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Contents of a Proposal

Cover Letter 

  • The cover letter is your first chance at making a positive, lasting impression while summarizing the important elements of your project
  • Try to keep to one page, be clear and succinct
  • A lot of the important information in your cover letter may also appear in the executive summary.  It’s ok to repeat relevant information in the cover letter

A good cover letter will include:

  • Reference to any relevant prior communication with the funder
  • Indicate the name of the project and amount of request, in first paragraph if possible
  • Why you are approaching this funder
  • What your project will accomplish (brief summary), the “why” and “how” of the project
  • Describe contents of proposal
  • In the concluding paragraph, offer to set up a meeting to provide additional details
  • Be signed by your organization’s chief executive officer and/or chairman of the board, or equivalent

Title Page 

  • Gives your proposal an air of professionalism
  • Provides basic information about your organization
  • Protects the proposal

Table of Contents 

  • Necessary for proposals longer than 10 pages
  • Format should be straight forward, with each section followed by a page number

Executive Summary 

  • The most important paragraph in the entire proposal document
  • Snapshot of what is to follow
  • Convince reader that the project should be considered for support
  • Used by the funder to determine if the proposal is within its guidelines
  • Make sure the Executive Summary can stand alone as a concise summary of what is intended to be accomplished and why your organization is qualified to carry this out
  • No longer than one page or 300 words

*Write your executive summary LAST, once you have written all arguments and key points

  • Problem (1-2 paragraphs)
  • Solution (1-2 paragraphs): what will take place, how many people will benefit from the program, how/where it will operate, how long it will operate, who will staff it
  • Funding Requirements (1 paragraph): explanation of amount required for project, what you are requesting from funder (amount), AND what our plans are for funding it in the future
  • Organization and Expertise (1 paragraph): brief statement of name, history, purpose, activities of agency, emphasizing ability to carry out project

Typical Executive Summary Questions to Address:

  • What is the need or problem you want to address?
  • How will your organization aid in addressing your need/problem?
  • What will take place and how many people will benefit?
  • How, where, and for what duration will the program operate?
  • Who will staff the program?
  • What is your expertise?
  • Include a brief statement of the name, history, purpose and activities of organization including emphasizing its capacity to carry out the proposal
  • What is the grant amount being requested and how will you sustain the program in the future?

The Statement of Need 

  • The statement of need follows the Executive Summary and is placed before the project description
  • Where you answer your question: why is your project necessary
  • Example: a serious problem that needs to be solved
  • Example: lack of an essential service your organization plans to provide
  • Example: critical issue that must be addressed


  • Description: the need that your project is intended to improve
  • Geography: describe the community/region your project will serve (especially important for funders with geographic basis for giving)
  • Audience: audience served by project to include age, race/ethnicity, gender, economic status, etc.
  • Benefits: specific but brief outline of your project to the need described in your statement
  • Facts: Bolster position by including specific, up-to-date, real-life stories of people you serve, and quotations about your project by those respected in field/community

Describing the Need:

  • Formulate need into one strong sentence
  • May include brief mention of problem

Emphasize Benefits:

  • That you plan to serve to the community, NOT how it can help your university (even when the request is for equipment, building funds, capital improvements, staffing)
  • Humanizing the needs puts a human face to the problem you’ve identified:
  • Use stories, should reflect project without being overly dramatic
  • Include examples

The Need Statement should convince funders of 3 major points:

  • The need for your project is real and demonstrable: provide strong evidence, include relevant facts and statistics
  • The project is important: describe current negative situation and impact its causing
  • The problem identified has a solution: don’t paint a grim or unfeasible picture.  Address one aspect of a large issue

*Model programs can be utilized as a prototype by other organizations wishing to implement similar programs.

Documenting the Facts:

The backbone of the need statement is the evidence gathered to support it.  Statements made in this section of the grant proposal must be supported by facts even if they seem obvious.  The facts used should be relevant, current, verifiable and authoritative (from a respected source that would be familiar to the reviewer).

