1. Do You Have Nonprofit Status?

Before you even start looking for or writing a grant, remember that most foundations will not even consider your proposal unless you have obtained your official designation of (501)(c)(3) status. Foundations are obligated to give away 5% of their assets every year to nonprofit organizations, or face financial penalties. They are not obligated to give money to individuals.

Establishing a Nonprofit Organization
This tutorial describes 12 tasks you will need to accomplish as part of the process of establishing a nonprofit organization.

Starting a Non-Profit Organization : A Resource List
Identifies organizations and book resources that can assist in starting a nonprofit organization.


2. Are You Affiliated With a Nonprofit Organization?

If you are not incorporated as a (501)(c)(3) organization, and don't want to become a nonprofit organization, consider affiliating with a nonprofit organization. The nonprofit organization will be eligible to request funds and pass them on to you for your activities. Often requires a contract.


3. Are You Affiliated With Michigan State University?

Michigan State University serves as the fiscal sponsor for its faculty members and staff. Several units on campus can help provide advice on approaching foundations and similar funders.


4. What Comes First : The Grant or the Planning Process?

Whether you are affiliated with a small nonprofit organization or are a faculty member at Michigan State, it is important to remember that the grant proposal itself is only part of a process; it does not stand-alone. You have to develop an overall plan.

Getting Ready for Foundation Fundraising
This free course provides an overview of the first steps nonprofits need to take to become viable, effective organizations in preparation for fundraising. It is intended to provide guidance for those planning to establish a nonprofit organization and seek funding from foundations. Note: requires registration.

Grants Readiness: The Culture and Practice of Successful Grantseeking Organizations
What does it mean to be a "grants-ready" organization?  

Ten Questions to Ask Yourself When Seeking Program Grants

5. Who Are you Going to Ask?

The Council of Michigan Foundation's Information for Seeking Foundation and Corporate Grants has a list of six different types of funders as well as statistical information about Michigan Foundations. Check it out. It also includes: How to research a foundation. The proposal process. Typical questions a foundation might ask. Michigan Common Grant Application Form. Where to get more information.

Foundations Today Tutorial
This tutorial will help you better understand the foundation world. In just a short period of time, youíll learn what foundations do, how they are changing, as well as where they fit in the total philanthropic universe.

What Goes On Behind Foundation Doors, or, A Day in the Life of a Program Officer
If there was only one tip I could offer to anyone submitting a grant proposal, it would be this ... Remember that you are writing for one human being, not an institution. Advice from Renata Rafferty, Grants and Foundations Review, April 30, 2002. Still available thanks to the Internet Archive.

Approaching the Foundation
The following document by Robert F. Long, Ph.D., and Joel J. Orosz, Ph.D. from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation offers a strategy for approaching foundations and a basic framework for the first written presentation of a funding request.

Approaching Corporations for Funding
Many people have remarked on the paucity of corporate giving, particularly in an era when many corporations are seeing record-breaking profits. But the simple fact to understand is that it is remarkable corporations give away any money at all. The role of corporations in America is to make money, to maximize return to shareholders, or to show a profit. Many economists believe corporations serve society best when they are profitable: they hire more workers and invest in more expansion. Others believe that corporations are members of the community and society, and like individuals, service clubs, religious institutions, and foundations, corporations ought to return some of their profit to their communities in the form of charitable giving. About 11 percent of corporations agree with us and give away some portion of their pre-tax profits. Corporations can give up to 10 percent of pre-tax profits. Only a handful give at that level, notably Ben and Jerry's, Patagonia, and the Body Shop. Most give around 1 percent of pre-tax profits. Article by Kim Klein, Shelterforce Online.

Corporate Partnerships : A Guide for the Nonprofit Sectro
There are many ways in which nonprofits can partner with business corporations, and there are many complexities and nuances to these various arrangements. This guide will not provide all the answers, nor does it substitute for the intensive consultation or staff work that a nonprofit may need to completely assess, negotiate, design, implement, monitor or evaluate, a particular corporate venture. Rather this guide is intended to familiarize nonprofit managers with the general character of corporate partnerships and it offers a way to identify and preliminarily assess the implications of proposed ventures. In short, the guide provides a conceptual frame of reference through which nonprofit leaders can put such a venture into perspective and determine whether it is a good idea for their organization to pursue. Advice from Dennis R. Young, National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise.

Top Ten Thing to Know When Approaching Corporate Foundations and Corporate Giving Programs


6. The Basics : An Overview

Foundation Center's Guide to Funding Research
If you are a first-time grantseeker, a new nonprofit staff or board member, or a volunteer for your favorite charity, this online guide was created with you in mind. It is intended both as a basic primer on the grantseeking process and as an introduction to the resources available. Free online advice for those who can't attend a regularly scheduled training session.

Foundation Center's Proposal Writing Short Course
The subject of this short course is proposal writing. But the proposal does not stand alone. It must be part of a process of planning and of research on, outreach to, and cultivation of potential foundation and corporate donors. Free online advice for those who can't attend a regularly scheduled training session.

