Writing a Funding Proposal

What is in this guide?             This guide will look at fundraising from donors, business or government. It contains the following sections: Introduction What goes in a proposal / plan? 2.1 Cover Page 2.2 Executive Summary 2.3 Organisational Overview 2.4 Project details 2.5 Appendices and supporting documentation

Building a good relationships with Funders


Most community organisations and projects depend on donor or government funding. In this section we look at a simple way of writing a proposal or business plan for an organisation that wants to apply for funds or for contracts to do certain work. All funding proposals or business plans should be based on an organisation or project’s strategic plan.  Before you start you must be clear about the following: Be clear about the goals and purpose of the organisation and the specific objectives of the project – funding proposal must be based on strategic plan. What exact service you will provide – who is the target group/beneficiaries; What activities do you need to implement and what resources do you need A proposal is a written way of communicating. You may not have a chance to explain anything to the reader so you must be sure you are communicating well and clearly. Most decision-makers who read proposals see hundreds of similar documents. They will want a professional looking document that is easy and quick to read. Make sure the most important things are visible and do not send proposals that are 50 pages long. You can always rather put extra information in the supporting documents at the end of a proposal.

What goes in a proposal / plan?

There are three main things that must go into any proposal: Description of organisation; Management information and Constitution; Overview of how the project will be implemented. You should always write proposals on computer and save them so that you can re-use parts of them for other proposals. For example items 1 and 2 above will stay the same for all proposals for an organisation. Proposals and business plans must be organised in a logical way. Here is a simple structure you can follow: Cover Page; Executive Summary; Organisational overview and management; Project details, implementation plan and budget; Appendices and supporting documentation. We will explain exactly what goes into each of these sections. 2.1 Cover Page
The cover page should contain the title, business name, date of the proposal, business address and contact details.
2.2 Executive Summary
This is the most important part of the proposal – it has to catch the attention of the donor.  The summary is an overview of the entire plan and helps decision-makers to quickly get an overview of your proposal so they can see if they are interested. Therefore, although it is at the beginning of the document, it is usually written last to capture the essence of the plan. The summary stands alone and should not refer to other parts of your document. The executive summary should emphasise the purpose and objectives of the project.
3. Organisational Overview
Write an organisational or project profile, including the following:
  • Indicate the legal form ( close corporation, section 21 company, voluntary association, cooperative,  etc)
  • Information on the background of the organisation:
  • Goal, purpose and objectives of the organisation as a whole;
  • Services and products offered, target beneficiaries / communities etc
  • Achievements and track record (history);
  • Core Funders, donors, other forms of income generation (if any);
  • Contactable references.
  • Management and staff:
  • The management information and the management structure in the organisation - include a description of the skills and experience of managers and staff;
  • Attach an organisation chart showing the functions and responsibilities of management and staff.
2.4 Project details
Aims and objectives:
  • Overall goal - Describe the overall goal or intended outcomes of the project (e.g. the project will contribute to poverty alleviation and the empowerment of women in the Ukahlamba informal settlement);
  • Project purpose – State clearly what the project aims to achieve (E.g. The project will produce school uniforms at affordable prices for the parents of the Ukahlamba Primary School by providing employment for four women in a sewing cooperative);
  • Specific objectives - List the specific things that have to be done to implement the project this year. Think of things that will cost money and make sure you list them. Do not go into detail but make a broad list (E.g.: establish a cooperative, set up and equip a workshop, recruit and train workers, develop and implement a marketing strategy. Describe how the project activities would promote developmental outcomes i.e. stakeholder involvement and empowerment, sustainability etc.
Implementation plan: Work plan - Write how you would run the project to achieve the specific objectives. Describe the steps you would take; Risk assessment – highlight critical risk factors which may impede the project and list ways of reducing these risks; Organisations and Partnerships - List of organisations which are stakeholders in the project. Describe the roles and responsibilities of each of these organisations in detail; Project Communication Strategy – describe what communication strategies will be employed to facilitate ongoing communication with all project stakeholders, e.g., project team meeting, quarterly steering committee meetings, reporting, newsletters publication, press releases etc Evaluation   – describing how the projects’ impact will be assessed; Project Timelines – an estimate of the project timelines; Budget – A budget estimate. 2.5 Appendices and supporting documentation
Remember to add in any relevant documents that will support your proposal. For example:
  • Constitution of the Organisation;
  • Copies of section 21company or close corporation certificates and registration documents;
  • Articles, testimonials or letters of recommendation;
  • Publications, pamphlets or brochures about your work;
  • Copies of your audited financial statements if needed;
  • Tax clearance certificate if needed.
It is very important for fundraisers to understand the programmes and projects of the organisation and the benefits that the community will get from these. Make sure that you know details about the project and success stories and that you have things such as photographs, videos and newspaper articles to share with funders. It is vital to be enthusiastic and positive about your work if you want to inspire funders to support you. Most funders want to know that the money that they give will be well-used and accounted for. It is very important to build a good relationship with the individual funders and to make them feel confidence in you and your organisational structures. There are a number of small things that you can do to make sure that your relationship with funders stays good:
  • Remember to always thank funders when contracts, funds or agreement letters arrive.
  • Invite them to come and visit the project and show them what their money has achieved.
  • Ask funders for advice since they are often experts in that field of development and most of them enjoy getting closer to projects.
  • Always send in reports and financial statements before the deadlines. The project officer who deals with your projects has their own deadlines and pressures and you should try to make their lives easy.
  • If anything should change within your project, in terms of what you want to spend your money on, let the funders know immediately and if possible consult them before making final decisions – otherwise you may have to send their money back.
  • Always be as honest as possible with funders. Do not hide the problems you are experiencing and rather ask for help and support if you need it. If your project is evaluated or your reports are inadequate, the funders will find out that things have gone wrong. It is better to ask them to be part of the solution, by sharing your problems with them.
  • Make sure that your report answers all the questions and is according to the format that the funder has asked for.