Fact Source Examples:

  • Surveys
  • Focus Groups
  • Usage Statistics
  • Reports
  • Demographic Studies
  • Projects for the Future

*Great Source – Foundation Directory, IssueLab

Composing the Statement of Need:

  • List the points you want to make – start with your statement of purpose and then list numerically the specific points you plan to make
  • Gather supporting facts and match them with the points listed
  • Decide how to present information:
  • In order of importance?
  • From broad to specific?
  • Save the most dramatic argument for the closing paragraph or sentence of the statement of need
  • Decide on the format of your narrative:
  • Straight factual narrative
  • Use of anecdotes and quotations
  • Use of illustrations or graphs in an appendix that your needs statement will refer to
  • Determine the length of this section by:
  • Complexity of project
  • Nature of the need
  • Data on hand to back up statement of need
  • Relationship to other components of your proposal

*a letter proposal will have one or two paragraphs, a 10 page proposal might have 1-2 pages.

Project Description 

  • Is the main narrative of your project and how it accomplished your organization’s goals
  • Constructed to convince funder to commit funds to your project

Accomplishes three goals:

  • Details the activities that make up your project
  • Generates excitement for your project
  • Makes the case for the approach you have chosen

Questions to answer:

  • What is your project?
  • Who will benefit from your project?
  • Where will the project take place?
  • When will the project begin?
  • What is the duration of the project?
  • What resources are needed?
  • What are the projects expected outcomes?
  • How will the project be evaluated?
  • How will the project be sustained after funding has concluded?

Components of the Project Description (in order):

  • Objectives:  clear objectives help determine program activities (don’t confuse objectives with goals which are more abstract and broader in scope
  • Activities: will require certain staffing and administrative choices
  • Staffing: Tailor your staff, administration, and volunteers to the programs requirements
  • Evaluation: measures the success of the objectives, activities and staffing
  • Sustainability: the evaluated success of the program helps determine if it is sustainable

Common Objective Types:

  • Behavior: a human action is anticipated.  For example, you expect a certain number out of a total number of participants in a program to be successful.
  • Performance: A behavior will occur at a certain proficiency level with in a specific time frame.  For example a certain number of a total number of participants will have an expected result within a certain number of days/months, years and will pass a basic proficiency test.
  • Process: The manner in which something occurs is an end in itself.  For example, you plan to document a method used, identifying which is most successful.
  • Product: A tangible item will result from your product.  For example, a manual will be created to use in instruction.

Program Activities:

Your activities specifically describe how you will achieve the objectives you have outlined.

Questions to Answer:

  • What are the specific tasks?
  • Why is this the best way to accomplish your objective?
  • Who is responsible for each task?
  • What resources are needed?
  • Who are the participants in your project and what communities do they come from?
  • When will these activities occur and over what time period?
  • Are there other organizations in your community serving a similar audience?
  • How do these activities tie into your organizations objectives and missions?

Staffing and Administration:

  • Use to describe some of the qualifications of the project leaders and why that expertise will make the project succeed
  • Staff’s qualifications will affect their salaries and other project costs, so describe what practical experience, expertise, and educational background you require for key staff
  • If a staff member has already been selected, summarize his or her credentials and include a brief bio sketch for the appendix
  • If collaborating, be sure to discuss the benefits this will bring to both the project and the organization


  • Have a plan to assess your project, make sure it is clear-cut, measurable and realistic
  • Think of an evaluation plan as one of two types:
  • Measures the process
  • Analyzes the product

*you will need to describe the manner in which evaluation info will be collected and how data will be analyzed.

Types of data:

  • Qualitative: includes interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, observations notes, and surveys.  They should form a picture of the whole by considering multiple perspectives.
  • Quantitative: tends to be more formal in their execution and more numerical in their output.

*Match the size of your evaluation to the monetary value of your project (length, detail)

Connect Outcomes to Objectives by asking these questions:

  • What do you consider success to be?  What does the funder consider success to be?
  • How will the result be measured?  State whether you are using qualitative or quantitative methods and what the evaluation method will be.
  • Who will conduct the evaluation and when?  Will this be done in-house or by a consultant?


Funders are looking for one of the following:

  • It is finite, with start and end dates, with no future funding needed
  • It builds capacity and contributes to the future self-sufficiency of your organization and/or enables it to expand services that might be revenue generating
  • Will attract other funders in the future

Be clear and brief, the sustainability section should be 1 or 2 paragraphs.  Include the following (when relevant):

  • What sources will you approach for future funding? 
  • Have any committed to future funding?  Be specific.
  • Will the project produce income?
  • How much support will your organization provide through operating funds?


  • Should be one or more paragraphs
  • Should call attention to your vision for the future, after grant is complete
  • Is your last chance to reiterate your project's importance