Foundations and government agencies fulfill their missions, in part, by providing funds for specific purposes in the form of grants. Grant proposal writing is the process of applying for funding in support of a project that provides a social good. Grants may be sought to begin a new activity, to support ongoing operations, to make capital improvements, to purchase needed equipment and supplies, and for other purposes that support a project. A primary goal of grant proposal writing is the demonstration of a match between the funder's mission and the project's purpose.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How do we find out about funding opportunities?
- Should we try to find a single funder or multiple funding sources?
- I found a funding program that looks good. Should I call first, or just send in a proposal?
- What is 501(c)(3) status and why is it of interest to funders?
- How important is networking to getting a project funded?
- How do we show that our project addresses a real need?
- When a funding opportunity requires matching funds, what are some sources or strategies to come up with the match?
- What can we do to make our project sustainable?
- Where do we get supporting statistics or research?
- Where can we get maps to support our application?
- What kind of writing style is most effective?
- Do I need to read and follow the application instructions?
- What do I need to do to apply for a federal grant that requires electronic submission?
- Do we need to hire a grantwriting consultant?
- We don't have the money to pay a grantwriter or the staff to do it all ourselves. Are there other options?
- How do I find examples of successful grant proposals?
- How can I learn more about preparing grant proposals?
- Our proposal was rejected. Should we give up?
- Our proposal was funded. How do we live up to our funder's expectations?
How do we find out about funding opportunities?
The RAC Funding page includes federal, state, local and private funding programs of interest to rural health and human services providers. RAC staff reviews the Federal Register daily to identify new federal funding opportunities.
You can also contact our office at 800.270.1898 or email email@example.com to request a custom search of funding sources. Please include your city, state, county and the purpose of your project in your request. The Rural Assistance Center subscribes to the Foundation Center to search for private foundation grants.
Grant seekers should sign up for announcement mailing lists such as email listservs and newsletters, such as the Rural Assistance Center Updates which include funding opportunities. It is also important for grantseekers to read local newspapers and watch current legislation.
You may also want to locate The Foundation Center Cooperating Collections which are free funding information centers that provide a core collection of Foundation Center publications and a variety of supplementary materials and services.
Should we try to find a single funder or multiple funding sources?
While it would be wonderful to find a single source of funding for a major project, many small organizations rely on multiple funding streams to support their work. Don't discount the smaller chunks of money that are available from funders in your area. If you add up several small grants you may find you have enough money to do what you set out to do.
I found a funding program that looks good. Should I call first, or just send in a proposal?
It is very important to determine that your organization is an eligible applicant for the funding program. Some funders limit applicants to non-for-profit organizations, or academic institutions or public organizations, etc.
Even if a funding program looks like a great match for your organization, it is still a good idea to call and talk with the funder. In tight financial times, many funders narrow their focus to just a few priority areas. Make sure that this is the right program for your agency before you spend time and money developing a formal proposal.
What is 501(c)(3) status and why is it of interest to funders?
501(c)(3) is a non-profit status recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Donors to 501(c)(3) organizations are entitled to a full tax deduction for their contributions. Some funders limit their giving to organizations with this non-profit status.
The Internal Revenue Service has information about how to apply for recognition of exempt status under section 501(c)(3).
How important is networking to getting a project funded?
It can be very helpful to network with other agencies and organizations in your community and beyond. It is important to build your reputation so that funders are aware of the good work you do and think of you when they have extra funds to allocate. Colleagues at other nonprofits may share information on funding opportunities with you. They may also be willing to act as grantwriting mentors.
In some grant programs, networking or partnering with other organizations is a requirement to receive funding. In other grant programs, extra points are awarded for networking with other organizations.
How do we show that our project addresses a real need?
Focus on how the project will help the community. Tell the donor about your community and about the people you are trying to help. Explain the impact that their funding will have on the community and back up your statements with facts.
Sometimes it is imperative to address your organizational needs as well as community needs such as when you are defining the need for capacity building and organization development and requesting funds to do so.
When a funding opportunity requires matching funds, what are some sources or strategies to come up with the match?
For cash matches, local businesses are a good source. Get them involved early in the grantwriting process and let them know that their contribution will be used to leverage additional funds. If an in-kind match is acceptable to the funder, there are many ways to show the contribution your organization and community are making to the project:
- An organization's cash reserves may be used as match funds.
- Staff time and volunteer time can count as an in-kind match. Track the contribution that participants' organizations are providing by allowing them to work on the project, including their attendance at meetings.
- Construction and donations of capital equipment or supplies may be used as an in-kind match.
- An advertising agency or media company that works with you on a campaign may be providing service beyond what you pay for, and that could be counted as a match.
- You may also want to keep track of other types of in-kind contributions, such as meeting space, other use of space, use of equipment and software, printing, mailing, phone calls, and so on.
