6 Components of a Grant Proposal


Most grant proposals can be broken down into the following sections:

1) Organization information. This can be up to one page in which you brag about your organization. Everyone has an idea of what a library is and does, but you cannot assume people know what happens in a library today. It is insufficient to say you have x locations open y hours per week. Use this section to talk about things you do that will not come up later in the proposal. What happens because you exist? How many students are able to complete their homework because you have an after-school help program? How many questions and requests for help do you answer? What kinds of awards have you received? You should also highlight your key program partners. In a general operating request, you may want to list the organizations you work with to provide services both in and outside library facilities.

2) Need or situation. Here you should state the need you want to address, and present statistics or anecdotes that demonstrate the need. There is some sort of data out there to support everything you do. Use the Web to locate the most recent studies on the need or effectiveness of the kind of program for which you are seeking support. If possible, use information relevant to your service area. Using demographic information, school testing results, or scholarly studies validates the need. If you cannot find an impartial source, look for information that may have come from a community focus group, or other libraries’ best practices.

If you are seeking general operating or program support for something you already do, at the minimum you should reference current usage statistics. Also, use any feedback you have collected regarding the programs you already conduct, especially as they relate to results or impact. For instance, you might include a quote such as, “My second grade son reads more during the summer because we are at the library for the summer reading program.”

3) Solution or activities. This is often the largest part of the proposal, where you describe what specific activities you plan to accomplish and how those activities will lead to change. If you have a history of offering the activity, highlight your previous successes and relate what you have learned through your prior efforts. Also be sure to include

  • Goals and objectives. In many proposals you will include your goals and objectives as part of the activities section, but as they are a critical point for funders, they can also be presented separately. You should state one to three overarching goals that relate to your library’s community. An example of a goal statement is, “to increase the recreational reading of at-risk teenagers during the summer months.” Each goal can have one or many objectives, which outline the methods used to achieve the goal. For instance, an objective related to the example goal is to “partner with community agencies that serve at-risk teenagers.” Activities are the specific actions that you will do to make each objective occur, for example, “Create and implement a plan to deliver materials to public summer school locations.”
  • Timeline. A timeline is a compelling tool that shows the potential funder you have thought through how and when the activities will be accomplished. It can be as simple as a spreadsheet with one axis representing a month and the other axis representing a key goal.
  • Personnel. In applications where the funder does not ask for personnel information separately, be sure to highlight the skills and experience of the key project person or persons, as they relate to their role in this proposal. In particular, if a person has engaged in similar activities, these should be emphasized.

4) Measurement and evaluation. There are entire books available on program evaluation, and they all support the same point: if you receive grant money, you must report to your funder what difference the money made. If you have a program or initiative already in existence, start doing some measurement of its impact! Attendance figures are not enough in the information age—you must have some evidence that indicates attending had a positive effect. (The good news is that many funders are willing to pay for you to hire an outside expert to help with this.) The challenge is that your proposal will need to provide at least an outline of how you plan to measure your success.

Common evaluation tools used by libraries are surveys, focus groups, and interviews. Surveys of participants can be as straightforward as asking “Was it helpful?” and “How do you know it was helpful?” You can conduct these without worrying about breaching any confidentiality standards, stating in your proposal that you will only provide cumulative data and any individual responses will be collected anonymously. The purpose of the evaluation section of a proposal is to prove to the potential funder that

  • You have thought about how you will measure impact
  • You will report back to the funder
  • If you are successful, other organizations can replicate what you have done

5) Budget and budget narrative. The purpose of the budget is to demonstrate to the potential funder that you know what financial resources will be needed for success and that you have a plan for securing them. No funder wants to give money, and then have the grantee come back saying, “We couldn’t get the project done because we didn’t realize we would need x.” Most funders also have clear rules about what they will not support—for example, the salary of a person who already works full-time. The expense budget allows them to look closely at what you see as the components critical to success. The income budget allows them to see what portion they are being asked to fund, what you will provide, and whether other funders will be sharing their risk. For general operating proposals, you can simply include your organization’s annual budget. For project or program grants, you must also provide a project or program budget that includes the items you’ve included in your “Grant Project Concept Worksheet,” but in significantly more detail.

6) Attachments. Finally, there are a number of additional pieces of information a funder may request. Most will not accept media of any kind (such as a DVD that highlights your library or explains a program), but it is common to be asked to provide a website address. The following are attachments you may see requested:

  • Cover letter—this is a one- to three-paragraph summary of your proposal that includes the dollar amount you are requesting, the reason you feel you are a good fit with the funder, a snapshot of the proposal, and your contact information. Compose your cover letter with care. It is often a funder’s first introduction to you.
  • Cover sheet—a specific form the funder has developed that you must complete. A funder may have a specific form for you to complete. The cover sheet should be located between the cover letter and the actual proposal.
  • Financial statements, preferably audited, or IRS Form 990
  • List of additional funders, including those from the previous year, or funders that have already committed to the current project request
  • List of your board members and their affiliations
  • IRS determination letter (proof of nonprofit status)
  • If a fiscal agent is being used, confirmation letter of fiscal agent, if required
  • Other information as requested

The grant application process may seem like a lot of work—and it is. That is why it is essential to leverage all your relationships to help your proposal receive serious consideration. Use the information you find through research to choose the circumstances under which it is most worth your time to apply. However, remember that once you have written a proposal from scratch, you can often copy a great deal of the information into additional requests to other funding organizations.

With all of your submissions, but especially if you are reusing information from a previous proposal, you must double- and triple-check the requirements. Be sure you are also clear about who should receive the application, and when. What is the maximum number of pages per section or for the entire proposal? Does the funder request certain font and margin sizes in the document you submit? Page numbers? Does the funder want multiple copies of the proposal narrative and budget, but only one copy of the list of additional funders? If the funder does not accept a common grant application form, have you provided all of the information asked for? Make it easy for your reviewer to find the information. Use headers that correspond to each item requested.

Tip: A great way to quickly develop grant-writing skills is to volunteer to serve as a reviewer for a funding organization. You will not only read other proposals, but also have the opportunity to sit in on a grant review session that can give you insight into what a funder considers important and fundable. For example, most states have review panels for LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) grants funded by IMLS. These are useful grant panels on which to serve and could directly lead to your own successful LSTA application.