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How to Apply for Federal Assistance
Writing a Winning Grant Proposal
Understanding the Federal Program Descriptions

Writing a Winning Grant Proposal

Grant Writing Publications
Developing a Federal Grant Proposal
Writing The Grant Proposal
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A 'Winning Grant Proposal' is one that is well-prepared, thoughtfully planned, and concisely packaged. An applicant should become familiar with all of the pertinent program criteria related to the assistance program they seek funding from.

Before developing your grant proposal, call or write the information contact person listed under the "Information Contacts" section of your selected program. Ask for a grant application kit, and additional information such as: whether funding is still available, when the applicable deadlines occur, and what is the process the granting agency uses for accepting applications.

In most cases, writing a grant proposal will be as straightforward as following the directions in the application packet they send you. Basic requirements, application forms, and application procedures will vary from one federal agency to the next, which is why it is so important to read the packet you receive thoroughly. The government pays close attention to detail so, if you don't follow directions properly, or make mistakes, your application could be disqualified.

Complete and lengthy proposals are usually only required for Research Project grants. Educational and General Welfare grants usually include a "mini" proposal section built into the application form. In most cases, when writing a proposal for a scholarship or other educational award, it will be no more difficult than writing a thesis or dissertation to graduate from college. If proposal guidelines are included with the application, follow them very carefully.

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Grant Writing Publications

If you've never written a grant proposal before, you may find it useful to attend a grantsmanship workshop. A workshop can substantially amplify the basic information provided here. In addition, there are reference sources in your local public library to consult about writing a grant proposal. It's best to read as much as you can in preparation for your grant writing tasks.

Here's a sample list to start out with:

Locke, Lawrence F. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications

Hale, Phale D., Jr. Alexandria, VA: Capitol Publications, Inc.

Frost, Gordon Jay., Rockville, MD: Taft Group.

Burns, Micheal E. New Haven, CT: DATA.

New, Cheryl Carter. Greenville, SC: Polaris Corporation.

FROM IDEA TO FUNDED PROJECT: GRANT PROPOSALS THAT WORK - Belcher, Jane C. and Julia M. Jacobsen. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.

PROGRAM PLANNING & PROPOSAL WRITING, EXPANDED VERSION - Kiritz, Norton J. Los Angeles, CA: The Grantsmanship Center.

Geever, Jane C. and Patricia McNeill. New York, NY: The Foundation Center.

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Developing A Federal Grant Proposal
Content provided by the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance

NOTE: The following information is intended as a guide for writing a Federal Project Grant or Formula Grant.

Developing Ideas for the Proposal

When formulating your idea for a proposal you should first ascertain whether the idea has already been considered in your State or local province.

Check with your local legislators, area government agencies and related public and private agencies to determine if grants or contracts have already been awarded in your locality to perform similar work. If a similar program already exists, you may need to reconsider submitting the proposed project, particularly if it can be perceived that a duplication of efforts might result.

If there are significant differences in an existing local project from the one you intend to propose, or if you can clearly establish improvements in your proposed project's goals, it may be worthwhile to pursue the federal assistance.

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Community Support

Community support for a grant proposal is very important. Once you have developed your proposal summary, look for individuals or groups that represent related academic, political, and professional organizations, which may be willing to support your proposal in writing. The type and caliber of community support you receive will be critical in the initial and subsequent review phases.

Numerous letters of support can be persuasive to a grantor agency. Do not overlook support from local government agencies and public officials. As part of a grant proposal, federal agencies often request letters of endorsement which outline the exact areas of a project's sanction and commitment. Several months may be required to develop letters of endorsement since something of value (e.g., buildings, staff, services) is sometimes negotiated between the parties involved.

Many agencies require, in writing, affiliation agreements (a mutual agreement to share services between agencies) and building space commitments prior to either grant approval or award. An effective method of obtaining community support may be to hold meetings with the top decision makers in the community who would be concerned with the subject matter of the proposal.

The forum for discussion may include:
  • An inquiry into the merits of the proposal.
  • Development of a contract of support for the proposal.
  • Generate data in support of the proposal.
  • Develop a strategy to create proposal support from a large number of community groups.
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Identification of a Funding Resource

In order to determine which programs might provide funding for a particular idea, refer to the "Objectives" and "Uses and Use Restrictions" sections of the program description page.
In order for a grant proposal to be considered an acceptable candidate for funding, both the applicant and the granting agency should have the same interests, intentions, and needs.

