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A checklist is a useful tool for making a competitive proposal more likely to win a grant award. This basic checklist will be the first in a two-part series.


  • Have a good (creative or innovative) concept within a well-defined context.
  • Respond explicitly and directly to the funder’s priorities.
  • Follow the application’s guidelines and instructions.
  • Adhere to the format requirements as well as the content requirements.
  • Present enough detail for your readers to reach well-informed judgments about merits.
  • Use the funder’s selection or review criteria as an outline for the proposal.
  • Use the funder’s technical resources such as its publications and expertise.
  • Study grants recently awarded by the same funder for insights about what works.
  • Always keep the reader/reviewer/panelist in mind.
  • Know the proposal’s likely audience and its characteristics and concerns.


  • Take a team approach to proposal development.
  • Involve impacted constituencies in planning and designing the project.
  • Look at the proposal as a blueprint for implementing the project. 
  • Integrate graphics (tables or charts) with the narrative, if possible.
  • Use correct format, spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation.
  • Avoid abbreviations and acronyms wherever possible. 
  • Expect to write several drafts of the proposal. 
  • Have a neutral third party critique a draft of the proposal. 
  • Proofread the final draft. 
  • Follow the funder’s instructions for submitting a proposal.

Program Design:

  • Describe the who, what, where, when, and how of a project, as well as the why.
  • Explain clearly what will be done and why the plan is a good one.
  • Offer and establish potential for a significant improvement over the present situation.
  • Benefit a specific and well-defined population.
  • Use recent research to inform the details of the program design.
  • Demonstrate how a proposed innovation is effective and research-based.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of what others have done about similar problem situations.
  • Strive for state-of-the-art innovation where appropriate.
  • Propose achievable, realistic, and measurable goals and objectives.
  • Align goals and objectives with identified needs.
  • Present baseline data to substantiate the need for a project.
  • Become clear about goals and activities before considering resources needed for them.
  • Offer a plan for effective use of appropriate technologies in project tasks.
  • Present a research-based rationale for the project’s approach.
  • Specify a practical timetable for performing tasks and attaining goals.

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