Grant Writing Basics

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A grant is money given to a nonprofit organization or individual, which does not have to be paid back if the terms of the agreements are followed. Grants are applied for in various ways, most often through a proposal for funding. In order to receive a grant, an organization often is required to have 501(C)3 status, which is a federal nonprofit status per the IRS. The most important thing to remember in grant writing is to only apply for funds that you are qualified for. Your project must match the goals of the organization providing the money.


Hundreds of billions of dollars of grants are available each year through various sources such as companies and government organizations. Grants allow organizations, and in some cases individuals, to provide programs, projects and services to a community. Without grants, many organizations would not exist.


Grants come from three sources: government, foundations and corporations. Government grants can be available through federal, state or local governments. These grants are often for the largest amounts of money and have the highest level of competition. They are therefore the most difficult to get.
Foundations are established for the sole purpose of giving funds to organizations or individuals to achieve their goals and mission. Corporate grants come directly from companies. Corporations often also have a foundation that grants money. Corporations give grants in order to benefit the communities in which they reside, to be responsible corporate citizens and to be visible in the community.

Time Frame

The amount of time you spend on a grant will depend on the size of the grant, if you have written grants for the project before and what type of application the funder uses. Government grants will generally take the longest, corporate grants generally require only a brief proposal letter and foundations fall somewhere in the middle. For a full proposal you should expect to spend at least a few weeks researching your topic, a few weeks writing and a week or so editing. If this is your first time writing a grant, allow yourself plenty of time for revision before the deadline.


Many people believe that they cannot write a grant themselves. If you are able to write clearly and directly, can research your subject and can speak knowledgeably about your topic, you can write a grant. While experience is needed to write complicated government grants, proposals for many foundations and corporations are clear cut. Many people falsely believe that if they write an excellent grant it will not matter what their project is. Grant proposals must match the grant objectives in order to be successful. Another misconception is that funders hold all the power in the process and you must convince them that your project is worthy of funding. A better way to view the process is to realize that funders have missions. When the mission of a funder matches the mission of your organization, it is beneficial for both of you to work together. Their funds will allow you to achieve your mission and your project will allow them to achieve their mission.


The most important aspect of grant writing is proper research. The majority of rejected proposals are never reviewed because the proposed project does not meet the funder's criteria. When deciding to apply for grant funds you must ask yourself if the purpose of the grant as outlined by the grantor matches the purpose of your project. If the answer is yes, you should continue. If the answer is no you should seek another funding source. Once you have found a funder whose objectives match yours you must find out what type of proposal they accept. You may need to do a letter of inquiry, call to speak to a grant officer or write a full proposal.


Be sure to follow the format your funder lists. Most funders will provide instructions on how to write the grant proposal. You should always include up-to-date background information on the problem you are trying to solve or the area you are working in. Write clearly and concisely, and avoid jargon. Make sure to clearly show how your project would fit with the goals of the funder. And don't forget to ask for the money! If you are writing a letter of inquiry the amount requested should be in the first or second paragraph. If you are writing a full proposal you will need to provide a detailed budget of how the money will be spent. Make sure to have several people review your grant for typos and to make sure the proposal is clear before you submit it.