This material may not be used for profit without permission from ETU

Planning and Writing a Grant Proposal: The Basics

Grant Proposal Writing is Exciting, Imaginative Work

Download this Handout PDF

Overview Additional Resources about Grants and Grant Writing Considering the Audience, Purpose, and Expectations of a Grant Proposal Common Elements of Grant Proposals General Tips Successful Sample Proposals

So, you want to write a grant proposal? This is exciting! This means that you have valuable research to do or a particular nonprofit to build or a community resource you’re passionate about developing. You have a distinct vision for how something could be improved or advanced, and you’re ready to ask for funding or other support to help this vision become a reality.

how to write proposal to get funding

As you reach toward this unrealized vision by developing a grant proposal, you should think about successful grant writing as an act of imagination. Professor Kate Vieira, a Curriculum and Instruction professor at UW-Madison with considerable grant writing experience, describes grant proposal writing as a creative process akin to fiction writing—these are works of imagination. Professor Vieira recommends approaching the task of writing a grant proposal with an attitude of wonder and excitement as you strive to turn your ideas into something real. You have a great idea, and you think that you’re the best person to achieve a specific goal. Now you just need to convince others to get excited about this vision as well.

On this page, we offer some ways of thinking about grant proposals and advice about the process of planning and writing a proposal. We consider grant proposals; overall purposes, audiences, and expectations in order to make this information applicable across a range of contexts. However, this general approach has important limits . First, you will need to get more tailored advice about grant writing within your specific discipline or sphere. Second, you’ll need to follow very carefully the exact instructions about proposals from the granting agencies to which you are applying.

Talk with professors, mentors, previous grant recipients, the funding agency/group you are applying to, and trusted advisers in your field to learn more about what successful grant proposals look like in your situation and to get feedback on your plan and on your drafting process.

Before you start writing your grant proposal, you’ll want to make sure that you:

  • develop a specific, meaningful, actionable plan for what you want to do and why you want to do it;
  • consider how your plan will achieve positive results;
  • locate a granting organization or source that funds projects like the one you have in mind;
  • research that organization to make sure that its mission aligns with your plan;
  • review the organization’s proposal guidelines; and
  • examine sample proposals from your department, peers, and/or the organization.

When you’ve done all of this, you’re ready to start drafting your proposal!

Additional Resources about Grants and Grant Writing

For students, faculty, or staff at UW–Madison, a great place to learn more about grants, grant proposal writing, and granting institutions is the Grants Information Collection at UW–Madison’s Memorial Library. Check out their website and our review of some of their materials as well as links to other useful grant resources here.

Considering the Audience, Purpose, and Expectations of a Grant Proposal

A grant proposal is a very clear, direct document written to a particular organization or funding agency with the purpose of persuading the reviewers to provide you with support because: (1) you have an important and fully considered plan to advance a valuable cause, and (2) you are responsible and capable of realizing that plan.

As you begin planning and drafting your grant proposal, ask yourself:

  • Who is your audience? Think about the people from the agency offering this grant who will read this proposal. What are the agency’s mission and goals? What are its values? How is what you want to do aligned with what this agency is all about? How much do these readers know about what you are interested in? Let your answers to these questions inform how you present your plan, what vocabulary you use, how much background you provide, and how you frame your goals. In considering your audience, you should think about the kind of information these readers will find to be the most persuasive. Is it numbers? If so, make sure that you provide and explain your data. Is it testimonials? Recommendations from other collaborators? Historical precedent? Think closely about how you construct your argument in relationship to your readers.
  • What are the particular expectations for this grant? Pay attention to everything the granting organization requires of you. Your proposal should adhere exactly to these requirements. If you receive any advice that contradicts the expectations of your particular situation ( including from this website ), ignore it! Study representative samples of successful proposals in your field or proposals that have received the particular grant you are applying for.
  • How do you establish your credibility? Make sure that you present yourself as capable, knowledgeable, and forward thinking. Establish your credibility through the thoroughness of your plan, the intentional way that you present its importance and value, and the knowledge you have of what has already been learned or studied. Appropriately reference any past accomplishments that verify your ability to succeed and your commitment to this project. Outline any partnerships you have built with complementary organizations and individuals.
  • How can you clearly and logically present your plan? Make sure that your organization is logical. Divide your proposal into predictable sections and label them with clear headings. Follow exactly the headings and content requirements established by the granting agency’s call for proposals.Grant proposals are direct and to–the–point. This isn’t a good place for you to embroider your prose with flowery metaphors or weave in subtle literary allusions. Your language should be uncluttered and concise. Match the concepts and language your readers use and are familiar with. Your readers shouldn’t have to work hard to understand what you are communicating. For information about writing clear sentences, see this section of our writer’s handbook. However, use a vivid image, compelling anecdote, or memorable phrase if it conveys the urgency or importance of what you are proposing to do.