Once you have identified a potential granting agency, call the contact telephone number shown in "Information Contacts" section of the program description and ask for a grant application kit.

Become familiar with some of the personnel at the granting agency and ask for suggestions, criticisms, and advice about the proposed project. In many cases, the more that agency personnel is aware of your proposal, the better your chance of being supported and eventually receiving a favorable decision.

Another effective way to gain recognition is to send your proposal summary to a specific agency official with a separate cover letter, and ask for their review and comment at their earliest possible convenience. Be sure to check with the Federal agency to determine its preference and whether this approach is under consideration. If the review is unfavorable and differences cannot be resolved, ask the examining agency (official) to suggest another department or agency which may be interested in the proposal.

A personal visit to the agency's regional office or headquarters is also important. A visit not only establishes face-to-face contact, but also may bring out some essential details about the proposal or help secure literature and references from the agency's library.

Federal agencies are required to report funding information when funds are approved, increased or decreased among projects within a given State depending on the type of required reporting. Also, consider reviewing the Federal Budget for the current and budget fiscal years to determine how much money is allocated for particular budget functions.

You should carefully study the eligibility requirements for each Federal program under consideration (see the "Applicant Eligibility" section of the program description). You may discover that you might be required to provide services otherwise unintended such as a service to particular client groups, or involvement of specific institutions. This could make it necessary to modify the original concept of the project in order for it to be funded. Questions about eligibility should be discussed with the appropriate program officer.

Deadlines for submitting applications are usually non-negotiable. They are normally associated with strict timetables for agency review. Some programs have more than one application deadline during the fiscal year. Applicants should plan proposal development around the established deadlines.

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Getting Organized to Write the Proposal

Throughout the proposal writing stage keep a notebook handy to write down your ideas. Periodically, try to connect ideas by reviewing the notebook. Never throw away written ideas during the grant writing stage. Maintain a file labeled "Ideas" or by some other convenient title and review the ideas from time to time. The file should be easily accessible. If possible, gather your documents, such as articles of incorporation, tax exemption certificates, and bylaws before your writing begins.

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At some point, possibly after the first or second draft is completed, seek out a neutral third party to review the working draft of your proposal for continuity, clarity and reasoning. Ask for constructive criticism at this point, rather than waiting for the federal granting agency to give you this information during the review cycle.

For example, has the writer made unsupported assumptions or used jargon or excessive language in the proposal?


Most grant proposals are submitted to institutions rather than individuals. It is usually required for the signatures of the chief administrative officials to be signed. Check to make sure they are included in the proposal in the appropriate areas.


Grant proposals should be typed, collated, copied, and packaged correctly and neatly (according to agency instructions). Each package should be inspected to ensure uniformity from cover to cover. Binding may require either clamps or hard covers. Check with the Federal agency to determine its preference. A neat, organized, and attractive proposal package can leave a positive impression with the reader about the proposal contents.


A cover letter should always accompany a proposal. Standard U.S. Postal Service requirements apply unless otherwise indicated by the Federal agency. Make sure there is enough time for the proposals to reach their destinations. Otherwise, special arrangements may be necessary. Always coordinate such arrangements with the Federal grantor agency project office (the agency which will ultimately have the responsibility for the project), the grant office (the agency which will coordinate the grant review), and the contract office (the agency responsible for disbursement and grant award notices), if necessary.

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Writing The Grant Proposal

The Basic Components of a Grant Proposal

There are eight basic components to creating a solid grant proposal package:

(1) The Proposal Summary
(2) Introduction of Organization
(3) The Problem Statement (or needs assessment)
(4) Project Objectives
(5) Project Methods or Design
(6) Project Evaluation
(7) Future Funding
(8) The Project Budget

The following will provide an overview of these components.

The Proposal Summary: Outline of Project Goals

The proposal summary outlines the proposed project and should appear at the beginning of your grant proposal. It could be in the form of a cover letter or a separate page, but should definitely be brief (no longer than two or three paragraphs).

The summary would be most effective if it were prepared after the proposal has been developed in order to encompass all the key summary points necessary to communicate the objectives of the project. It is this document that becomes the cornerstone of your proposal, and the initial impression it gives will be critical to the success of your venture. In many cases, the summary will be the first part of the proposal package seen by agency officials and very possibly could be the only part of the package that is carefully reviewed before the decision is made to consider the project any further.

