How to Write a Grant Proposal

Found a grant your nonprofit organization might qualify for? This guide will help you write a "master proposal." 

A "master proposal" includes all the information you may need to apply for a grant. Every foundation will have different instructions. Make sure you follow them. A primary reason grant proposals are not accepted is because instructions were not followed. 

Be discriminating about to whom you send a grant proposal. Having a master proposal ready will make it easier and faster to organize everything, but it should not be the only format an organization uses. Many foundations have moved to an online format that will ask specific questions about the goals and mission of your organization.


  • Grant Space's Sample Documents
    • Find sample documents to generate writing ideas.  Review other proposal formats, such as a Letter of Inquiry or Letter Proposals.
  • Grant Space's Upcoming Trainings and Webinars
  •'s Grants Learning Center.
    • The federal grant application process can be very different; however, the proposal itself contains much of the same information. The Grants Learning Center provides an excellent overview of the process along with the timeline needed to register, submit an application, and receive a reply.

The Need/The Narrativefriends_editing

The first part of the narrative should explain why your organization/program is needed. Ask yourself these questions when writing this portion.

  • Who am I helping?
  • What is their environment like?
  • Why do they need my help?
  • Is anyone else already helping them?
  • Is there data available to back up my statements?


The use of reliable data in your need/narrative statement is imperative to a good argument. Use reliable sources for your data. These sites provide free and respected data:

Project Description

A project description should be as detailed as possible. You can include:

  • a description of the program or organization activities
  • job designations
  • event schedules

Funders understand that plans may change, but expect the original proposal to remain consistent. Be committed to your original proposal.

Evaluation & Sustainability

Include performance measurement methodology in your project description. Also include  how the program will sustain itself. Many funders  require quarterly reports; use these as a period assessment guide. Before that, however, you need to decide what data you need to track. Write an evaluation plan for your proposal and use it as a guide from the beginning.

Obtaining relevant quantitative data for the evaluation can be difficult. For instance, if your organization is trying to "teach good home ownership skills," what methods of data collection will you use? Does it already exist elsewhere? Qualitative analysis may be useful in this situation.  Design a survey with open-ended questions, for instance.

The following sites are useful for evaluation planning:

Funders want your organization to succeed long after their investment. Be sure the organization or program description demonstrates sustainable fiscal capacity and self-sufficiency.  List other funding sources, if you have them. Funders are not competing with each other; they are comfortable collaborating with industry "friends" who back the same organizations. 

Organization Information

Let funders know why you are uniquely qualified to carry out your actions. Items to include might be:

  • your mission and vision
  • your Board Members
  • previous successful projects
  • other funding awarded to your organization


Budgets need to be itemized. Include capital expenses and operating expenses, etc., that you will need to complete your mission. DO NOT sell yourself short; create a detailed and realistic budget. If a project is underfunded, it will make you look disorganized. 
  • Look at your project description and itemize everything with a cost, include these in your budget.
  • Staff salaries can be divided into "percentage of time spent." For example if your project manager spends 50% of his or her day on one program, include this in the  salary budget description of the program's grant request.
View the free Introduction to Project Budgets webinar on Grantspace for more information.

Additional Paperwork

Funders will ask for all kinds of paperwork, so it's best to have copies of them on file so you can access them easily when you need to. This file will also be useful in case of an audit. Things you should definitely have are:
  • the organization's charity registration certificate and 501(c)3 certificate
  • the organization's most recent 990 tax form
  • the organization's mission and vision statements
  • a list of board members with their contact information and qualifications

Need Help Getting Started?

Contact us through our Ask A Librarian Service or

Call: (410-396-5317)

Grants Collection
Business, Science, and Technology Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

Or, if you are outside of Maryland, contact your local library.