Common Elements of Grant Proposals

General tips, pay attention to the agency’s key interests..

As mentioned earlier, if there are keywords in the call for proposals—or in the funding organization’s mission or goal—be sure to use some of those terms throughout your proposal. But don’t be too heavy–handed. You want to help your readers understand the connections that exist between your project and their purpose without belaboring these connections.

Organize ideas through numbered lists.

Some grant writers use numbered lists to organize their ideas within their proposal. They set up these lists with phrases like, “This project’s three main goals are . . . ” or, “This plan will involve four stages . . . ” Using numbers in this way may not be eloquent, but it can an efficient way to present your information in a clear and skimmable manner.

Write carefully customized proposals.

Because grant funding is so competitive, you will likely be applying for several different grants from multiple funding agencies. But if you do this, make sure that you carefully design each proposal to respond to the different interests, expectations, and guidelines of each source. While you might scavenge parts of one proposal for another, never use the exact same proposal twice . Additionally when you apply to more than one source at the same time, be sure to think strategically about the kind of support you are asking from which organization. Do your research to find out, for example, which source is more likely to support a request for materials and which is more interested in covering the cost of personnel.

Go after grants of all sizes.

Pay attention to small grant opportunities as well as big grant opportunities. In fact, sometimes securing a smaller grant can make your appeal for a larger grant more attractive. Showing that one or two stakeholders have already supported your project can bolster your credibility.

Don’t give up! Keep on writing!

Writing a grant proposal is hard work. It requires you to closely analyze your vision and consider critically how your solution will effectively respond to a gap, problem, or deficiency. And often, even for seasoned grant writers, this process ends with rejection. But while grant writers don’t receive many of the grants they apply to, they find the process of carefully delineating and justifying their objectives and methods to be productive. Writing closely about your project helps you think about and assess it regardless of what the grant committee decides. And of course, if you do receive a grant, the writing won’t be over. Many grants require progress reports and updates, so be prepared to keep on writing!

Successful Sample Grant Proposals

One of the best ways to learn how to write grant proposals is to analyze successful samples. We’ve annotated and uploaded three very different kinds of successful proposals written by colleagues associated with UW–Madison. We encourage you to carefully read these samples along with the annotations we’ve provided that direct your attention to specific ways each one is doing the work of a strong proposal. But don’t stop with these! Find additional samples on your own of successful proposals like the one you’re writing to help guide and further your understanding of what has worked and been persuasive.

  • Sample Grant Proposal 1 (PDF) Fellowship Proposal for UW–Madison’s Center for the Humanities’ Public Humanities Exchange (HEX)
  • Sample Grant Proposal 2 (PDF) Proposal for a 3–Year National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
  • Sample Grant Proposal 3 (PDF) Madison Writing Assistance’s grant proposal to the Evjue Foundation

how to write proposal to get funding

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Candid learning offers information and resources that are specifically designed to meet the needs of grantseekers..

Candid Learning > Resources > Knowledge base

How do I write a grant proposal for my individual project? Where can I find samples?

Few proposal writing resources are specifically for individual grantseekers. Foundations that give to individuals have highly specific criteria, so creating a comprehensive "how-to" guide is hard.

If you don't qualify, don't apply

Remember one important rule: If you don't qualify, don't apply. Approach only foundations that have demonstrated interest in your field and geographic area. These funders are more likely to consider your proposal.

Grants to Individuals , our searchable database of grantmakers to individuals, can help you identify potential funders. It is available by subscription or for free at our Candid partner locations.

Parts of a grant proposal

Your proposal should be a compelling presentation of your project, which includes reasonable objectives, a plan to achieve them, and your ability to carry out the plan. Your proposal should suggest that you are a potential partner in furthering the funder's mission, not just a person asking for money.

Click here if the funder has asked you to provide an artist's statement.

Proposals from individuals usually do not exceed five single-spaced pages, in addition to the cover letter and the budget. Below is a typical breakdown:

Cover Letter: Written specifically to the appropriate contact person at the foundation. 1 page.

Abstract (also known as executive summary): Describes concisely the information that will follow. 250 words or fewer.

Introduction: Helps to establish your credibility as a grant applicant. 1 sentence to 2 paragraphs.

Statement of Need: Describes a problem and explains why you require a grant to address the issue. 1 page.

Objectives: Refine your idea and tell exactly what you expect to accomplish in response to the need. 1 page.

Methods: What you will do to accomplish your objectives within a stated time frame. 1 page.

Evaluation: Measures your results and effectiveness. This should correspond to your objectives. 1 page.

Future Funding: Details feasible plans to sustain your project. This applies only if the project will run indefinitely. 1 paragraph.

Budget: Itemized list of income and expenses that shows precisely how much money you will need and how you will spend it to accomplish your objectives. 1 page.

To learn more about how to prepare each section listed above, and how to write proposals in general, check out the following training resources. Although the trainings were created for nonprofit organizations, much of the content can be applied to individual grantseekers:

  • Introduction to Proposal Writing , available free as an online webinar or in-person class.
  • Proposal Writing : Browse trainings, articles, videos, and more on this topic.

See also "Document Checklist for Grant Proposals" , a 3-part blog post series that covers the many types of documents often needed during this process.

Sample Proposals

Sample grant proposals for individual projects are hard to find. Applicants want to guard their ideas, and a proposal is very specific to the project and donor.

