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Speaking the Language of Grant Proposals

April 2004
By: Peggy Hartshorn
In applying for grants, it can be a challenge to try to understand the terminology used by foundations and other grantors. Let's demystify some of that language to help you meet the grantor's expectations.

What is a Program?
The funder will ask you to describe your "program." If you teach prenatal classes, you can say that you have a "Healthy Moms and Babies Program." If you teach abstinence, you might have a "Healthy Choices Program." Your pregnancy testing and referral for prenatal care might be part of an "Early Intervention for Healthy Babies Program."

Often funders say they want "innovative" or "new" programs. Consider adding a component to something you presently do (for example, getting fathers to attend the parenting classes, or adding incentives to a present give-away program) to make it innovative. Remember that most funders are interested in areas such as health, social services, education, the poor, minorities, or other under-served groups, so begin to think of what you do in these terms. You will need to collect statistics on your clients, such as income level, race, educational level, and marital status.

Parts of a Proposal
If you have a funder's form or outline to follow, it will use many of the terms below. If not, you should use the following format to write about your program.

1. Letter of Transmittal. This should be written last. It simply states that your proposal is attached; thanks the funder for the opportunity to apply; and gives the name, address, and phone number of the contact person at your organization.

2. Summary. This should be written second to last. If yours is a short proposal (3-10 pages), the summary will be about one paragraph stating the name of your organization, the amount of funding requested, and a general description of your program. If yours is a lengthy proposal (such as one for state or federal funding), it should be one page long stating the gist of each section of your proposal.

3. Introduction or Description of Agency. This introduces your organization and establishes your credibility. It can cover your purpose, how long you have been in existence, breadth of financial support (including other grants received), unique aspects of your organization, significant accomplishments, success with related projects, and support from other community organizations. If you are relatively new, list accomplishments of the board or staff in other roles.
The Needs
of your proposal
must describe
the needs of
your clients
or of the

4. Problem Statement or Needs Statement. This must describe the needs of your clients or of the community (not your organization's needs). For example, if you are requesting funds for your "Healthy Moms and Babies Program," quote statistics on health risks to babies (such as low infant birth weights and attendant problems) and health care costs for those who do not receive good prenatal care and support. Get these statistics from your county or state health and human services departments. Include client stories to show that the community needs what you are proposing. Some claim this is the most important part of the proposal. You must catch the attention of the funder and make the urgency of your clients' need real to the reader. [Tip: In your Needs Statement do not use the phrase "lack of" (e.g., "teenagers have a lack of education about how to have healthy pregnancies and babies"). If you do, you are probably describing your Methods (e.g., educational classes, see below) to attack the need.]

5. Program Goals. This should be one or more broad statements of what you hope to achieve. Start out goals with words such as: improve, expand, develop, initiate, increase, decrease, eliminate, or minimize. For example, in the "Healthy Moms and Babies Program" you might have two goals: "To increase mothers' knowledge about how to care for themselves and their babies during pregnancy" and "To increase the percentage of babies born with healthy birth weights." (Tip: Use broad terms in describing your program goals. Save the specifics for your objectives, the next section!)

6. Program Objectives or Outcomes. These should be quantifiable, that is, expressed in numbers. The numbers will be used to measure improvements in the situation you described in your Needs Statement. You could propose to measure the number of people in your program. For instance, "Fifty pregnant, low-income mothers will attend 15 educational classes." However, funders are more impressed with actual outcomes or results of your program, that is, how many mothers learned something or had healthy babies. An outcomes statement might be: "Ninety percent of the babies born to the pregnant, low-income mothers in our program will have normal infant birth weights" or "Ninety percent of the mothers attending our program will demonstrate healthy eating patterns during their pregnancies."

7. Methods. These are the things your program does (activities) which will achieve the objectives you have stated. In the "Healthy Moms and Babies Program," your methods may include: 15 classes taught by a nurse, taxi transportation to the classes, incentives for the mothers, videotapes to take home, training of mentoring volunteers, tracking of data on mothers' diets during the pregnancy, recording birth weights, etc. Obviously, your methods must be likely to achieve your Goals and Objectives and meet the Needs you have described. (Tip: These are the things you include in your budget costs.)

8. Evaluation. This section describes how you will measure how well your objectives were achieved. For the objectives above you need an evaluation that would keep track of the birth weights of your babies and compare them with birth weights of babies born to mothers with similar demographics in your state or county. You would also need reports from the mothers in the program about their eating patterns. Most evaluation components will include collecting and comparing statistics; giving pretests and posttests; keeping records on improvements, behavior, etc. In general, client comments on surveys during and after the program are not sufficient. These only measure perceived value of the program, not actual outcomes. You may include money for carrying out the evaluation in the budget (below).

9. Future and Necessary Funding. Mention here that you will continue to seek additional grant funding, more funding from individual donors, etc. Think about whether the program itself could eventually generate income.

10. Program Budget. Include the cost of the Methods you have described above. If possible, include some of your general operating expenses if they relate to this program. For instance, if your director spends 10% of her time supervising this program, include 10% of her salary. Part of office rent, phone, etc., may also be included. Funders generally do not want to fund an entire program, so ask this funder for a portion of the entire cost. You may set up the program budget with two columns on the right—one for the funder's share and one for your organization's share. Funders often also ask for a copy of the organization's annual budget.

11. Appendix. If the funder allows, include letters of recommendation, the résumé or job description for program director, and a list of the board of trustees with their titles or roles. The funder may require your IRS letter, a letter of authorization from your board, an organizational chart, and an "audited" financial statement. If an audited statement is requested, call the funder. The funder most likely will accept your last year's financial statement if it has been reviewed by a CPA and has a letter to that effect.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Peggy Hartshorn, Ph.D., is the president of Heartbeat International, 665 E. Dublin-Granville Road, Suite 440 Columbas, Ohio 43229-3245. Web site: This article is copyrighted, 2004, Heartbeat International. All rights reserved.

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