How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal

The year is 2030, and you are headed to yet another awards banquet honoring someone for doing something. However, this is not just another awards banquet; this is your awards banquet. Out of the thousands of researchers searching for a cure for a debilitating disease, you were the one to discover it and leave your legacy. As you walk up to the podium, you run over the list of people that you have to thank for making this possible: your spouse, your kids, your mom, and, of course, the organization that sponsored your research over the years.


The year is 2011 and you are staring at a blank computer screen as you attempt to complete a grant proposal for research funds that could quite possibly help you in your quest to finding a cure.

Where to begin?

You have come to the right place. After reading this blog, you will be a professional at writing a winning grant proposal.

Preliminary Research

Before you even begin to think about writing the actual proposal, you need to do some preliminary research. Organizations distribute their funds to projects based on how well the project proposal meshes with the goals and interests of the organization. The more that you can design your project to fit the specific needs and goals of the organization and its grant, the better chance you have of receiving the maximum grant amount.

Resources that will help you better understand the funding organization and its grant programs include the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA), Request for Initial Proposals (RFIP), Requests for Applications (RFA), and having a conversation with the sponsoring organization’s contact person. After you have tweaked your project goals so that they are aligned with the goals and interests of the organization, you are ready to begin writing the proposal.

Writing the Proposal

The key to writing an effective, winning grant proposal is telling the sponsoring organization how its money is going to be used to achieve your goals and take your organization or project into the future. With this principle in mind, you can begin crafting the eight essential elements of a proposal.

1.      Proposal Summary: The proposal summary is the first piece that the organization will read and is often the only part of the proposal that gets thoroughly reviewed. Therefore, it is critical for you to make a good first impression. To do this, be sure to include an outline for the project and how the steps you plan to take will help you achieve your objectives.

2.      Introduction of the Organization: Most sponsoring organizations want you to know about your company and any past grant work that it has done. You can use these two to three paragraphs to further solidify the connection between your project goals and the goals of the sponsoring organization. Also, make sure to include a biography of your organization and its employees along with any success stories that have resulted from sponsored grant work.

3.      Problem Statement: This is the portion of the proposal where you address the problem you intend to solve with the grant money. It is important to use as much factual information as possible to prove that this problem is worth solving. You may also consider including a brief description of how this problem may affect the sponsoring organization to further demonstrate the significance of your proposal.

4.      Project Objectives: In this section, you will want to list the goals of the projects and the benefits that each of these goals will provide to society. You will also want to include the specific criteria of the grant program and demonstrate how each one of your project goals and objectives fit into the given criteria. This will further enhance the connection between the goals of the sponsoring organization and your project goals. Remember that you must be realistic when describing your project goals and objectives.

5.      Project Methods or Design: The main purpose of the project method section is to lists the jobs that will be completed with the grant money. This can be most effectively done be providing a timeline that lists specific project milestones along with the goals that these milestones meet. The main purpose of the project design is to describe and justify the methods that you intend to use to solve the proposed problem.

6.      Project Evaluation: This section of the proposal outlines the criteria that you will use to evaluate your progress as you move through your proposed project outline. Be sure to also include the criteria for evaluation upon completion of the project.

7.      Future Funding: The sponsoring organization may require you to include a list of future grants that you plan to obtain for the continuing funding of your project or any grants that you have received in the past to fund this particular project.

8.      The Proposal Budget: See the discussion below.

The Proposal Budget

When calculating your project budget, BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE. The less you rely on rounding, the more the sponsoring organization will be convinced that you have done your homework and have thoughtfully planned how you will use the funds. It is also important that your projected budget never be more than the total amount of the grant.

It is quite common for the sponsoring organization to provide you with a required format for your proposed budget. However, no matter the format, your proposed budget should always include personnel costs, non-personnel costs, and indirect costs. The Environmental Protection Agency’s web site provides a detailed description of how these sections can be formatted in your budget proposal:

Supplemental Materials

The final step in preparing your winning grant proposal is gathering the required supplemental materials to submit with your proposal. As with budget formatting, many sponsoring organizations will provide a specific list of supporting documents. You can expect to include such things as any charts or tables referred to in the proposal, as well as certifications, resumes, biographies of employees, etc. Just make sure to include all the requested material when submitting your proposal.

So, what are your experiences with writing grant proposals? Does your experience match my advice? Do you have additional tips? Click that comment button to share additional advice or experiences you’ve had with grant proposals.


“Grant Proposal Writing Tips.” Corporation for Public Broadcasting. January 22, 2011.

“Tips On Writing a Grant Proposal.” Environmental Protection Agency. January 8, 2011.


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