit bring to the project?
  • Specifically, what do you want to accomplish?
  • What will it cost to do it?

Sometimes a funding source announces a specific initiative for which it’s inviting proposals — called a request for proposals (an “RFP”) or a program announcement. When you respond to an RFP, you’re trying to convince the foundation or government agency that your nonprofit is the best one for the job.

Asking for permission to ask

Many funding sources screen proposal ideas before they invite extensive, detailed documents. This enables them to encourage only truly promising requests, saving both themselves and grant seekers the time and effort that goes into reviewing and writing longer proposals.

When you encounter a request for a letter of inquiry (LOI), 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 long. They may be made up of short answers to a foundation’s online forms. Follow the foundation’s stated preferences.

Check out different types of full proposals and a foundation’s budget form at the Nonprofit Kit page at

Passing the screening questionnaire

Some funding agencies screen potential applicants by asking them to respond to short questionnaires that are found on the funders’ websites. Questions often determine specific eligibility — such as whether the nonprofit organization serves a particular geographic area or the size of its budget. You may have to provide your nonprofit’s federal EIN so that the foundation can confirm with the Internal Revenue Service that you are a qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

In many cases, if you “pass” one of these surveys, you’ll receive login information that will permit you to submit more information — either a letter of inquiry or a full proposal. Usually, you’ve learned that you’re eligible to apply but you still don’t know if your application will be a competitive one.

Don’t pass off the letter of inquiry or questionnaire as an inconsequential hurdle: First impressions can be lasting impressions.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Beverly A. Browning, MPA, is a grant-writing course developer who has been consulting in the areas of grant writing, contract bid responses, and organizational development for more than 40 years. She has assisted clients throughout the United States in receiving awards of more than $430 million. Learn more at Stan Hutton is a senior program officer at the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation.

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