Steps in Writing a Foundation Proposal-A Checklist

Once you’ve targeted a group of potential funding sources, the next step is to develop a grants-winning strategy and craft an application that will beat out the competition. Winners are creative, focused and persistent when seeking grants for their group. We include a short checklist to help you win your funding and keep on topic.

  1. Grantmakers receive many off-target funding requests. It is an obvious, but crucial point—mentioned before, but worth mentioning again: find out the grantmaker’s annual funding priorities and guidelines before sending your proposal.
  2. Grantmakers need a reason to get beyond the first page—also known as the 30- second test. This is your opportunity to stand out by capturing the grantmaker’s imagination and to invite further in-depth review with a clear, innovative focus.
  3. You need direct, demonstrable, broad-based collaboration. These stakeholders, strategic partners and alliances will help you reduce costly duplication of effort. If your goal is to meet community needs, you can reduce your competition for grants significantly—and attract more funders—by putting strategic, collaborative project partnerships together, which lets everyone win.
  4. Needs always exceed resources. What is the long term ROI (return on investment) for the grantmaker from your project? Is it advocacy, change, improved emergency or transitional services, housing, education, innovation, an exhibit, a performance, a unique collaboration or reduced duplication of services?
  5. Is your project specific to your community? Could others learn and benefit from or replicate your experience? Funders love to invest in projects that can be replicated. There are, of course, many one-time, unique community needs to meet.

Basic Approach

This sounds like quite a process. A resource development consultant for nonprofit organizations warns that unless you develop some basic tools that are maintained year-round for all fundraising efforts, you’re not going to have time to do a proper campaign. These tools include:

  • A short case, which is a 1-10 page summary of your organization that can act as justification for your funding request. While it can be a pain to prepare, once done, it helps make all other fundraising activities easier. Experts call it the hymnal (or script) from which all persons associated with the organization speak, write or present. The case should answer all questions that might be asked by prospects; be typewritten and placed in binders for easy changes; available for rapid response to opportunities for support; distributed to all staff and volunteers, and regularly reviewed and updated (this last point is key, as it is often overlooked). The case often makes up a good part of any grant proposal narrative.
  • A prospect pool, which involves a list of persons and organizations served directly or indirectly by your organization or agency. These are the first people you go to once you decide to do some fundraising. Relevant information should include contact persons, telephone numbers, financial data, interests related to your case, and patterns of giving. Then prepare an evaluation chart for each proposal to determine the best prospects to be contacted first. Factors to be considered include: type of support needed, amount to add (determine after studying their giving patterns, top gift, average gift, budget), interest rating (whether you fall into their primary or secondary interests), number of linkages you have with prospect, level of their awareness of your organization and their potential for influencing others in the community.
  • Your Approach Strategy Once you’ve decided whom to ask for money, you have to decide how to ask. Your research should discover the prospect’s instructions and requirements for submission.

o      On a visit, be prepared to leave a copy of the proposal if you are requested to do so. If you’re rejected at any point, try to determine why. If your proposal can becorrected for that competition, do so. If not, go back later with a more appropriateproposal. Just because a proposal is rejected, it does not mean it is bad and shouldnever be used again. You should not have to start from scratch—in many cases,making a few revisions suggested by funders can turn a losing proposal in a winner.

The Format

An introduction-This is a one-paragraph summary of the proposal. It should come first, but is written last. While this may be incorporated in the cover letter, it is wise to repeat briefly here: prospect name, amount being requested by what organization and for what purpose. If your cover letter gets misplaced, this serves to clarify your request for the prospect.

A need/problem/situation section-Outline the problem to be addressed by your program/project. Always indicate that the problems, no matter how grave, can be addressed, the picture improved, clients assisted and it is the mission of your organization to do so. If you’re asking for funds from a corporate funder, back up your optimism with similar opinions from business magazines.

Your Plan of Action-Highlight why your organization is uniquely qualified to carry out a program or project that addresses the problem. This is an often-neglected area. Spell out what is needed to carry out this effort (money, goods, services, expert volunteers) and your plan for securing this support. Show the role the prospect can play—restate the specific request. Include a conclusion—visualize what it will mean to the prospect, to the community, to society if these goals are achieved (mention social and economic benefits.)

About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education. Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government. Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.
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