The 6 Steps to Writing a Winning Nonprofit Grant Proposal

The 6 Steps to Writing a Winning Nonprofit Grant Proposal

Grant writing is tough! might just be the understatement of the century.  

If writing grant proposals were easy, there wouldn’t be people who’ve made their entire careers out of this specialized skill. And for nonprofits without the budget to hire a grant writer nor the years of experience it takes to get comfortable with grant writing, the idea of filling out a proposal can be paralyzingly daunting.  

There’s no two ways about it. The process is complicated, and you can’t get away with inadequate research, bad information, or poor writing. If you’re willing to do the work, however, grant proposals can be the financial lifeline for your nonprofit organization.  

First of all, find the grants that align with your mission and are a natural fit for your nonprofit. With potential grant in hand, work along with us as we cover the six crucial steps to writing a winning nonprofit grant proposal.   

Step 1: Cover Letter   

The first thing a grantmaker will see when they open your proposal is the cover letter — so make it a strong one! A cover letter is there for multiple reasons, but most importantly, it will prevent your application from being skipped over by the reader  

Yep. Bad cover letter = no grant.  


  • Address the grantmaker directly! You won’t do this in your actual proposal, but the cover letter should be more informal. 
  • Keep it brief by taking out anything overly emotional or fluffy.   


  • Beat around the bush when it comes to money. State the exact amount you need and what it will go to. 
  • Simply restate what you’ve written in your proposal. Include something extra of value that’s not in your application. 
  • Make it all about you! This is not about you needing funds to help your organization. The cover letter is your chance to argue that the funds are beneficial to your community, and align with the values of the grant giver.  

Step 2: Proposal Summary   

Think of a proposal summary as the SparkNotes of your application. You’ll need to squish the most important parts of your proposal into two pages. It’s a difficult task, but necessary if you want to keep the reader’s attention.    

By the time they have finished reading, they should have a clear idea of who you are, why you need the funds, and exactly how you plan to use their money. Here you’ll include:   

  • Your mission  
  • The problem that you’re solving in your community 
  • The end goal of your project 
  • How you’ll measure results of the project  
  • Other funding sources  

The proposal summary should be more formal, so don’t address the grantmaker directly. Save that for the cover letter! Don’t worry if you’re missing some important details of your project. You simply don’t have the space for it, and your reader will understand that. Don’t be tempted to write more than two pages!   

Step 3: Statement of Need   

Your statement of need will outline a specific problem in your community, and how you can fix it. Here you’ll need to have done adequate market research to determine exactly what the needs of your community are. If you don’t include quantitative data in this section of your proposal, that’s a red flag for your reader.   

While you should include your research on the history of this particular problem, it’s not the time to dig deep into its potential causes. Remember that this is about your project’s solution to the problem. Don’t get off track!  

Here you’ll need to push the grantmaker. The community needs this project completed now! Emphasize your plan for immediate action once you receive the grant.   

Step 4: Project Design & Project Budget  

Your project design and budget is all about the nitty-gritty. You’ve already explained your why, and it’s now time to go into the how  

Write as if the grantmaker knows nothing about your organization or field. If you assume that your reader is well-versed in what it takes to run a nonprofit, you might omit key details.  

Break your project up into the various tasks that need to be completed, and list the gaps that this grant will fill. Do you need to hire additional staff? Do you need to expand or upgrade your facilities? After you’ve included this list, include research you’ve done to ensure that your methods will be cost-effective. Your reader wants to make sure that their dollars will go a long way!   

Step 5: Other Funding Sources   

This grant can’t be your only source of funding. Grantmakers want to ensure their money is going to a sustainable, stable organization. In this portion of your proposal, include your five-year plan for meeting projected costs.   

You’ll need to communicate funding needs for your nonprofit beyond this project.   

  • What are your day-to-day costs now?  
  • What will you need in operating support?  
  • Have you accounted for inflation?   

This isn’t an easy task, so consulting with a trustworthy accountant can be helpful here.  

Step 6: Evaluation Process   

If you fail to include this section or are too vague, you’re unlikely to get the grant. You’ve articulated your goals for your project, but those goals aren’t worth squat if you don’t provide a comprehensive plan for exactly how you’ll evaluate your progress.  

Grantmakers want to support projects that are successful. That requires a process for determining when that objective has been achieved.  

The evaluation process can be another expense in your project budget, especially if you plan on hiring an outside agency. Tasks for evaluation can vary depending on the project. There are only two elements of your outline that must be included: clear timeframes and a plan for feedback.   

A strong project plan is one that is set to be completed in a certain amount of time. Are you going to achieve your objective in one year? Ten? Both time frames are perfectly acceptable, so long as they are clearly communicated.  

Ultimately, this project is for the good of the community. Community feedback is the most important part of your plan for evaluation, so don’t leave it out!  

Writing a grant proposal isn’t an easy or quick process, but these funds can make the difference in your nonprofit project’s success. To enlist the help of a financial expert to help you through it all, contact KYN today.  

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