What Information should I include on my Grant Proposal?

The first significant section in most grant applications is the Organizational Information. It may have different titles: “Organizational History,” “Project History,” or even more informally, “Tell Us About Your Project,” but regardless of the title, the requirements will remain similar.

Firstly, this is the portion of the grant proposal where you will list your Employer Identification Number, Address, Website, Mission Statement, and the names of your Chief Executive or Executive Director, Fiscal Sponsor, and the Primary Contact. The proposal may also ask you to list your total annual budget and the amount of funding that you request.

After listing these straightforward pieces of information, the application will likely require you to add information about your organization’s History, Goals & Objectives, and Recent Accomplishments.

History

Who founded your organization, and when? What problem was the founder seeking to address? These are the types of questions that you should address when writing the history of your organization. This segment allows grantors to understand who your organization is and what you do in a broader sense. Like a painter may sketch the outline of a painting before filling in all the details and colors, the organizational history sets the stage for the remainder of your proposal.

If you are an individual, your history might focus more on your educational background if you seek a scholarship or your research genesis if you require funds for academic or scientific reasons. For businesses, your history includes information about your founder and their qualifications.

Regardless of the type of organization or project that you represent, make sure to write your history succinctly and in a way that excites readers. In other words, use the suggestions in the previous chapter to write compellingly but avoid being long-winded. Do not list every single moment in your organization’s history; grantors are not interested in reading four pages of each time you bought a stapler or hosted a fundraiser. Choose significant moments in the life of your organization or project that tell the story of who you are and why you are applying for funds.

Make sure to list pieces of information that may confuse readers such as mergers and name changes but focus the majority of your writing on early success or important lessons you learned and how you grew as a result of those mistakes. Resilience and adaptability speak highly for your ability to adapt to adversities.

Lastly, do not confuse this section with your project narrative. Your organizational history is the bird’s eye view, not the place to write about the specifics of your funding project. Below or a few examples of this distinction:

Nonprofit:

The Taylor Community Center seeks funds to expand an after-school program. In this scenario, the history included in the Organizational Information section is where the grant writer will describe the Taylor Community Center as a whole, and the Project Narrative will focus on the history of the after-school program.

Business:

Business

The Harbor Boat Storage Company requests funds to build a new boat garage. The grant writer describes the Harbor Boat Storage Company in the History section and then later details the need for increased storage capacities in the Project Narrative.

Individual:

John Smith is a poet applying for an artist fellowship. First, John will describe his career as an artist in the History section; later, he will explain what he will accomplish during the fellowship in the Project Narrative.

Goals & Objectives

If the grant proposal asks you to list your organization’s goals and objectives, this is the perfect time to utilize your strategic plan. Creating a strategic plan engages the organization in the intentional process of planning for the future and anticipating areas of growth and challenges. Strategic plans instill confidence with grantors. Businesses and nonprofits should develop a schedule for strategic planning, for example, every four years to maintain a future-focused and informed culture. Typically Strategic Plans include the following elements:

  • Mission, Vision, & Values of the Organization
  • Evaluation
    • Environmental Trends
    • Internal capabilities
    • Program Viability
    • Stakeholder Preferences
  • Short-term Vision (Vision for the Strategic Plan’s lifespan)
  • Strategies
  • Goals & Objectives
  • Measurements of Success

The purpose of the Goals & Objectives section in grant applications is for grantors to understand whether or not your organization is proactive. Planning indicates health; when an organization spends the majority of their time putting out the daily fires, they are unable to plan. If you are unable to plan, then it is unlikely you will be able to predict trends and threats effectively.

List the short and long-term goals that you identified during your last strategic planning session or take some time to think critically about your needs and how you plan to address them. Evaluation is a vital component of establishing goals and objectives. Groups that neglect to incorporate evaluative practices into their program cycles run the risk of stagnation or ineffective results. Conversely, evaluation efforts strengthen programs and increase organizational impacts.

There are several reasons that organizations forego the process of evaluation. Maybe they believe the program is as successful as it can be, or perhaps they feel too busy to think about the past and are too focused on attending to daily emergencies. While there are many reasons to avoid evaluating programs, evaluation is still a helpful tool.

For example, imagine you run a Social Service Center. Each fall, you conduct a back-to-school giveaway for children in the community. Volunteers enjoy this program; they donate supplies and backpacks, and you distribute 100 backpacks filled with supplies each year. If you do not routinely evaluate programs, you can expect to be able to give out roughly 100 bags each year going forward.

However, this year, you decide to evaluate your program despite its annual success. In the process, you discover that a long-term volunteer has a connection with a supplier for bulk backpacks. Next year you request that instead of volunteers buying the packs themselves that they donate that money so that you can purchase the bags in bulk. Due to this change, you can distribute 150 backpacks.

Luckily there is an easy practice for evaluation that takes some of the guesswork out of the process. I am referring to a S.W.O.T analysis. S.W.O.T stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

Strengths:

First, make a list of all the advantages of your program. Ask the staff, volunteers, board members, and key stakeholders to give their input so that you have a full and accurate picture.

