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Sooner or later, nearly everyone who competes for grants has compiled his or her own list of what works and what doesn’t. This post is the first in a series about what works (do) and what does not work (do not do) in writing competitive grant proposals. It covers Transmittal/Cover Letters, Proposal Abstracts/Executive Summaries, and Introductions.


In writing a Transmittal/Cover Letter:


  1. Offer to follow up on the enclosed/attached proposal with a call or a visit.
  2. Mention the specific amount of your funding request.
  3. Have a chief executive sign the letter on official letterhead.
  4. Proofread it before printing (or attaching) and sending it.
  5. Send it to the correct, specific, named person, not merely to a position.



  1. Omit a summary of the proposal’s content.
  2. Make it any longer than necessary and appropriate.
  3. Treat it as if it were the same as an Abstract or an Executive Summary.
  4. Demand that the grant-maker fund you.
  5. Ignore its role in creating a positive first impression.


In writing a Proposal Abstract or Executive Summary:


  1. Place the Abstract or Summary at the start of the proposal.
  2. Identify and characterize the applicant.
  3. Identify a problem and describe your solution to it.
  4. Establish the significance of the problem and your solution.
  5. Identify your anticipated outcomes or results.



  1. Fail to describe the intended beneficiaries of the funding.
  2. Fail to build positive perceptions of your organization’s capacity as an applicant.
  3. Omit the need or problem that prompts the proposal.
  4. Omit all reference to your objectives, methods, or results.
  5. Fail to present a powerful synopsis of your grant request.


In writing an Introduction:


  1. Avoid using obscure or overly technical language.
  2. Keep the attention and interest of your readers in mind at all times.
  3. Include some data and research citations to boost your credibility.
  4. Establish a springboard and context for the rest of your proposal.



  1. Fail to identify who is applying for a grant.
  2. Omit evidence of your organization’s history of accomplishments.
  3. Remain silent about your mission, goals, programs, priorities, or beneficiaries.
  4. Lose the reader in excessive details or illogical reasoning.


The next post will address Need Assessments, Work Plans, and Staffing Plans.


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