Elements of a Good Grant Proposal

Elements of a Good Grant Proposal

The Director of Pittsburgh's Avalon Public Library explains how to put together an effective grant proposal.

By Susan McClellan

Many library directors have great ideas for our libraries and are exploring alternate methods of funding for all of the exciting projects we want to create to attract new patrons to the library. New programs and projects are valuable to the patrons and our community and demonstrate how a library is a place of lifelong learning and a community center. As director of a small library serving less than six thousand residents, I have lots of ideas for projects but it takes hard work, dedication, creativity, and perseverance to write grants proposals but it is something that can be an enjoyable process with practice.

What makes a good grant proposal? No one said writing a grant proposal was simple or required little time or planning. It is not enough to think you have a good idea, that idea must be researched and well-planned. The grant proposal must convince the possible funder why it is a good idea with the proposal explaining in sufficient detail why the idea will be of interest to the foundation. Good proposals can result with careful planning, dedication, and commitment to your project.

First, always research the foundation before beginning your proposal. Find out who the foundation gave money to, for what projects, and what areas they support. Approach small as well as large grant foundations and tailor each application to their specific requirements. A detailed one-page letter of inquiry is required by many foundations before submitting a full grant proposal listing project requirements, a detailed budget and specific outcomes. I have seen web sites for grant foundations that cite how failure to include all requirements can result in automatic rejection from some foundations. Some web sites for grant foundations cite specific instructions as do not apply if you do not have a copy of your 501 c3 status enclosed or your application will be automatically rejected. Always follow the funder’s guidelines so your grant is not automatically rejected.

If the foundation requires a letter of inquiry, it generally should be a one-page letter with a project description, organization description, budget, and project outcomes. The letter of inquiry and proposal should feature clear, concise language that is easy to understand.     

The first paragraph should include a two or three sentence description of your project. For example, “ABC library requests $5,000 for creating a one-year computer training program for older adults in the community. Training will be offered at the local senior center, assisted living center, and will include email, internet, and word processing training.”

   The organization description should be a brief description of your organization’s history, mission, programs, budget, and what makes you unique. The next section is usually a Problem Need, or description. It is beneficial to describe the problem background in basic terms and why the problem is important. Describe the issue in terms of your community and how the grant funds will affect your community at the local level.   The proposal will sound stronger if the letter states that the funds for the project will provide a solution to an issue and not that the problem exists because the library does not have any money. Grants are not free money-they are for projects that have an impact and a lasting effect.  

The work plan/project goals section should include the target audience, what has already been done in this area, who is going to do each aspect of the plan, how many people will be affected. The goals and objectives of the project should be clear and measurable. Include in the proposal how the plan can be supported after the grant funds expire. The more detailed the goals are, the better while keeping the section short if you are writing a one-page letter. Pretend that if you were reading this from the perspective of the potential grant funder and think to yourself if your project is worth funding and if it something unique with measurable results.   

The budget section should include any sources of addition funding, in-kind contributions as well as list a detailed breakdown of personnel and administrative expenses. The budget should be itemized and justified. The funding application should include all supplementary materials, the exact number of copies the organization requests, and follow the requested format. Many grant foundations request an explanation of how the project will be funding in the future. The grant should be something the library can sustain in the future.

While grant writing requires a great deal of time and effort, however, the rewards from a successfully funded grant proposal are tremendous.  The great satisfaction that comes from being able to provide a new project or program gives a great sense of accomplishment and grant money help provide programs that a library may not be able to fund otherwise. In addition, it provides customers with a new interest in the library. New programs attract new customers and we all want customers coming back to the library.

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