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Successful Grant Writing

Obtaining grants can be challenging. Before starting to write your application, consult the guidelines carefully and follow them closely. Reviewers who may be reading hundreds if not thousands of pages will quickly cull any grant application from the pile that does not meet the guidelines. For advice and assistance, talk to someone who has had either successful grants or acted as a reviewer. 

Recommended Reading

In developing the content below I must credit much of what I learned to the following book. I highly recommend reading it for any one who is new in the grant writing process. Stephanie K Gerding and Pamela H. MacKellar (2006) Grants for libraries: a how-to-do-it manual for librarians. Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York, NY.  

Recommended Website

The following website non-profit guides: grant-writing tools for non-profit organizations has examples of cover letters, inquiry letters, budgets, proposals etc.

Grant Types

There are many different types of grants and individual proposals may be asking for funding in more than one area. Common grants include

  • equipment
  • operating
  • planning
  • research
  • program
  • product

The guidelines from the granting agency will indicate what type of grant proposal they are willing to fund. If the project is a large one you should consider applying to different agencies for different parts of your grant requirements. For example: you may be able to ask for research $ from one source, and equipment $ from another.

Looking for Sources

Write a short paragraph describing your project. What keywords would you use to describe your project? Think broadly and do not limit your scope by thinking only in library, archive or museum terms.

Use the keywords that you develop to search for possible funding sources. Typical funding sources include all areas of government, foundations, corporations, professional organizations and associations.

Collaboration with others will increase your chances of success. Look for others who could add to your proposal or share costs etc.

Consider contacting the funding agency before you submit your proposal. Talking to someone provides an opportunity to ask specific questions and to respond to funder questions about your organization.

  • Can you obtain a copy of grant application funded in the previous year?
  • Who will review the grant?
  • What are the selection criteria?
  • Are letters of support useful?

In a conversation you may discover what is most important to the funding agency. This will help you write your grant application. Ask if you can obtain copies of grant applications funded in the last year.


Each proposal should generally include the following.

  • Cover letter
    • Contains all contact information.
    • Brief statement of need
    • Brief description of project
    • Statement of funding requested and any in-kind, matching or outside funding which you will have
    • Supporting data and involvement of target audience
  • Proposal Summary
    • This section should be written after you have written your proposal. It should explain your proposal in clear terms that can be understood by persons not knowledgeable about your area of research. It may be the first thing the reviewer reads and the deciding factor as to whether or not your whole proposal gets more than a cursory glance. It should present your case clearly in 2 pages or less. (More is NOT better)
  • Organizational Overview
    • Should include history, mission, whom you serve, core programs, budget information, information on key personnel, and successful events or programs particularly if relevant to the current proposal
  • Project Overview
    • Brief description of the project
    • What need does the project meet?
    • Why is the work important?
    • Describe this need in terms of the users that will be served, the target audience.
    • Does the grant extend or build on another grant?
    • How will the project be sustained after the grant is finished?
    • What will the final product be?
  • Methodology
    • This should be detailed and complete
    • How long is each phase?
    • What will be accomplished in each phase?
    • What resources are needed?
      • People, equipment, software, marketing
  • Budget
    • Budgets are cost projections and should be detailed
      • Personnel(salaries, benefits, consultants, contract services)
      • Non-personnel ( travel, space, marketing, software, equipment, supplies)
      • Matching funds
        • Cash
        • In-kind (cost for rental space, cost for computer equipment, salaries)
    • Get estimates if possible for items such as equipment, consultant fees etc
    • Include other funding sources
  • Fiscal Reporting
    • Are quotes required before expenditures?
    • Do all changes to the budget need to receive approval?
    • Are bids required before a major expenditure can be made?
    • Is the grant refundable?
    • What happens to un-expended funds?
  • General Reports
    • What reports are required and when?
    • What do you do if you can't meet your objective?
    • What do you do if you need an extension?
  • Evaluation
    • Develop a plan for evaluating the success of the project.