Writing a Successful Grant Proposal
Most funders want the same information, even if they use different words or ask questions in a different order. Some funders prefer that you fill out their own application forms or cover sheets. If the funder uses an application form, be sure to get a copy and follow the instructions. If the funder does not provide guidelines, use the following outline as a guide. The outline is for a project proposal, and is most appropriate for a project that is trying to correct a problem, such as water pollution, school truancy or ignorance about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted. The grant proposal as a whole, not including supplementary materials, should usually be five pages or less. Written by Barbara Davis for the Minnesota Council on Foundations.


7. The Preproposal or Letter of Inquiry

Don't send your final proposal without laying the groundwork!'s Inquiry Letters Guide

Where Can I Find Examples of Letters of Inquiry? courtesy of the foundation Center.


8. Generic Grant Proposal Components

If the foundation staffer or program officer expresses interest in your letter of inquiry, then you can complete your final proposal and submit it.

Grant Proposal Cover Letter
The cover letter should contain a summary of your proposal, introducing your organization and summarizing any recent communications you've had with the funding organization. Include the amount of funding that you are requesting, the population it will serve, and the need it will help solve. Try to bring your proposal to life in the cover letter and actively engage your reader.

Cover Sheet
Should include title of the project and name and addresses of the agency and project directors. Don't forget to include the direct phone lines (with extensions), the fax numbers, and the e-mail addresses of the person who signed the request and the primary staff contact. You never know when the foundation or funder officers may have questions. Some proposals also provide a table of contents.

Project Abstract or Summary
A clear, interesting, succinct and polished one-page summary of your grant request. It can be shorter. It maybe the only section read other than the budget. Often written last after the other parts have been put together. Includes:

Statement of Need
The statement of need should describe the problem to be solved in more detail. The statement of need will enable the reader to learn more about the issues to be addressed by the project. It should present the facts and the evidence which support the need for the project and should demonstrate that your organization understands the problems and, therefore, can reasonably address them. The information used to support your case can come from other authorities in the field, as well as from your organizationís own experience.

Project Description
Describe the project or program and provide information on how it will be implemented. Include information on what will be accomplished, the desired outcome (the goals), and how it will be managed.

Sustainability or Future Funding
How can the program be sustained in the future? Are you planning other fund raising efforts? The more specific you can be in your proposal regarding future funding, the more confidence it will create in the funding source.

Provide information on the metrics that will be used to determine the effectiveness of the project or program.

A description of projected costs and in-kind and cash contributions. Include in the budget all expenses for your project.

Staff and Organizational Information
Describe the organization and include information indicating the organization's capacity to implement and sustain the program. Include the qualifications and skills of the project director and other staff members working on the project. In short, this section establishes the credibility of the staff and organization to complete their tasks.

A chance to make a final appeal, but keep it short. Reiiterate what your nonprofit wants and why it is important. Ok, to use a little emotion.

Include relevant items including proof of non-profit status; financial information such as organization budgets, audits, and 990s; annual reports, newsletters, and publicity items from your organization; letters of support' and lists of foundation/corporate funders and gifts received in the last year; lists of funders (and amounts) who have agreed to support your project already; and lists of funders who you have not heard from yet; board list; resumes of staff.

Grant Proposal Self-Assessment Tool (GrantSAT)
The Grant Proposal Self Assessment Tool is an instrument for evaluating, and hence improving, the quality of proposals. It provides a number of assessment criteria for nine different aspects of a proposal, e.g., general style/content, cover letter/executive summary, problem statement/needs assessment, objectives/benefits, qualifications, methods, budget, evaluation, conclusions/attachments. Each criterion is rated on a scale from one to six, and using these ratings, each aspect of the proposal is given a percentage score indicating its relative strength or weakness. Guidelines are then provided on how to interpret and act upon the results of the proposal assessment. Courtesy of Central Michigan University Office of Sponsored Research Programs.


9. Sample Grant Proposals from the World Wide Web:

Michigan Common Application Form
Also listed on the CMF Grantseekers Page under more resources
Many Michigan foundations have adopted a common application form for grant seekers to use when applying for funding. Check the site for the form and a list of foundations requiring it. Courtesy of the Council of Michigan Foundations.

Sample Federal Grant Proposal
Includes section on need, project design, integration of services, adequacy of resources, management plan and timeline, and evaluation. Prepared by Grants West of Denver, Colorado, for the Lightsville Public Schools.

Sample Federal Grant Proposals from the U.S. Department of Education, Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives
Contains a collection of six previously-funded full proposals, including

  • a proposal to become a Supplemental Educational Services provider
  • a proposal to the Carol M. White Physical Education Program
  • a proposal to the Safe and Drug Free Schools Mentoring Program
  • a proposal to the Migrant Education High School Equivalency Program
  • a proposal to the Migrant Education Even Start Program and
  • a proposal to the Community Technology Centers Program
  • Sample Foundation Grant Proposal by a Neighborhood Association
    Sample of a common application form provided courtesy of the Dyer-Ives Foundation of Grand Rapids. Includes cover sheet, proposal summary, statement of need, project description, narrative, funding request, evaluation, documentation, supplementary information, and concluding statement.

