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This post is about tables of contents in grant proposals. It is one of a series about what goes into proposals that win grants. Its context is the United States of America.


Tables of Contents


Grant makers often require a table of contents for longer proposals. Its visual appeal, structure, and coverage – as well as its completeness and its compliance with instructions – can suggest a great deal about an organization as a potential grant recipient.




Look at the proposal’s headlines, headers, and sub-headers as a possible starting point for the table of contents. Use the table of contents to make a strong and positive early impression on the proposal reviewers.


The longer the proposal, the more likely a funder will require a table of contents. In preparing a table of contents when one is required:

  • Use the request for proposals (RFP) as an outline and guide
  • Use the grant maker’s specific order of parts and sections
  • Use the grant maker’s specific names for parts and sections
  • Present a separate line entry for each part and section
  • Break up the proposal narrative into multiple indented subheadings
  • Present a separate line entry for each budget year’s form and narrative
  • Present a separate line entry for each item attached in an appendix
  • List all forms included in the proposal


The proposal’s table of contents is an early opportunity to convince a grant maker of an organization’s worthiness for funding. Reviewers may refer to it often. Applicants need to be sure that it is clear, accurate, and easy to use.





This post is about personnel plans. It is one of a series about what goes into proposals that win grants. Its context is the United States of America.


Personnel Plans


The ultimate success of a grant-funded project or initiative depends largely upon who does the work and how well each person does it. Descriptions of staff qualifications and roles (known also as Quality of Personnel narratives) help funders to decide which applicants win grants and which ones don’t.




Among the factors that reviewers often use in determining the quality of personnel who are proposed to manage or implement a grant-funded project or initiative are:

  • Required qualifications are appropriate
  • Actual qualifications of named key personnel are appropriate
  • Suitable personnel are identified by name
  • Current resumes or curricula vitae are available for all key personnel
  • Time commitments are clear, explicit, and appropriate
  • Experience and educational attainment levels are appropriate
  • Position descriptions fit the specific proposal


Other factors that help reviewers to judge the quality of personnel include:

  • Position descriptions include all expected elements
  • Key personnel have outstanding professional accomplishments
  • All key leadership positions have administrative experience
  • A plan or policy for nondiscriminatory employment is in place
  • Evidence is given that the applicant in fact observes its nondiscrimination policies




If possible, for each identified key position:

  • Prepare a brief biographical sketch
  • Identify each specific person by name, title or position, and affiliation
  • State the person’s highest level of educational attainment
  • Present and quantify the person’s relevant experience
  • Present the person’s relevant professional accomplishments or distinctions


Whom an applicant proposes to do the work, manage the work, and evaluate the work can make or break its competitive grant proposal. Applicants need to be certain that their staffing plans demonstrate the organization’s capacity to deliver high-quality results.


It always takes time and effort to win a competitive grant. Eventual success requires a high degree of readiness and planning. Often it is difficult to know where to start. Having answers to basic questions often makes the entire process far less intimidating.

1. How Can We Prepare for a Grant Proposal?

Create or activate a broad-based proposal development team. Start by defining a local problem, documenting local priority needs, and reviewing existing local, regional, and state plans of action related to the problem and the needs. Identify funders who interested in similar problems and similar needs.

A strong proposal will match local unmet needs and priorities with those of each potential funder. Each funder will describe its interests in its publications; each proposal solicitation and each solicitation’s selection criteria will reflect them. After you have selected the specific funder and a funding opportunity, the selection criteria will offer a starting point for creating your proposal. Responding clearly to each funder’s criteria will help to ensure your proposal’s success.

2. What Parts Do Grant Proposals Have?

In general, a typical proposal has a narrative, a budget, and attachments. The narrative responds to explicit prompts, often called selection or review criteria. It discusses need, a plan of action, organizational capacity, staff qualification, evaluation, and budget. The budget itself consists of line items. Each line item falls under a specific cost category. Common types of cost categories are personnel, travel, and supplies – among others. The more completely your application meets specific funder’s requirements, the more likely the funder is to conclude you are worthy of funding.

3. Do Grant Proposals Have Other Parts?

Many proposals may need an abstract, a table of contents, and a transmission letter. Many applications also include several attachments or appendices, which vary widely in required number and type. Proposals for government grants often require special standard forms, such as an executive summary or a budget summary. Some foundations and corporations also require special application forms. Such forms may be unique to a specific funder or may be common among several of them.

No matter who requires them, many such forms require certifications and signatures from chief executive officers. In addition, a funder may require proof of eligibility, proof of non-profit status, names and affiliations of board members, audited financial statements, and similar supporting materials.

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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