Sample proposals from nonprofit organizations might help, in terms of how to write the sections required from both individual and nonprofit grantseekers, like the statement of need. Also, some resources below link to sample proposals from individual grantseekers.

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Explore resources curated by our staff for this topic:, staff-recommended websites, grant applications: 5 mistakes not to make.

This article outlines common mistakes in applying for grant funding and how to avoid them.

Grant Proposal Writing Tips

Offers a helpful overview for preparing and writing a grant proposal. This information is general in nature and would apply to many kinds of projects.

Grant Proposals (or Give me the money!)

This handout will help you write and revise grant proposals for research funding in all academic disciplines (sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts). Targeted primarily to graduate students and faculty, but also helpful to undergraduates who are seeking funding for research (e.g. for a senior thesis). Includes sample budget and project timeline.

On the Art of Writing Proposals

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An excellent example from an arts nonprofit.

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2006 recipient of DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities' Young Artist Grant shares the project description from his winning proposal.

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The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Grant Proposals (or Give me the money!)

What this handout is about.

This handout will help you write and revise grant proposals for research funding in all academic disciplines (sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the arts). It’s targeted primarily to graduate students and faculty, although it will also be helpful to undergraduate students who are seeking funding for research (e.g. for a senior thesis).

The grant writing process

A grant proposal or application is a document or set of documents that is submitted to an organization with the explicit intent of securing funding for a research project. Grant writing varies widely across the disciplines, and research intended for epistemological purposes (philosophy or the arts) rests on very different assumptions than research intended for practical applications (medicine or social policy research). Nonetheless, this handout attempts to provide a general introduction to grant writing across the disciplines.

Before you begin writing your proposal, you need to know what kind of research you will be doing and why. You may have a topic or experiment in mind, but taking the time to define what your ultimate purpose is can be essential to convincing others to fund that project. Although some scholars in the humanities and arts may not have thought about their projects in terms of research design, hypotheses, research questions, or results, reviewers and funding agencies expect you to frame your project in these terms. You may also find that thinking about your project in these terms reveals new aspects of it to you.

Writing successful grant applications is a long process that begins with an idea. Although many people think of grant writing as a linear process (from idea to proposal to award), it is a circular process. Many people start by defining their research question or questions. What knowledge or information will be gained as a direct result of your project? Why is undertaking your research important in a broader sense? You will need to explicitly communicate this purpose to the committee reviewing your application. This is easier when you know what you plan to achieve before you begin the writing process.

Diagram 1 below provides an overview of the grant writing process and may help you plan your proposal development.

A chart labeled The Grant Writing Process that provides and overview of the steps of grant writing: identifying a need, finding grants, developing a proposal and budget, submitting the proposal, accepting or declining awards, carrying out the project, and filing a report with funding agencies.

Applicants must write grant proposals, submit them, receive notice of acceptance or rejection, and then revise their proposals. Unsuccessful grant applicants must revise and resubmit their proposals during the next funding cycle. Successful grant applications and the resulting research lead to ideas for further research and new grant proposals.

Cultivating an ongoing, positive relationship with funding agencies may lead to additional grants down the road. Thus, make sure you file progress reports and final reports in a timely and professional manner. Although some successful grant applicants may fear that funding agencies will reject future proposals because they’ve already received “enough” funding, the truth is that money follows money. Individuals or projects awarded grants in the past are more competitive and thus more likely to receive funding in the future.

Some general tips

  • Begin early.
  • Apply early and often.
  • Don’t forget to include a cover letter with your application.
  • Answer all questions. (Pre-empt all unstated questions.)
  • If rejected, revise your proposal and apply again.
  • Give them what they want. Follow the application guidelines exactly.
  • Be explicit and specific.
  • Be realistic in designing the project.
  • Make explicit the connections between your research questions and objectives, your objectives and methods, your methods and results, and your results and dissemination plan.
  • Follow the application guidelines exactly. (We have repeated this tip because it is very, very important.)

Before you start writing

Identify your needs and focus.

First, identify your needs. Answering the following questions may help you:

  • Are you undertaking preliminary or pilot research in order to develop a full-blown research agenda?
  • Are you seeking funding for dissertation research? Pre-dissertation research? Postdoctoral research? Archival research? Experimental research? Fieldwork?
  • Are you seeking a stipend so that you can write a dissertation or book? Polish a manuscript?
  • Do you want a fellowship in residence at an institution that will offer some programmatic support or other resources to enhance your project?
  • Do you want funding for a large research project that will last for several years and involve multiple staff members?

Next, think about the focus of your research/project. Answering the following questions may help you narrow it down:

  • What is the topic? Why is this topic important?
  • What are the research questions that you’re trying to answer? What relevance do your research questions have?
  • What are your hypotheses?
  • What are your research methods?
  • Why is your research/project important? What is its significance?
  • Do you plan on using quantitative methods? Qualitative methods? Both?
  • Will you be undertaking experimental research? Clinical research?

Once you have identified your needs and focus, you can begin looking for prospective grants and funding agencies.

Finding prospective grants and funding agencies

Whether your proposal receives funding will rely in large part on whether your purpose and goals closely match the priorities of granting agencies. Locating possible grantors is a time consuming task, but in the long run it will yield the greatest benefits. Even if you have the most appealing research proposal in the world, if you don’t send it to the right institutions, then you’re unlikely to receive funding.

There are many sources of information about granting agencies and grant programs. Most universities and many schools within universities have Offices of Research, whose primary purpose is to support faculty and students in grant-seeking endeavors. These offices usually have libraries or resource centers to help people find prospective grants.