    Sample Foundation Grant Proposal : Read to Succeed! Improving Reading Performance for At Risk Students
    Kruzweil Educational Systems provides a collection of proposals for schools, including:

  • Sample Letter Format Grant Proposal for Foundations (at end)
  • Sample Cover Letter
  • Sample Cover Page
  • Sample Grant Proposal
  • Sample Foundation Grant Proposal by a Homeless Shelter
    The proposal -- outlining a specific health care program serving homeless adults-- was prepared by Grants West of Denver, Colorado for the St. Francis Center, the largest day shelter in Colorado, and fully funded by local foundations. Includes Need Statement, Project Goals and Objectives, Program Design, and Some Budget Listings.

    Sample Foundation Grant Proposal
    The proposal -- outlining a specific job placement program for homeless adults and describing in detail different program phases and strategies -- was prepared by Grants West of Denver, Colorado for the St. Francis Center, the largest day shelter in Colorado, and fully funded by local foundations.

    Sample Foundation Grant Proposal from Nonprofit Guides
    Free web-based grant-writing tools for non-profit organizations, charitable, educational, public organizations, and other community-minded groups. Our guides are designed to assist established non-profits through the grant-writing process. Includes samples of a letter of inquiry (preproposal); a full proposal including component parts, such as a sample cover letter, sample cover sheet, and sample budget; a sample foundation rfp with corresponding grant application; and a sample government rfp with the corresponding sample government grant application.

    Sample Research Grant Proposal for a Community-based Mothers and Infants Center
    Courtesy of Joe Levine, Michigan State University, Dept. of Agriculture and Natural Resources Education and Communication Systems.

    Sample Research Grant Proposal to the NIH Where Can I Find Examples of Grant Proposals?
    A Foundation Center frequently asked question with answers.

    Fundraising for Educators contains sample proposals pertinent to K-12 education. Look for entries starting with the word sample.

    Nonprofit Fundraising contains sample proposals for various types of nonprofits. Look for entries starting with the word sample.

    Academic Fundraising contains sample proposals of possible interest to the college community. Look for entries starting with the word sample.


    10. Tips on Writing Successful Grant Proposals

    Unfortunately, not all proposals receive funding, but through careful preparation, researching grant sources, and making use of the following tips, your chances for success will increase.

    1. Research the Funders
    Research your funding sources to make sure they are a good match for your proposal. Each grantor has their own set of funding requirements. Visit a Foundation Center Cooperating Collection and use their funding databases, directories, and other research guides to identify likely prospects. Visit web pages of the funders if available. Look for annual reports and guidelines if available. Try to make sure that the funder has a record of making grants to similar projects and organizations. If the information is not available in the materials you have identified, look for IRS 990-Pf returns. If you are able to locate funding guidelines or application forms, follow them to the letter. For example, grantors may specify a certain number of copies that must be submitted, or have specific deadlines for proposal submissions, or have their own application form.

    2. Pre-proposal Inquiry
    Since foundations and other funders can change their funding priorities over time, consider contacting the funding source directly through either a phone call or a short inquiry letter before you submit a proposal. Find out if your project is the type they are interested in funding, and if they have any particular requirements. It is also helpful to determine the name of the individual who will be responsible for processing your grant request, so that you can follow-up in a month or so, if you haven't heard back from them.

    3. Timely Follow-Up
    Remember that sometimes it can take quite a while for proposals to be reviewed and grants made. It's not unusual for the process to take 3-6 months, and sometimes a year, as a board meeting may have to occur for the members to review proposals and make decisions. If you still haven't received acknowledgment of your proposal after a month, follow-up by phone or a letter to make sure they received your proposal and to see if there's any other information they need to make their decision. Since no proposal is absolutely perfect, expect questions and be able to answer them.

    4. Personal Contacts
    It never hurts to have personal contacts within a foundation or other funding agency. Find out if anyone from your organization knows an executive or board member of the foundation. You can also set up a meeting to visit a local foundation or state agency. It's also possible that someone from the funding organization may want to visit your facilities to find out more about your capabilities.

    5. Give Your Proposal Life
    Grantors fund projects they get excited about, so make sure that you make your project interesting and demonstrate the impact it will have. Relevant statistics from respected sources are good, but also show them through real life examples how funding your project will make a difference in people's lives; include pictures, personal stories, or even a short video.

    6. Multiple Grant Sources
    Increase your chances of success by applying to more than one grant source, or combine grant sources to fund different aspects of the project.

    Another List : What Grantmakers Want Applicants to Know
    Also labeled as Guidestar's Tips for Grant Seekers. Competition for foundation money can be intense. To help nonprofits increase their chances of success, GuideStar asked grantmakers what they would most like to tell applicants. Includes 15 recommendations.


    11. Research Resources

    The MSU Libraries Funding Center provides a wide range of materials on grants, funders, proposal writing, and related topics. Visit the collection and inquire about some of the many databases available to you free of charge in the library, including:


    Assistance Requested
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  • If you notice an error on this page or would like to suggest an addition , please send e-mail to: Jon Harrison
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    Jon Harrison : Page Editor
    Funding Center Supervisor
    Social Sciences Collections Coordinator
    Michigan State University Libraries
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    Last revised 02/05/07

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