Weaknesses:

Next, analyze areas of the program where there is room for improvement. This information helps create plans for growth, so be as honest as possible.

Opportunities:

The third step is to collect new ideas. Is there a new stakeholder you are aware of or a potential collaboration? Make sure to note that information so that you can look into it as you move forward.

Threats:

Lastly, think critically about the areas of your program that you need to eliminate or circumstances that may affect this program negatively in the future.

The S.W.O.T analysis helps you determine what you are doing well, what you need to adjust, exciting new changes, and situations that may harm the program. Conducting a S.W.O.T analysis does not take much time and can significantly improve your program’s health and function.

After you collect the data from your evaluation process, use it to create S.M.A.R.T goals. S.M.A.R.T is another acronym that helps you to set goals. S.M.A.R.T goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Sensitive. It is less impressive to say, “Play Today will provide sports scholarships” than to state, “Play Today will provide 250 sports scholarships within the next two years to children and youth living in poverty in Arlington, VA.” S.M.A.R.T goals fine-tune your aspirations and make them less ambiguous and, therefore, more useful.

Specific:

Explicitly state what are you attempting to achieve with this goal? Are you going to increase membership, build a new warehouse, or shelter animals? You aren’t going to serve people; you are going to serve meals to people.

Measurable:

Goals are only useful if you can measure their success. State how you evaluate your goals. If you say, “We will teach eight classes.” and end up teaching nine, then you know you achieved your goal.

Attainable:

The quickest way to fail is to set unattainable goals. Goal setting is useless if you state that you will clean up every single piece of garbage from all of the oceans. However, if you claim that you will clean 100,000 lbs, you then have a chance at success.

Relevant:

Make sure that your goals match your evaluation data. If you found out you should plant more community gardens to give away more fresh produce, it won’t help you to state that you will buy eight ponies.

Time-Sensitive:

Time-Sensitive

Another way to evaluate the success of goals is to place a time limit on what you are trying to achieve. Make sure to list the date by which you will accomplish your goal. “I will sell 1,000 albums in six months.”

Goal setting helps organizations to capitalize on assets and improve weaknesses. If you never went through the process of creating a strategic plan, this is an excellent time to consider adopting that practice. There are many helpful tools to aid in creating successful goals. Consider conducting a S.W.O.T analysis and then focus on setting S.M.A.R.T goals to create benchmarks that will impress grantors.

Lastly, remember that grantors also use the goals & objectives section to verify whether or not your project meets their funding priorities. Therefore, if your goals do not match the funder’s preferences, it will indicate an inappropriate match for funding. Every single portion of the grant proposal should show a potential match between your project and the grantor’s priorities. If you cannot easily describe the possible match, then you may need to find a new grantor.

Recent Accomplishments

The Recent Accomplishments section is your opportunity to brag. What amazing programs, projects, and achievements have you experienced recently? Maybe you engaged in an activity that is impressive but doesn’t explicitly relate to the history of this new project idea. You might not want to mention that achievement in the Statement of Need or Organizational History; however, this is your chance to make sure grantors are aware of that success. It is wise to consider these three aspects when describing your recent accomplishments, Time Period, End Result, Perspective.

Time Period:

You have already written about your organization’s history, and during that section, you covered the significant milestones achieved early in your timeline. Therefore, make sure to write about success that occurred within the past year, or within three years for substantial accomplishments. For example, “Last year XYZ distributed 2,000 winter coats.” and “Two years ago XYZ completed a $3.5 Million capital campaign and moved into a fully accessible location.” Think critically about whether an achievement belongs in your History or Recent Accomplishments, but make sure only to include that achievement once. If you add the same example in both sections, it indicates that you only have a limited amount of successes to report.

End Result:

The accomplishments that you choose to write about should include programs, projects, and initiatives that resulted in a positive societal impact. This is the portion of the grant proposal where success matters. You may want to include a situation in your History where your organization tried a new initiative, but you failed; describing key learning moments indicates flexibility and adaptability. The Recent Accomplishments section is not the place to explain failures or close calls. Stating, “XYZ almost offered a new program that would have changed the industry.” is not impressive. If you feel it is essential to include that example, instead consider writing “XYZ ushered a new, industry-changing initiative through the intensive research and design phases.” Stop the story at the last moment of proven success.

Perspective:

As discussed in the previous chapters, you must view your grant writing from the grantor’s point of view. Choose accomplishments that indicate an understanding of a potential future collaboration. If the grantor funds projects within a specific geographical location, and then make sure that your examples describe the successes you achieved within that region. Or, if your organization offers case management, workforce development, and a community garden, but the funder only supports workforce development programs, then make sure not to list accomplishments through your other two focus areas. Listing accomplishments outside of the grantor’s priority areas cause the grantor to question whether you are a fit for funding. Similarly, if you cannot think of any achievements within the funder’s priorities you should consider whether this grantor is a good fit for what you seek to fund.