At UNC, the Research at Carolina office coordinates research support.

The Funding Information Portal offers a collection of databases and proposal development guidance.

The UNC School of Medicine and School of Public Health each have their own Office of Research.

Writing your proposal

The majority of grant programs recruit academic reviewers with knowledge of the disciplines and/or program areas of the grant. Thus, when writing your grant proposals, assume that you are addressing a colleague who is knowledgeable in the general area, but who does not necessarily know the details about your research questions.

Remember that most readers are lazy and will not respond well to a poorly organized, poorly written, or confusing proposal. Be sure to give readers what they want. Follow all the guidelines for the particular grant you are applying for. This may require you to reframe your project in a different light or language. Reframing your project to fit a specific grant’s requirements is a legitimate and necessary part of the process unless it will fundamentally change your project’s goals or outcomes.

Final decisions about which proposals are funded often come down to whether the proposal convinces the reviewer that the research project is well planned and feasible and whether the investigators are well qualified to execute it. Throughout the proposal, be as explicit as possible. Predict the questions that the reviewer may have and answer them. Przeworski and Salomon (1995) note that reviewers read with three questions in mind:

  • What are we going to learn as a result of the proposed project that we do not know now? (goals, aims, and outcomes)
  • Why is it worth knowing? (significance)
  • How will we know that the conclusions are valid? (criteria for success) (2)

Be sure to answer these questions in your proposal. Keep in mind that reviewers may not read every word of your proposal. Your reviewer may only read the abstract, the sections on research design and methodology, the vitae, and the budget. Make these sections as clear and straightforward as possible.

The way you write your grant will tell the reviewers a lot about you (Reif-Lehrer 82). From reading your proposal, the reviewers will form an idea of who you are as a scholar, a researcher, and a person. They will decide whether you are creative, logical, analytical, up-to-date in the relevant literature of the field, and, most importantly, capable of executing the proposed project. Allow your discipline and its conventions to determine the general style of your writing, but allow your own voice and personality to come through. Be sure to clarify your project’s theoretical orientation.

Develop a general proposal and budget

Because most proposal writers seek funding from several different agencies or granting programs, it is a good idea to begin by developing a general grant proposal and budget. This general proposal is sometimes called a “white paper.” Your general proposal should explain your project to a general academic audience. Before you submit proposals to different grant programs, you will tailor a specific proposal to their guidelines and priorities.

Organizing your proposal

Although each funding agency will have its own (usually very specific) requirements, there are several elements of a proposal that are fairly standard, and they often come in the following order:

  • Introduction (statement of the problem, purpose of research or goals, and significance of research)

Literature review

  • Project narrative (methods, procedures, objectives, outcomes or deliverables, evaluation, and dissemination)
  • Budget and budget justification

Format the proposal so that it is easy to read. Use headings to break the proposal up into sections. If it is long, include a table of contents with page numbers.

The title page usually includes a brief yet explicit title for the research project, the names of the principal investigator(s), the institutional affiliation of the applicants (the department and university), name and address of the granting agency, project dates, amount of funding requested, and signatures of university personnel authorizing the proposal (when necessary). Most funding agencies have specific requirements for the title page; make sure to follow them.

The abstract provides readers with their first impression of your project. To remind themselves of your proposal, readers may glance at your abstract when making their final recommendations, so it may also serve as their last impression of your project. The abstract should explain the key elements of your research project in the future tense. Most abstracts state: (1) the general purpose, (2) specific goals, (3) research design, (4) methods, and (5) significance (contribution and rationale). Be as explicit as possible in your abstract. Use statements such as, “The objective of this study is to …”


The introduction should cover the key elements of your proposal, including a statement of the problem, the purpose of research, research goals or objectives, and significance of the research. The statement of problem should provide a background and rationale for the project and establish the need and relevance of the research. How is your project different from previous research on the same topic? Will you be using new methodologies or covering new theoretical territory? The research goals or objectives should identify the anticipated outcomes of the research and should match up to the needs identified in the statement of problem. List only the principle goal(s) or objective(s) of your research and save sub-objectives for the project narrative.

Many proposals require a literature review. Reviewers want to know whether you’ve done the necessary preliminary research to undertake your project. Literature reviews should be selective and critical, not exhaustive. Reviewers want to see your evaluation of pertinent works. For more information, see our handout on literature reviews .

Project narrative

The project narrative provides the meat of your proposal and may require several subsections. The project narrative should supply all the details of the project, including a detailed statement of problem, research objectives or goals, hypotheses, methods, procedures, outcomes or deliverables, and evaluation and dissemination of the research.

For the project narrative, pre-empt and/or answer all of the reviewers’ questions. Don’t leave them wondering about anything. For example, if you propose to conduct unstructured interviews with open-ended questions, be sure you’ve explained why this methodology is best suited to the specific research questions in your proposal. Or, if you’re using item response theory rather than classical test theory to verify the validity of your survey instrument, explain the advantages of this innovative methodology. Or, if you need to travel to Valdez, Alaska to access historical archives at the Valdez Museum, make it clear what documents you hope to find and why they are relevant to your historical novel on the ’98ers in the Alaskan Gold Rush.

Clearly and explicitly state the connections between your research objectives, research questions, hypotheses, methodologies, and outcomes. As the requirements for a strong project narrative vary widely by discipline, consult a discipline-specific guide to grant writing for some additional advice.

