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Writing a Grant Application

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I’ve selected a potential funding source; what do I do first?
Read the entire Grant Guidance and Application Instructions documents from the federal agency. Make sure that your project is a good fit for the grant and that your organization is eligible as an applicant. It is a good idea to write a basic outline of the grant proposal so you have a clear vision of what sections must be written and what information is needed to do so.

Some grant programs allow applicants to contact a program manager to discuss their project. If this is available for your grant program, it is an excellent idea to contact the federal agency’s grant program manager (listed in the Application Instructions document) and give them a brief overview of your project so that you can receive some preliminary feedback before writing your proposal.

What is a letter of intent and do I need to submit one?
Some grants and/or cooperative agreements require a letter of intent several weeks or months prior to the full grant submission deadline. A letter of intent is a brief letter that informs the funding agency that you intend to submit a proposal. Different grants handle letters of intent differently, and the content may be quite different from one grant to the other. You need to carefully review the Application Instructions to find out if a letter of intent is required and what the agency's required format is.
How should I organize my grant proposal? What should it look like?
Each grant normally has its own formatting requirements, and following these requirements is mandatory. Federal agencies will generally automatically reject any proposal that does not follow their formatting guidelines and answer all questions posed by the agency. Before beginning to write your proposal, you should read the entire Application Instructions and use them to generate an outline of the proposal as well as note formatting requirements (such as number of allowable pages, font size, and so forth).
What are some key tips in writing a grant proposal?
  • Begin writing early so that you ensure enough time for others to edit/review your proposal.
  • Be concise and specific: about your objectives, how you will measure results and evaluate your project, and how the project achieves the grant’s goals and directives.
  • If the grant requires a discussion about innovation, be sure you clearly address how your project is innovative and what it will bring to the industry, field, or directive.
  • If the grant requires a discussion of replicability, be sure you adequately address this matter. Federal agencies providing grant funding must be able to show Congress that they are allocating grant funds to receive the most return for their investment. Demonstrate in your narrative how your proposed project is replicable, will be cost-effective for others to replicate, and could be leveraged by others to accomplish similar goals.
  • If the grant requires a background review of the literature and/or a discussion of theory, be sure you are very thorough. It is not uncommon that one or more of the reviewers on the grant will be subject matter experts in that field and will expect to see familiar and relative works cited in the literature review.
  • Review your proposal thoroughly and cut out any redundancies.
  • Remember that the beginning of your proposal, often a summary and/or introduction, needs to be very strong and clear so that you capture the attention of the reader.
Do you have any examples of successful grant proposals?
We do not release our customers' grant proposals. However, many federal agencies offer sample proposals from the previous years' awardees, templates, and/or tips. You should check out the federal agency's Web site or get in touch with the grant contact listed in the Application Instructions and inquire if they have sample proposals from previous awardees. You can find federal agency links on our Funding Resources page.
Who should review my proposal?
You should try to have several people review your proposal before submitting it to ensure that you catch all errors, inconsistencies, and vague statements. It is best to have it reviewed by at least one or two people who are knowledgeable in the topic of the proposed project and at least one person who can give you assistance in editing (grammatical and spelling checks).
What are some key tips in constructing a budget?
  • Be sure that your budget conforms to the application instructions, which may require that you use certain categories or certain forms created by the federal government.
  • Your budget needs to be clear and specific. Generally, more detail is better. For example, it is best to break down personnel needs by each position and equipment needs by line item so that the funding agency can see how much each position and product will cost.
  • The budget should be consistent with the grant proposal. If in the narrative you describe that you need certain things for a successful budget, be sure the budget is consistent with that description.
  • You need to make justifications clear for items in your budget. Request funding only for items for which you can make a good case.
  • Carefully scrutinize personnel costs. You should ask yourself: Do I make it clear why this person is necessary? Are their costs reasonable? It is especially important to ensure that you are not funding one person's position both with your regular budget and with grant funds. If a person on the project team is being paid for by the grant funds, but they are also a regular employee in the organization, you may need to explain to the funding agency who will do their regular job in the interim and justify why the person should be paid with grant funds. Remember that a person can only be funded at a full-time level if, indeed, the person expects to spend all of their time on the grant-funded project and will have no other duties during the funding period. Otherwise, try to figure out the percentage of time the person will be spending on the grant project as opposed to other duties.
  • If your budget includes equipment, hardware, software, training classes, or contracted services, be sure you have an accurate budgetary quote from any entities who will provide these items to you. Accuracy in the budget is very important so that if your project is funded, you have enough funds to cover all your necessary expenses.
Where and how do I submit my application?
Some grants allow submission in multiple formats (hard copy in the mail, fax, or online) while others only allow submission in one format. Some have very detailed mailing requirements (such as carrier) as well.

Carefully review the Application Instructions to find out how you will have to submit your proposal. Be sure that if it is an online submission, such as through grants.gov, you register early for all systems necessary to submit your proposal. Additionally, many of these online submissions require that certain forms be filed; be sure to review what forms are required, then use them. If you are submitting your proposal online, it is best to do so several days before the deadline to allow time to work through any technical difficulties that may occur.

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