It is important to keep good records of in-kind matches. Document everything.
What can we do to make our project sustainable?
One rule of thumb is to plan for your project to be self-sustaining within a three year period. Develop a document similar to a business plan that addresses how you will generate income to sustain the project beyond the first three years. Here are two ways you might be able to generate income for your project:
- Charge for services provided. For example, you may be able to get reimbursement for health services provided to a group you are serving.
- Charge a membership fee. This works best if members receive some service, savings, or other benefit through membership.
Your business plan should include any fee schedules or membership fees you plan to use to generate income. A plan to apply for additional grants or awards in the future does not demonstrate sustainability because additional funding is not guaranteed.
The Rural Assistance Center offers tools on Planning for Sustainability. The tools were developed by the Georgia Health Policy Center and have been used by communities across the country that have been funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Office of Rural Health Policy grant programs. The tools are intended to help you:
- Consider the sustainability of programs that address community needs.
- Engage your partners and stakeholders in this planning process.
The tools may be used for planning a new program as well for as existing programs working toward sustainability.
Where do we get supporting statistics or research?
For statistics resources specific to your state, please see the RAC State Resources section. Some additional sources of statistics about your community are the U.S. Census Bureau's American Factfinder and your state data center. For more data sources, see RAC's Finding Statistics and Data Related to Rural Health topic guide.
The Rural Assistance Center can also help you identify specific statistics and do searches for documents that can support your grant proposal. For assistance, contact us at 800.270.1898 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where can we get maps to support our application?
Maps can be an effective way to illustrate the arguments made in your grant application. The RAC Maps section includes national maps on a variety of rural health and human services issues. Maps can be customized to focus on your state or county and to show additional labels, boundaries and data.
It is important to include maps in grant proposals, whenever possible, to show readers a visual location and distances within the state. Many grant reviewers may not know your community or your location within the state.
What kind of writing style is most effective?
Use a direct and clear writing style. Use headings and bulleted lists to help the reader find important information. Avoid using jargon, wordy explanations, or an academic writing style. Focus on the positive impact your project will have.
Do I need to read and follow the application instructions?
Yes, it is very important to structure your proposal according to the instructions provided by the funder. Following the instructions will make it easier for the reviewers to find the information they need and will ensure that you don't forget required information.
Often for grant proposals, scoring is tied to each section of the proposal. The easier it is for the reviewer to find the complete sections, the more likely you are to get the points that you deserve.
What do I need to do to apply for a federal grant that requires electronic submission?
Most federal agencies are now requiring that grant applications be submitted electronically through Grants.gov. Please be aware that some potential applicants not previously registered with Grants.gov may have trouble applying for certain grant opportunities due to short application windows. Grants.gov requires a one-time registration by the applicant organization. This is a three step process and should be completed by any organization wishing to apply for a grant. If you do not complete this registration process you will not be able to submit an application. The registration process will require some time (anywhere from five business days to a month). Therefore, applicants or those considering applying at some point in the future should register immediately. To begin the registration process, follow the steps outlined on Grants.gov: Organization Registration.
Do we need to hire a grantwriting consultant?
It depends on your organization's staffing level and expertise. If there is an individual or group on staff who can complete the proposal in time for the application deadline, you may not need a consultant. If your organization lacks the expertise to develop one aspect of the proposal, such as the budget, you may want to hire a consultant just for that section. Or you may choose to have a professional grantwriter prepare the entire proposal. You may be able to re-use the sections of the proposal describing your organization and community on future proposals.
We don't have the money to pay a grantwriter or the staff to do it all ourselves. Are there other options?
There are several other routes to getting help with grantwriting. One would be to identify someone with good writing skills who is interested in your organization's work and willing to volunteer. Another would be to partner with another organization on the project and cooperate with them to develop the proposal. You may also want to consider hiring a student with good writing skills to assist with editing the proposal.
How do I find examples of successful grant proposals?
You can ask the funder for copies of proposals they have funded.
How can I learn more about preparing grant proposals?
There are several online tutorials you can take on grantwriting, such as these from the Foundation Center:
To find out about upcoming grantwriting training opportunities in your community, contact a local public library or college. You may also want to ask other grant-funded organizations in your community to mentor you.
Our proposal was rejected. Should we give up?
No. Many grant proposals are rejected several times before being funded. Review the comments the grant reviewers made and address the projects weaknesses in future applications.
Our proposal was funded. How do we live up to our funder's expectations?
Write a thank you note to the funder, and submit reports about your project on time. Follow through with the activities you outlined in your proposal, and be sure to keep the funder informed about any changes that you need to make when the project is in progress.
Remember that you are building a relationship with the funder. This may be your first grant from a specific funder, but you may be approaching them again in the future for continuation funds or a different project entirely. Applicants want to establish a long term relationship by building contacts and securing a firm relationship.