How to Write a Grant

The following information will help you understand the grant writing process. Click on the links at the bottom of the page for more. 

Before you start 

Writing a government grant is a time consuming process that requires research, good writing skills, and attention to detail. With patience, training, and hard work, however, most people can learn to write good grants.

Grants are funded with taxpayer money so there is high accountability and agencies implement rigorous evaluation and monitoring processes to ensure the money is well spent.

When preparing an application, you should pay close attention to the application guidance. This guidance gives all of information on the grant, such as the program’s purpose, budget amount, application instructions, and the officer who oversees the program.

While the names for the guidance will vary, here we’ll use the common name “Request for Proposal” or RFP.   

The importance of following all directions, deadlines, and requirements cannot be overemphasized. Agencies will reject an application that arrives late or does not follow directions.

If you have any questions regarding the application, you should contact the program officer listed in the RFP well in advance of the deadline to ensure enough time to make necessary adjustments.  The program officer is the official in charge of managing a grant program.

It’s always helpful to establish a good working relationship with them. It may also be helpful to ask the program officer for suggestions, feedback, and advice about the proposed project.

Some federal agencies provide an assessment of a one- or two-page concept paper before a formal proposal is prepared.

Writing your proposal

While you should always structure your grant proposal according to the RFP directions, the basic elements of a grant narrative are provided below with additional links at the end.

Abstract 

Summarizes the project described in the proposal. This is almost always limited to one page.

Needs Assessment  

Justifies the need or problem and is based on objective research. This data, however, should not be voluminous but sufficient to demonstrate that a problem or need exists. Use statistics from credible sources, such as the Census, a State agency, or a school district. 

Goals and Objectives

This section describes the outcomes of the grant in measurable terms. It is a concise description of what the organization hopes to accomplish. Goals are general outcomes while objectives are measureable over time (example: increase the number of children in school by 20% over 5 years). Objectives should also be ambitious but realistic.

Methodology or Work plan  

This section describes the activities to be conducted to achieve the stated objectives. It also includes the reason for choosing a particular approach to addressing the problem identified in the need section. Generally, a straightforward, chronological description of the operations of the proposed project works best.

Key Personnel

This section describes the individuals who will carry out the project and their qualifications. The reviewers need to believe that the project well managed. If the project leaders will be hired by grant funds once an award is received, describe the successful job candidate’s qualifications.  

Evaluation

Proposals must include a plan for determining the degree to which objectives are met. This section is extremely important as funders pay close attention to evaluation. Evaluations are how programs hold grant recipients accountable for delivering what they promised.

Sustainability  

This section describes a plan for continuation beyond the grant and/or the availability of other resources necessary to implement the grant. Here you’ll describe how you’ll carry on a project once funding runs out.

Budget

All proposals should include a budget that clearly itemizes costs. A budget should be detailed and tell the same story as a proposal narrative. If a grant reviewer or program officer doesn’t understand why you need to spend money on a particular item, they’ll strike it from the budget.

Appendices

For some proposals, attachments are required. Be sure to include the attachments listed in the RFP and in the order specified.  

Proofreading

The author should follow the required format. A proposal should always be written as concisely as possible and adhere to the page limit. Winning grants don’t contain misspellings, bad grammar, or confused thoughts.  


The links below provide lots of information on how to write a grant proposal. If you’re new to grants, you’ll want to review them more than once.

Developing your proposal 

Grant Writing 101 -- Youtube Video (32 mins.)

Anatomy of a grant proposal

How to write a grant proposal

After you submit

When you submit an application, it is usually reviewed to ensure you followed the application instructions. 

Afterward, it is assigned to a review panel. These panels may be composed of agency staff or volunteers who are professionals in fields related to the agency’s work. For example, a National Science Foundation proposal may be reviewed by a volunteer panel of scientists, mathematicians, or engineers. The time between application submission and notification of grant award or rejection varies by agency and can range from a few weeks to many months.

Many federal grant programs have a September 30 deadline for notifying applicants of award or rejection. This is the last day of the federal fiscal year, but this is only a general rule.

Ask the program officer how the review process is conducted and how long it takes so you have a realistic expectation of when to expect notification.