When Can You Submit a Full Proposal to a Foundation?
Most foundations require a brief Letter of Inquiry (LOI) before they will accept a full proposal. This saves time for both the potential grantee and the grantor. Now and then, a foundation’s grant application process will allow you to submit a full proposal with no other preliminary contact. If this is the case, be sure to thoroughly read the guidelines so that you can optimize your chances for success. Creating a full proposal is a long and time-consuming task!
With the recent downturn in the economy, many foundations no longer accept unsolicited grant requests and work only with current grantees. This fact is not always posted in plain sight on the home page of a foundation’s website! It’s well worth your time to search through the site to verify each grantor’s application process. Government agencies often request a full proposal in response to their Request for Proposals (RFPs).
What are the Components of a Proposal?
A proposal is a formal, detailed document, usually 8 to 12 pages in length. It is very important that you do not exceed the number of pages stated by the foundation on their website. Follow the guidelines for margins, size, type of font and line spacing.
Cover Letter: This is a separate letter that gives a broad overview of your request. The grant maker’s guidelines will instruct you where to send your proposal – use this address in your cover letter. Briefly summarize your organization, mission, purpose and amount of your request. Be sure to show how your proposal furthers the grant maker’s own goals and matches the funder’s grant application guidelines. Cover letters should be typed on letterhead if possible.
Cover Sheet: This is sometimes called an Executive Summary. Often, it is a ‘fill in the blanks’ type of document in which you will provide key information. There are usually spaces to introduce your proposal, summarize your specific program or project, provide contact information, describe the purpose of your funding request, define the needs and/or problems, introduce goals and objectives, solutions, total project cost, and amount of funding requested. Foundation’s usually allow up to one page in length for a summary.
Narrative: This is the main part of your application. Some guidelines allow up to a certain number of words per section (use the ‘Word Count’ tool in Word) or even a certain number of characters or characters with spaces per section of the narrative. Be sure not to exceed these restrictions – failure to follow instructions may lead to forfeiture of your application. Be aware of margin and font requirements.
Introduction: You might begin a brief opening paragraph with words such as the following:
“(Your organization’s name) is honored to submit this proposal to the (Foundation name) with a request for funding in the amount of (dollar amount) to help support (name of your program, project or initiative).
If you are applying for a grant within a specific area of interest or in response to an RFP, include that information. Conclude the introduction with 3 or 4 sentences describing your goals during the grant period, who you will help, what you will do, and how support from the organization will help achieve your goals. Hint: It’s sometimes easier to write the introduction after you have finished the entire proposal.
Organizational Background and History: Include your mission statement – highlight when your organization was founded and by whom. How did you begin – did you respond to a specific need or event? Itemize some of your accomplishments and describe how recipients have benefited from programs or services you have implemented. Show off your successes! Give specific examples that demonstrate positive results. Some applications include a separate section to briefly describe your organization’s recent accomplishments. If not, include them here.
Statement of Need: Why is there a need for your program or services? Who is the target population and how will they benefit? Where is the service area? Feel free to elaborate in this section! Meaningful statistics can be useful here to prove or justify the need for your program or project. Site your sources and be sure they are current. What motivates you to help those you serve? You need to be able to clearly demonstrate that there is a compelling opportunity, challenge or problem that exists and that your organization can provide a meaningful solution.
Goals: What do you plan to achieve with this grant? This is usually a broad statement about what you hope to accomplish and often includes both short term and long term goals.
Objectives: These are activities that must be measurable in some way and listed with projected outcomes. What specific activities will help you achieve your goals? How will you measure success? Itemize your objectives separately, each with its own timeline and projected outcome. For example, if you are submitting a proposal for technology, one objective could read, “During the first quarter of the grant period, we will meet with community leaders in three local areas to identify needs, evaluate existing skill levels, choose participants, inventory available equipment and make plans to install computer labs at each site.”
It is important to describe the scope and projected outcome of the grant in measurable terms. Be specific about the ways in which you will meet your goal(s). Goals and objectives should include a goal for resolving each problem, a description of those who will benefit, and the activities and actions that will accomplish your goals. Be sure to list tangible results.
Methodology: Describe the methods to be used to accomplish your objectives and bring about a successful completion of your program or project. Provide a chronological description of activities and/or actions, intended impact on the target population, and proposed outcomes for each objective. Include the sequence in which activities or actions will occur and which of your staff or other participants will be responsible for completion of these actions.
Timeline: Include a timetable for meeting your goals – be realistic and realize that anything that can go wrong during the grant period probably will, resulting in delays along the way! Do not create too rigid or unrealistic a time schedule. Conclude with a long-term strategy for maintaining the success of the program or project. Funders like to hear that you have a plan in mind to ensure that the support they provide does not end with the end of the grant period.
Challenges/Solutions: What types of problems will be resolved? Be creative and innovative with solutions. What makes your plan different and how might this difference improve your chances for success? What kinds of obstacles may stand in the way of achieving success? How will you meet these challenges? Turn negatives into positives.
Evaluation: How will you evaluate the outcome of your program or services? Will you take a survey, interview participants, or conduct some kind of follow up training session to be sure you met your objectives? Will you prepare a report, a CD or some other type of presentation? With whom will you share the results?
Key Personnel: Who will be involved in the project or program? What is their professional background and how is this pertinent? Provide very brief bios.
Budget: You will usually not obtain all the funding you need from one funder. List other agencies and foundations to whom you have applied, dollar amounts, whether other support is already committed or merely projected and for what amounts. It’s never a good idea to ‘inflate’ your numbers or overstate your budgetary needs. Be realistic. Be clear about why you are seeking a grant, what you plan to do with the money, and why you are a good fit with the grant maker’s priorities. You will need to include a current operational budget as well as a separate program or project budget. Your budget must show income and anticipated expenses for your fiscal year.
Most foundations also require attachments as part of your total grant application. These can include a list of your Board of Directors, your IRS determination letter of nonprofit status, most recent annual report, operational budget and project budget. Some funders also request additional materials such as letters of support, brochures, newsletters, business references or CDs that demonstrate activities and accomplishments of your programs.
Use some of the funder’s own terminology from their website and be sure to match the tone of their language and giving philosophies to your goals. Reviewers will appreciate that you have taken the time to familiarize yourself with their organization’s program areas and giving practices. You must demonstrate that your organization is a very close fit with the foundation’s own policies. Be sure to allow yourself time for several re-writes and double check if the foundation requires that you submit the proposal by mail or by email. Good luck!