When choosing the perfect examples to write about in the Recent Accomplishments section, you should pay attention to the obvious. Paying attention to the Time-Period, End Result, and Perspective will help you craft examples that are not only impressive, but that indicates a potential match for future funding.

Examples

The following examples represent a proposal written by a disability advocacy nonprofit organization for a grantor whose funding priorities focus on children with disabilities and educational institutions. The examples intend to illustrate the type of content necessary for each of the Organizational Information sections. Use the examples as a guide for implementing the suggestions previously outlined in this post.

Organizational Information

History:

The Disability Connection, Inc. (DC), founded by Jane Smith, a Disability Advocate, began in 2005 as an effort to increase accessibility and inclusivity programming within schools. DC recognized a need for greater access to resources and education and used local professionals in the disability community to make a significant impact on the lives of children.

When DC began, children with disabilities received their educational support exclusively through the school district. DC developed an innovative program evaluation tool called the DC Educational Diagnostic Assessment specifically designed to spotlight areas of success and improvement opportunities. The DC Educational Diagnostic Assessment (DCEDA), created by disabled professionals, supports school district administrators in their efforts to provide exceptional services.

The mission of DC is to transform systems and allow children to thrive. Close to 49 million people with disabilities live in the United States without full access to appropriate accommodations. Many organizations exist to support individuals with disabilities. However, DC’s unique approach to systemic change leads to significant impacts on children and families.

In 2010 DC merged with the Network for Disability Concerns, the combined efforts of these two organizations increased stakeholder support, streamlined efficiencies, and lead to significant advancements in organizations impacts. Twelve years later, DC’s programs now include program evaluation & design, ADA consultancy, a network of resource experts that the school district and parents can utilize for added support and mediation when necessary.

Goals & Objectives:

Goals & Objectives

The Disability Connection, Inc. engages in a five-year, comprehensive, strategic planning schedule that incorporates input from internal and external stakeholders to identify current organizational trends, assets, and challenges. DC’s 2015-2019 strategic plan outlined the following goals and objectives:

  1. The Disability Connection, Inc. will conduct a program evaluation of disability accommodations in 20 new educational institutions each year for five years and engage each institution in the process of improved program design.
  2. The Disability Connection, Inc. will recruit, train, and employ 75 new ADA consultants within five years to increase its ADA consultancy network to 175 experts by December 31, 2019.
  3. The Disability Connection, Inc. will increase accommodations for 2500 children with disabilities by December 31, 2019.

Currently, in year four of five, the Disability Connection is on track to surpass its 2015-2019 goals by 15%. DC also began its scheduled six-month strategic planning process in June of 2019 and expects to deliver the results of the 2020-2024 plan in December of 2019 in preparation of an implementation start date of January 1, 2020.

Recent Accomplishments:

DC Impacts: In 2018, the Disability Connection, Inc. partnered with three national foundations and skilled, disabled videographers to produce a 10-episode web-series that chronicles the experiences of children positively impacted by increased educational accommodations. Each episode shares a compelling story that shares the importance of effective programming for children with disabilities. To date, the episodes collectively boast 150,000 views.

ADA Consultants: The Disability Connection, Inc’s Americans with Disabilities Act Consultants, received high honors in 2017. Recognized as expert leaders in the industry, the National Collection of K-12 Educators Conference invited five of the Disability Connection’s ADA consultants to headline their 2017 conference and lead break-out workshops. Due to years of strategic partnerships, the National Collection of K-12 Educators understood the importance of appropriate ADA accommodations. It subsequently focused their conference on the theme of “Creating Exciting & Accessible Learning Environments.” DC recruited 46 additional educational institution partnerships as a result of the meeting and has since impacted the lives of 1,150 children with disabilities.

DCEDA 2.0: In 2016 the Disability Connection produced the DC Educational Institution Diagnostic Assessment 2.0. (DCEDA 2.0) This updated assessment tool incorporates ten years of evaluation data from institutional partners and disability experts. Updates included transferring to a fully web-based application, current best practices with an on-going opportunity for real-time adjustments to trends, and implementation of an asset-based approach theory to accommodation adjustments. DC initially rolled out the DCEDA 2.0 with a one hundred member focus group and after significant initial success, launched DCEDA 2.0 nationally. Due to the advancements in DCEDA 2.0, DC now enjoys a 34% increased impact rate leading to 200 additional children reached each year.

Conclusion

The Organizational Information section of a grant proposal is your opportunity to describe not only your project’s history and background, but also it is a place to lay the foundation for collaboration between your project and the grantor. Make sure to describe your history in a compelling and succinct manner. Additionally, you must ensure that your goals are written clearly and effectively. Lastly, your recent accomplishments must focus on timely, successful examples that further describe why your project will become a successful collaborative partner with the grantor. The Organizational Information section is intended for descriptions specifically related to your non-profit or business as a whole or about you as an individual. Do not add information about the project you seek to fund. The next chapter will further discuss how to differentiate between the two.