Explain staffing requirements in detail and make sure that staffing makes sense. Be very explicit about the skill sets of the personnel already in place (you will probably include their Curriculum Vitae as part of the proposal). Explain the necessary skill sets and functions of personnel you will recruit. To minimize expenses, phase out personnel who are not relevant to later phases of a project.

The budget spells out project costs and usually consists of a spreadsheet or table with the budget detailed as line items and a budget narrative (also known as a budget justification) that explains the various expenses. Even when proposal guidelines do not specifically mention a narrative, be sure to include a one or two page explanation of the budget. To see a sample budget, turn to Example #1 at the end of this handout.

Consider including an exhaustive budget for your project, even if it exceeds the normal grant size of a particular funding organization. Simply make it clear that you are seeking additional funding from other sources. This technique will make it easier for you to combine awards down the road should you have the good fortune of receiving multiple grants.

Make sure that all budget items meet the funding agency’s requirements. For example, all U.S. government agencies have strict requirements for airline travel. Be sure the cost of the airline travel in your budget meets their requirements. If a line item falls outside an agency’s requirements (e.g. some organizations will not cover equipment purchases or other capital expenses), explain in the budget justification that other grant sources will pay for the item.

Many universities require that indirect costs (overhead) be added to grants that they administer. Check with the appropriate offices to find out what the standard (or required) rates are for overhead. Pass a draft budget by the university officer in charge of grant administration for assistance with indirect costs and costs not directly associated with research (e.g. facilities use charges).

Furthermore, make sure you factor in the estimated taxes applicable for your case. Depending on the categories of expenses and your particular circumstances (whether you are a foreign national, for example), estimated tax rates may differ. You can consult respective departmental staff or university services, as well as professional tax assistants. For information on taxes on scholarships and fellowships, see https://cashier.unc.edu/student-tax-information/scholarships-fellowships/ .

Explain the timeframe for the research project in some detail. When will you begin and complete each step? It may be helpful to reviewers if you present a visual version of your timeline. For less complicated research, a table summarizing the timeline for the project will help reviewers understand and evaluate the planning and feasibility. See Example #2 at the end of this handout.

For multi-year research proposals with numerous procedures and a large staff, a time line diagram can help clarify the feasibility and planning of the study. See Example #3 at the end of this handout.

Revising your proposal

Strong grant proposals take a long time to develop. Start the process early and leave time to get feedback from several readers on different drafts. Seek out a variety of readers, both specialists in your research area and non-specialist colleagues. You may also want to request assistance from knowledgeable readers on specific areas of your proposal. For example, you may want to schedule a meeting with a statistician to help revise your methodology section. Don’t hesitate to seek out specialized assistance from the relevant research offices on your campus. At UNC, the Odum Institute provides a variety of services to graduate students and faculty in the social sciences.

In your revision and editing, ask your readers to give careful consideration to whether you’ve made explicit the connections between your research objectives and methodology. Here are some example questions:

  • Have you presented a compelling case?
  • Have you made your hypotheses explicit?
  • Does your project seem feasible? Is it overly ambitious? Does it have other weaknesses?
  • Have you stated the means that grantors can use to evaluate the success of your project after you’ve executed it?

If a granting agency lists particular criteria used for rating and evaluating proposals, be sure to share these with your own reviewers.

Example #1. Sample Budget

Jet travel $6,100 This estimate is based on the commercial high season rate for jet economy travel on Sabena Belgian Airlines. No U.S. carriers fly to Kigali, Rwanda. Sabena has student fare tickets available which will be significantly less expensive (approximately $2,000).

Maintenance allowance $22,788 Based on the Fulbright-Hays Maintenance Allowances published in the grant application guide.

Research assistant/translator $4,800 The research assistant/translator will be a native (and primary) speaker of Kinya-rwanda with at least a four-year university degree. He/she will accompany the primary investigator during life history interviews to provide assistance in comprehension. In addition, he/she will provide commentary, explanations, and observations to facilitate the primary investigator’s participant observation. During the first phase of the project in Kigali, the research assistant will work forty hours a week and occasional overtime as needed. During phases two and three in rural Rwanda, the assistant will stay with the investigator overnight in the field when necessary. The salary of $400 per month is based on the average pay rate for individuals with similar qualifications working for international NGO’s in Rwanda.

Transportation within country, phase one $1,200 The primary investigator and research assistant will need regular transportation within Kigali by bus and taxi. The average taxi fare in Kigali is $6-8 and bus fare is $.15. This figure is based on an average of $10 per day in transportation costs during the first project phase.

Transportation within country, phases two and three $12,000 Project personnel will also require regular transportation between rural field sites. If it is not possible to remain overnight, daily trips will be necessary. The average rental rate for a 4×4 vehicle in Rwanda is $130 per day. This estimate is based on an average of $50 per day in transportation costs for the second and third project phases. These costs could be reduced if an arrangement could be made with either a government ministry or international aid agency for transportation assistance.

Email $720 The rate for email service from RwandaTel (the only service provider in Rwanda) is $60 per month. Email access is vital for receiving news reports on Rwanda and the region as well as for staying in contact with dissertation committee members and advisors in the United States.

Audiocassette tapes $400 Audiocassette tapes will be necessary for recording life history interviews, musical performances, community events, story telling, and other pertinent data.

Photographic & slide film $100 Photographic and slide film will be necessary to document visual data such as landscape, environment, marriages, funerals, community events, etc.