You must select a fundable project that can be justified by a local need. If there is to be an absence of federal support, you should point out the alternatives. The influence of the project both during and after the project period should be explained. Also, highlight the consequences of the project as a result of being funding.

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Introduction: Presenting a Credible Applicant or Organization

Applicants should gather data about their organization from all available sources. Most proposal procedures require a description of an applicant's organization to describe its past and present operations. Some features to consider are:

  • A brief biography of board members and key staff members.
  • The organization's goals, philosophy, track record with other grantors, and any success stories.
  • The data should be relevant to the goals of the federal granting agency and should establish the applicant's credibility.
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The Problem Statement: Stating the Purpose at Hand

The problem statement (or needs assessment) is a key element of a grant proposal that makes a clear, concise, and well-supported statement of the problem to be addressed. The best way to collect information about the problem is to conduct and document both a formal and informal needs assessment for a program in the target or service area. The information provided should be both factual and directly related to the problem addressed by the proposal. Areas to document are:

  • The purpose for developing the proposal.
  • The beneficiaries -- who are they and how will they benefit.
  • The social and economic costs to be affected.
  • The nature of the problem (provide as much hard evidence as possible).
  • How the applicant organization came to realize the problem exists, and what is currently being done about the problem.
  • The remaining alternatives available when funding has been exhausted. Explain what will happen to the project and the impending implications.
  • Most importantly, the specific manner through which problems might be solved. Review the resources needed, considering how they will be used and to what end.

There is a considerable body of literature on the exact assessment techniques to be used. Any local, regional, or State government planning office, or local university offering course work in planning and evaluation techniques should be able to provide excellent background references.

Types of data that may be collected include: historical, geographic, quantitative, factual, statistical, and philosophical information, as well as studies completed by colleges, and literature searches from public or university libraries.

Local colleges or universities which have a department or section related to the proposal topic may help determine if there is interest in developing a student or faculty project to conduct a needs assessment. It may be helpful to include examples of the findings for highlighting in the proposal.

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Project Objectives: Goals and Desired Outcome

Program objectives refer to specific activities in a proposal. It is necessary to identify all objectives related to the goals to be reached, and the methods to be employed to achieve the stated objectives. Consider quantities or measurable figures and refer to your problem statement and the outcome of your proposed activities when developing a well-stated objective. The figures used should be verifiable. Remember, if the proposal is funded, the stated objectives will probably be used to evaluate program progress, so be realistic.
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Program Methods and Program Design: A Plan of Action

The program design refers to how the project is expected to work and solve the stated problem. Sketch out the following:

  • The activities to occur along with the related resources and staff needed to operate the project (inputs).
  • A flow chart of the organizational features of the project. Describe how the parts interrelate, where personnel will be needed, and what they are expected to do. Identify the kinds of facilities, transportation, and support services required (throughputs).
  • Explain what will be achieved through 1 and 2 above (outputs); i.e., plan for measurable results. Project staff may be required to produce evidence of program performance through an examination of stated objectives during either a site visit by the federal granting agency and or grant reviews which may involve peer review committees.
  • It may be useful to devise a diagram of the program design. For example, draw a three column block. Each column is headed by one of the parts (inputs, throughputs and outputs), and on the left (next to the first column) specific program features should be identified (i.e., implementation, staffing, procurement, and systems development). In the grid, specify something about the program design, for example, assume the first column is labeled inputs and the first row is labeled staff. On the grid one might specify under inputs five nurses to operate a child care unit. The throughput might be to maintain charts, counsel the children, and set up a daily routine; outputs might be to discharge 25 healthy children per week. This type of procedure will help to conceptualize both the scope and detail of the project.
  • Wherever possible, justify in the narrative the course of action taken. The most economical method should be used that does not compromise or sacrifice project quality. The financial expenses associated with performance of the project will later become points of negotiation with the federal program staff. If everything is not carefully justified in writing in the proposal, after negotiation with the federal granting agencies, the approved project may resemble less of the original concept. Carefully consider the pressures of the proposed implementation, that is, the time and money needed to acquire each part of the plan. A Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) chart could be useful and supportive in justifying some proposals.
  • Highlight the innovative features of the proposal which could be considered distinct from other proposals under consideration.
  • Whenever possible, use appendices to provide details, supplementary data, references, and information requiring in-depth analysis. These types of data, although supportive of the proposal, if included in the body of the design, could detract from its readability. Appendices provide the proposal reader with immediate access to details if and when clarification of an idea, sequence or conclusion is required. Time tables, work plans, schedules, activities, methodologies, legal papers, letters of support, and endorsements are all examples of appendices.
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Evaluation: Product and Process Analysis

