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Writing the Proposal

The requirements of funders and the nature of funding objectives vary greatly, but several general guidelines may be helpful. Listed below are some tips on writing a proposal that describes your project in clear terms, makes the case for why it deserves to be funded, and demonstrates your attention to detail.

For more online guidance, review the Foundation Center's Proposal Writing Short Course.


Letter of Inquiry

Sometimes, to determine a potential funder's interest in your project, you can make a few phone calls. But, many funding agencies require a letter of inquiry. This is a "mini-proposal" that briefly outlines the project and inquires about the possibility of funding. It may or may not mention a grant amount.

The letter of inquiry should include:

  • A mention or reminder of any previous communications with the grantor.
  • The mission and brief history of Longwood University.
  • A description of the project/program and how it fits Longwood's mission.
  • Information on the need for the project/program.
  • The outcomes expected from the proposed project and plans for measurement.
  • Plans for conducting the project

Cover Letter

Like an executive summary, the cover letter should summarize the project and serve as a brief overview of the requested amount, goals, objectives, and methods. Use the letter to show that you understand the grant-maker's program and how your project fits into it.


Executive Summary

(suggested length: 1 page)

Almost all funders ask for a brief overview (or executive summary) of any multiple-page proposal. The summary is often said to be one of two parts of most proposals that everyone reads (the other is the budget). It should be very carefully organized, clearly written and no longer than the funder requests, usually a page. It should make clear where (and who) the funding request is coming from; the amount of the request; the funder's program, Request for Proposal or area of interest the proposal falls under; the purpose for which the grant is sought; the expected outcome if the grant is made; other sources (if any) for joint funding; and a clear indication that the proposal has support from the University.


Statement of Need

(suggested length: 2 pages)

Place your needs statement near the beginning of the proposal so that reviewers immediately understand WHY the project is important.

  • Present the problem as something that you can solve.
  • Include empirical data and comments from leaders in the field.
  • Be positive. Focus on the project's impact, not on the challenges you face.
  • Avoid circular logic, in which the lack of a solution is the problem.
  • Describe who will benefit and how they will benefit.

Project Description

(suggested length: 3 pages)

This is the heart of the proposal and should be the longest part of the narrative. It should have five subsections: objectives, methods, staffing/administration, evaluation, and sustainability.


Goals and Objectives

Transition from stating the problem to offering a solution. Begin with a set of goals and objectives that you intend to work toward.

  • A goal is a general statement about the aim of a project. "To contribute new knowledge to the field of…" "To expand the curriculum in the area of…"
  • Objectives are indicators of whether a project is successfully working toward the overarching goal. An objective describes the specific outcome of a project and can be indicated by a measurable change (increase or decrease) or a final product (scholarly article, data set, new technique).


  • Describe and defend your methods.
  • Outline the project in a logical sequence of events.
  • May include a chart or graph to illustrate the timeline.


Demonstrate that you have the resources to accomplish the project: Describe personnel, equipment, facilities, external specialists, experts, institutional resources, and other external funding sources.



Do not overlook this increasingly important proposal component. Describe your plans to evaluate what worked, what didn't work, and why. Some accepted forms of assessment include measurable outcomes, peer-reviewed publications, and outside consultant review.



Describe if and how the project will continue after funding. Are there specific start- and end-dates? If not, will it continue to be financially viable?



This is usually a separate page from the narrative. It gives a detailed financial description of the project with a breakdown of all costs, plus explanatory notes. Include income such as other external support, institutional support, and matching funds. Include expenses for all project components, with narrative explanations where necessary. It should be kept to one page and should be conservative. Do not inflate the budget.


Organizational Information

(suggested length: 1 page)

This should include information such as:

  • Date of founding, mission, history, and governing structure
  • Organization’s structure, programs, and special expertise
  • Information about staff and board
  • Audience served by the agency and specific project for which funding is sought


(suggested length: 2 paragraphs)

In one or two paragraphs, make a final appeal for your project. Restate the main points of your proposal. Tie your project again to your long-range goals and to the goals of the grant-maker.


Attachments or Enclosures

Many organizations limit what can be attached. The following items are often requested by the funder:

  • IRS 501(c)3 designation letter
  • Longwood University facts
  • List of Board members
  • Other information that helps present the case

Next: Policies and Procedures