Laptop computer $2,895 A laptop computer will be necessary for recording observations, thoughts, and analysis during research project. Price listed is a special offer to UNC students through the Carolina Computing Initiative.

NUD*IST 4.0 software $373.00 NUD*IST, “Nonnumerical, Unstructured Data, Indexing, Searching, and Theorizing,” is necessary for cataloging, indexing, and managing field notes both during and following the field research phase. The program will assist in cataloging themes that emerge during the life history interviews.

Administrative fee $100 Fee set by Fulbright-Hays for the sponsoring institution.

Example #2: Project Timeline in Table Format

Example #3: project timeline in chart format.

A chart displaying project activities with activities listed in the left column and grant years divided into quarters in the top row with rectangles darkened to indicate in which quarter each activity in the left column occurs.

Some closing advice

Some of us may feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for money or promoting ourselves. Often, these feelings have more to do with our own insecurities than with problems in the tone or style of our writing. If you’re having trouble because of these types of hang-ups, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it never hurts to ask. If you never ask for the money, they’ll never give you the money. Besides, the worst thing they can do is say no.

UNC resources for proposal writing

Research at Carolina http://research.unc.edu

The Odum Institute for Research in the Social Sciences https://odum.unc.edu/

UNC Medical School Office of Research https://www.med.unc.edu/oor

UNC School of Public Health Office of Research http://www.sph.unc.edu/research/

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Holloway, Brian R. 2003. Proposal Writing Across the Disciplines. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Levine, S. Joseph. “Guide for Writing a Funding Proposal.” http://www.learnerassociates.net/proposal/ .

Locke, Lawrence F., Waneen Wyrick Spirduso, and Stephen J. Silverman. 2014. Proposals That Work . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Przeworski, Adam, and Frank Salomon. 2012. “Some Candid Suggestions on the Art of Writing Proposals.” Social Science Research Council. https://s3.amazonaws.com/ssrc-cdn2/art-of-writing-proposals-dsd-e-56b50ef814f12.pdf .

Reif-Lehrer, Liane. 1989. Writing a Successful Grant Application . Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Wiggins, Beverly. 2002. “Funding and Proposal Writing for Social Science Faculty and Graduate Student Research.” Chapel Hill: Howard W. Odum Institute for Research in Social Science. 2 Feb. 2004. http://www2.irss.unc.edu/irss/shortcourses/wigginshandouts/granthandout.pdf.

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How to Write a Project Funding Proposal

how to write proposal to get funding

If you’ve ever tried to get a project off the ground that requires some kind of outside investment, then you’ve probably encountered (or have been requested to provide) a funding proposal.

Funding proposals may seem like a barrier that you have to overcome, but they actually serve a useful purpose, and can provide additional benefits and guidance to your project. In this article, we’re going to look at what exactly a project funding proposal is, what their purpose is and what some of the advantages are. We’ll then explain how best to go about writing a project funding proposal and write a checklist for some of the most important things to include.

What is a Project Funding Proposal?

The purpose of a project funding proposal is to convince key stakeholders that your project is worthy of funding. Included within these stakeholders, will be the decision makers who will decide whether you get funding. For this reason, it’s important to make the proposal as convincing as you can.

For key decision makers, they want to see that your project is going to have some kind of tangible result. They’ll want this result to be aligned with them or their organisation's goals.

With all projects, there is an inherent risk. When investment is at stake, decision makers will want to be sure that these risks have been accounted for and mitigated as best possible. They will want to see evidence that the project is adequately planned, with the necessary steps in place to ensure its success.

These factors are all part of the purpose for a funding proposal, so are important to consider throughout the process of writing one.

Advantages of a Project Proposal

By writing a project funding proposal, not only are you justifying to your key stakeholder groups the viability of your project. You are also doing an essential part of the project planning process. Writing a proposal means you have a plan for how you see the project going. This can be useful to refer back to, guiding your decision making and assisting in processes associated with the project.

The research element of writing a project proposal can also prove useful further down the line. When you conduct research to support the need for a particular project, you are gaining a better understanding of the environment in which you operate. This greater level of insight means the decisions you are making are more well informed than they would otherwise be, increasing your projects chances of success.

The stakeholder engagement element of a project proposal should also be considered. Though the primary aim of a project funding proposal is to convince stakeholders of the value, it also servies to align stakeholders behind the aims of the project. This makes sure everyone is working in the same direction, towards the same goals. This can also provide an opportunity to clarify roles and responsibilities in a project, further strengthening your project organisational capabilities and chances of success.

What needs to be included in a Project Funding Proposal?

Now that we understand what a project funding proposal is, the purpose of it and some of the advantages, it’s time to look at what needs to be included. This list is by no means definitive - each project will have its own different requirements depending on size, industry, time, cost, etc. This is more of a general outline on the elements that you should be thinking about, when putting a more definitive checklist together.

  • Background Information

The first thing to consider is background information. Not everyone will be as familiar with the project's context as you are, so the objective here is to communicate the relevant information as clearly as possible. Try to get all the important details in, as concisely as possible. Overwhelming your readers with information will only discourage them from reading, whereas not enough details can leave your reader unconvinced. A good way of testing whether you have achieved this balancing act is to have someone external proofread and provide feedback, with you changing the document until you find the right balance.

