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Competitive proposal writing has two laws. The first law is to master the specific rules of every grant competition you enter. The second law is to observe those rules. Funded proposals obey both laws.

Sometimes you will find more funder guidelines available than you ever imagined: you will need to use all such rules as you structure your writing. Other times, you will need to structure your own proposals: you will need to know and apply the rules of proposal writing without having explicit guidelines.

In both situations, while remaining creative, innovative, research-based, collaborative, and cost-effective, you will need to answer basic questions. These questions embody the fundamentals of funding, the nearly generic guidelines for writing a successful grant proposal.

You can start by answering questions for each of six basic parts of most grant proposals.

Background Information:

Where are you located? How long have you operated? How big is your organization? What physical, human, and financial resources does your organization already have? Do you have a history of doing similar projects? What kinds of success have you had?

Needs Assessment:

What do you need? How do you measure what you need? What specific data substantiate your needs? What specific published research substantiates your needs? Does your project fit into any larger organizational plans to meet the identified needs?

Program Design:

What are your goals? What are your objectives? Who are your participants? What activities will your participants do? What strategies will you use? When and how often will key activities occur? What will make your project innovative? What will make it sustainable? What other organizations will work with you? What is your social marketing or dissemination plan?


Who will lead your project? Who else will play key roles? What are their qualifications? Will your personnel share or reflect your participants’ backgrounds? Will you use consultants and, if so, for what roles? Will you network with other service providers? Will your personnel or participants need any training? How will you conduct training? Who will report to whom?


How will you measure success? What will you measure? Will you evaluate outcomes for both process and product? How will you report your results? To whom will you report them? How often will you evaluate? With whom will you compare your participants? Who will be your evaluator and with what qualifications? With what audiences will you share your results?


How much will your project cost per participant? What will be your major budget items and costs? How much will project administration cost? What is your financial management plan? What other funding sources will you have and use? Will you share total costs with other organizations? How will you continue your project after your initial grant funding ends?

These are a few of the basic questions in writing a narrative for a grant proposal; there are others. If you’re able to answer them, you’ll be able to develop and present a compelling proposal for funding.


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