The evaluation component is two-fold: (1) product evaluation; and (2) process evaluation. Product evaluation addresses results that can be attributed to the project, as well as the extent to which the project has satisfied its desired objectives. Process evaluation addresses how the project was conducted, in terms of consistency with the stated plan of action and the effectiveness of the various activities within the plan.

Most federal agencies now require some form of program evaluation among grantees. The requirements of the proposed project should be explored carefully. An internal staff member, an evaluation firm, or both may conduct evaluations.

The applicant should state the amount of time needed to evaluate, how the feedback will be distributed among the proposed staff, and a schedule for review and comment for this type of communication. Evaluation designs may start at the beginning, middle or end of a project, but the applicant should specify a start-up time. It is practical to submit an evaluation design at the start of a project for two reasons:

  • Convincing evaluations require the collection of appropriate data before and during program operations; and,
  • If the evaluation design cannot be prepared at the outset then a critical review of the program design may be advisable.
Even if the evaluation design has to be revised as the project progresses, it is much easier and cheaper to modify a good design. If the problem is not well defined and carefully analyzed for cause and effect relationships then a good evaluation design may be difficult to achieve. Sometimes a pilot study is needed to begin the identification of facts and relationships. Often a thorough literature search may be sufficient.

Evaluation requires both coordination and agreement among program decision makers (if known). Above all, the federal granting agency's requirements should be highlighted in the evaluation design.

Also, federal granting agencies may require specific evaluation techniques such as designated data formats (an existing information collection system) or they may offer financial inducements for voluntary participation in a national evaluation study. The applicant should ask specifically about these points.

Also, consult the "Criteria For Selecting Proposals" section of the program description to determine the exact evaluation methods to be required for the program if funded.

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Future Funding: Long-Term Project Planning

Describe a plan for continuation beyond the grant period, and/or the availability of other resources necessary to implement the grant. Discuss maintenance and future program funding if program is for construction activity. Account for other needed expenditures if program includes purchase of equipment.

The Proposal Budget: Planning the Budget

Funding levels in federal assistance programs change yearly. It is useful to review the appropriations over the past several years to try to project future funding levels (see the "Financial Information" section of the program description).

However, it is safer to never anticipate that the income from the grant will be the sole support for the project. This consideration should be given to the overall budget requirements, and in particular, to budget line items most subject to inflationary pressures. Restraint is important in determining inflationary cost projections (avoid padding budget line items), but attempt to anticipate possible future increases.

Some vulnerable budget areas include: utilities, rental of buildings and equipment, salary increases, food, telephones, insurance, and transportation. Budget adjustments are sometimes made after the grant award, but this can be a lengthy process. Be certain that implementation, continuation and phase-down costs can be met. Consider costs associated with leases, evaluation systems, hard/soft match requirements, audits, development, implementation and maintenance of information and accounting systems, and other long-term financial commitments.

A well-prepared budget justifies all expenses and is consistent with the proposal narrative. Some areas in need of an evaluation for consistency are:

(1) The salaries in the proposal in relation to those of the applicant organization should be similar.

(2) If new staff persons are being hired, additional space and equipment should be considered, as necessary.

(3) If the budget calls for an equipment purchase, it should be the type allowed by the grantor agency.

(4) If additional space is rented, the increase in insurance should be supported.

(5) If an indirect cost rate applies to the proposal, the division between direct and indirect costs should not be in conflict, and the aggregate budget totals should refer directly to the approved formula.

(6) If matching costs are required, the contributions to the matching fund should be taken out of the budget unless otherwise specified in the application instructions.

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Securing a grant is no easy task. But for the dedicated and persistent, it's there for the asking. Government budgets are set up to spend all the cash they are allocated. People like yourself are awarded these funds all the time. This time next year it could be you on the receiving end of this money - and possibly on your way to a new career!

Good Luck!

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Understanding the Federal Program Descriptions