2. Problem Statement

Once you have explained the background information around your project, you should look to summarise the problems that the project will solve through a problem statement. The purpose of this is to communicate as simply as possible the reason for the project. The problem statement should captivate both the reason for the problem and the potential value of it being solved. It should also be easy enough to understand that by simply reading the problem statement and summary of the project, someone could fully understand what it’s all about.

3. Project Details

The project details section is where you outline the key elements of the project. This should begin with a summary, before expanding into more specific details. The details should include:

  • The aims/objectives of the project
  • The methods for achieving those objectives
  • The stakeholders involved, along with their roles/responsibilities
  • A prediction of timescales
  • Processes and procedures that may be followed
  • How the projects success will be determined

Once these project details have been covered, you may wish to think about any other details that will be important for the project. Think about any logistical or operational details that are relevant to the success of the project. These should be included at this stage. For some projects, not all the details will be fully known at the time of funding being requested. That’s fine, as long as this is highlighted, and it’s made clear how and when these details will become known.

4. Resources Available

Since your project requires funding, it is likely that a variety of resources will be instrumental to its success. It is also likely that your organisation has many of these resources already available. It’s therefore important to first assess what is currently available. This has 2 major benefits. First, it's a chance to justify your project's viability by demonstrating that the inputs required are already partially available, making the additional investment seem less significant. Also, it shows that you have found a way to put what may otherwise be spare capacity to work, demonstrating resourcefulness and a desire to create value in the organisation.

Try to consider resources available beyond existing budgets or funding. Think about human resources, time, space, equipment etc. Almost every organisation has spare capacity in one way or another. This is your chance to prove that something better could be done with it.

5. Resources Required

Now that you’ve explained what is currently available, you’re in a strong position to ask for additional support to make this project a reality. In the same way that match funding can be more persuasive than single source funding, demonstrating that both parties are contributing something to the project increases your chances of success. 

When explaining the resources that are required, it’s good to start with the total figure, before breaking it down into each element's costs. To demonstrate due diligence, it’s sensible to gather several quotes from different suppliers. This shows to the funder that you’ve ‘shopped around’, and are conducting the project at the best possible cost.

6. Budgeting

Once you’ve demonstrated where the costs of the project are likely to be incurred, you can budget for these costs across the timespan of the project. Having an idea of not just where, but when costs are to be incurred is necessary for a few reasons.

Firstly, though funding may be available for the project, it may not be immediately available. Forecasting when costs are to be incurred therefore puts deadlines on when funding is required to avoid the project running out of money or going into debt.

Secondly, by highlighting that the cost of a project can be spread over a period of time, you are minimising some of the risks that may be associated with large upfront investments. For example, if the project needs to be terminated midway for whatever reason, the investors are aware that only the costs prior to that will have been incurred.

Make sure to include alongside the budget the reporting methods that will be used to ensure the budget is on track, and that any deviations are noted and communicated to the relevant individuals. You may even wish to assign someone the responsibility of ‘budget controller’, who is in charge of managing the budget and communicating the relevant information.

7. Key Stakeholders

During the project details stage, you would have highlighted who is relevant to the project, along with their roles and responsibilities. Now it’s time to expand on this. Here, you’re looking to explain each person’s role, their workflow, any processes and procedures that they should be following, and how they should be reporting on progress. You may also wish to assign a ‘line manager’ who will be taking care of individuals.

Aside from those directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the project, you will also likely have other stakeholders who will be interested in the progress of the project. For these individuals, we would suggest drawing up a stakeholder map, and stakeholder communication plan, that keeps them informed with the information most relevant to them.

8. Project Evaluation

After the project is complete, your stakeholders (particularly the ones granting funding) will want to see some measure of success. To achieve this, we would recommend detailing your project evaluation methodology in the project proposal.

The project evaluation should aim to summarise to what extent the project is a success. In order to take a holistic and balanced approach, we would recommend using both quantitative and qualitative data from a variety of sources.

For quantitative, try to establish KPIs that objectively assess the project's impact. One way to do this is to measure a ‘before’ and ‘after’ case. If the KPI is representative of the project impact, then a successful project will show a significant difference between the ‘before’ and the ‘after’.

For qualitative, it can often be the case that those closest to the project will be most aware of the impact. Having these individuals provide a quote regarding the impact is a surefire way to gather useful qualitative insights.

Lastly, you may wish to detail what will be the following steps in response to evaluation outcomes. For example, a positive evaluation may mean the project is rolled out on a larger scale, whereas a negative evaluation may result in the project being archived.

Top Tips for Writing a Project Funding Proposal

Now that we’ve gone through an 8-point checklist for a project funding proposal, we’re going to conclude the article with some top tips for maximising your funding proposals chances of success.

The first tip is to consider the alignment of project objectives against company objectives. If the primary objective is somewhat less aligned with organisational objectives, there may be other impacts of the project that are more aligned. It’s important to highlight these, and sell them to your key decision makers.

The second tip is to think about where each stakeholders objectives and interest in the project are. This is especially true for the decision makers. If a decision maker is primarily concerned with one element of a project, highlight how this element will be impacted, and how the progress will be communicated to them.

Finally, we would suggest focusing on presenting the right balance of details in your proposal. Try to summarise key points throughout, so that somebody with limited time could quickly skim through and get a general idea of the project. At the same time, provide adequate detail that someone who is more interested in specific points could gather all the information they need to make a decision.

If you enjoyed reading this article, we would also suggest downloading our guide below, to never miss another funding opportunity.

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