Reference-Guide for Proposal Writers

Reference Guide for Proposal Writers

Proposal writing is essential to the fundraising process, but it can be intimidating for the novice. There is nothing worse than staring at a blank piece of paper or computer screen with the sinking feeling that so much is riding on the prose you must create. There are, however, books and resources on the web that can assist you in organizing your ideas and encapsulating them into winning proposals.

Only at the end of extensive research on prospective funders should one begin to think about writing a proposal. Be sure that you have all the details about the preferred form of approach, application procedures, and deadlines for each potential funder before you begin. Many grantmakers today prefer a preliminary letter of inquiry in advance of or instead of a full proposal. Be sure to research this.

Some funders belong to regional associations of grantmakers and may accept Common Application Forms that can expedite the proposal writing process. Common application forms are available on our web site.

Web Sites for Proposal Writers

The Foundation Center’s Proposal Writing Programs (
The Center offers full-day Proposal Writing Seminars in many cities across the United States that are designed to help the novice nonprofit grantseeker gain the experience needed to secure grants from foundations and corporate sources.

Free hour-long courses on the basics of proposal writing and proposal budgeting are also conducted at Foundation Center libraries each month.

The Foundation Center’s Proposal Writing Online Training (
The Center offers interactive online training courses that reinforce lessons with interactivity, assignments, and self-tests. The complete step-by-step guide Proposal Writing: The Comprehensive Course is the newest offering.

The Foundation Center’s Proposal Writing Short Course (
Describes how to prepare a funding proposal, including the planning, research, and cultivation of foundation and corporate donors. Available in English, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

The Foundation Center’s Proposal Budgeting Basics (
Explains the basics of developing a project budget. Available in English and Spanish.

The Grantsmanship Center (
Provides a schedule of proposal writing workshops held across the United States.

A Guide to Proposal Planning and Writing (
Offers guidelines and tips on planning and writing a grant proposal.

The Rules of Engagement: How to Make Your Letter of Inquiry a Winner (
Summarizes tips on creating a well-crafted letter of inquiry that will convince a foundation reviewer to invite the organization to submit a complete proposal. Hosted by

“Where Can I Find Examples of Grant Proposals?”
This Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) provides links to web sites that feature sample proposals.

Recommended Books for Proposal Writers

Geever, Jane C. The Foundation Center’s Guide to Proposal Writing. 5th. ed. New York: The Foundation Center. 2007. Guides the grantwriter from pre-proposal planning to post-grant follow-up. Incorporates excerpts from actual grant proposals and interviews with foundation and corporate grantmakers about what they look for in a proposal. In addition to chapters on the components of a standard proposal, the book includes guidance on research, contacting and cultivating potential funders, as well as a sample proposal.

The Foundation Center’s Guide to Winning Proposals . New York, NY: The Foundation Center. 2003. Features grant proposals that have been funded by some of today’s most influential grantmakers. Each proposal – reprinted in its entirety – includes commentary by the program officer, executive director, or other funding decision maker who awarded that grant. Proposals are included from large and small, local and national organizations, and for many different support purposes, including basic budgetary support, special projects, construction, staff positions, and more.

Browning, Beverly A. Winning Strategies for Developing Grant Proposals. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Thompson Publishing Group. 2006. Presents general guidelines for writing proposals, and specific instructions for creating proposals for private sector sources and federal agencies. Includes a chapter on navigating the online federal grants process.

Clarke, Cheryl A.; Fox, Susan P. Grant Proposal Makeover: Transform Your Request From No to Yes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. 2007. Provides advice on the finer points of proposal writing, and includes many sample documents.

Clarke, Cheryl A. Storytelling for Nonprofits: The Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. 2001. Clarke puts forward the notion that proposals share much with great stories: characters, setting, and plot. She shows proposal writers how to craft documents that include elements of drama. The book also covers the research process and cultivation. Includes a sample letter of inquiry and a sample budget, as well as information on packaging the proposal.

Friedland, Andrew J. and Carol L. Folt. “Writing Successful Science Proposals.” New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. Proposal writing wisdom specifically for those in scientific fields.

Grayson, Harriet. Guide to Government Grants Writing: Tools for Success. New York: iUniverse, Inc.. 2005. The concise manual provides tips on finding government funding opportunities and explains how to complete grant applications. Provides an overview of government grants and contracts at the at the federal, state, and local level.

Hall, Mary Stewart. Getting Funded: A Complete Guide to Proposal Writing. 4th ed. Portland, OR: Continuing Education Publications. 2003. Organized along a logical pattern of planning, beginning with a discussion of ideas for projects and ending with considerations about submissions, negotiation and project renewal. Includes strategies based on winning proposals from several fields, in addition to resource lists, cases, models, checklists, and sample formats.

Henson, Kenneth T. Grant Writing in Higher Education: A Step-By-Step Guide. Boston, MA: Pearson Education. 2003. A practical guide for educators covering various aspects of proposal writing. Emphasizes the importance of using questionnaires/surveys and literature to support proposals.

Liberatori, Ellen. Guide to Getting Arts Grants. New York, NY: Allworth Press. 2006. Covers developing a plan, creating a portfolio, identifying funders, and completing a grant application. A chapter focuses on proposals submitted by arts organizations, noting that artists may collaborate with arts groups through fiscal sponsorship arrangements.

Reif-Lehrer, Liane. Grant Application Writer’s Handbook. 4th ed. Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2005. Explains the process of grantseeking from government funders, particularly the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Chapters cover the review process; planning and writing the research plan; submitting and tracking the grant application; and summary statements, rebuttals, and revisions

Robinson, Andy. Grassroots Grants: An Activist’s Guide to Grantseeking. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. 2004. Presents a pragmatic look at how foundations function and how grantseeking fits in with an overall fundraising strategy for grassroots activists. Step-by-step guidance on how to achieve success is provided, and several sample proposals are included.

Teitel, Martin. “Thank You for Submitting Your Proposal”: A Foundation Director Reveals What Happens Next. Medfield, MA: Emerson & Church. 2006. In this behind-the-scenes account of the daily life of a foundation, the author provides advice to grantseekers about proposal fundamentals, the use of letters of inquiry, site visits, communications with funders, and the reality of board decision-making.

Wells, Michael K. Understanding Nonprofit Finances. Portland, OR: Portland State University. 2006. Explains how to work with financial and accounting documents in preparing the budget for a proposal or grant application. Illustrated throughout with examples from three types of nonprofits. With glossary and bibliographical references.

Wells, Michael K. Proven Strategies Professionals Use to Make Their Proposals Work. Portland, OR: Portland State University. 2005. Provides a treatment of specialized concerns related to the proposal, such as evaluation methods, project development, researching the need section, and effective use of attachments. Includes one sample proposal.

For other articles and books on proposal writing, check under the subject heading “Proposal development–handbooks, manuals, etc.” in the Catalog of Nonprofit Literature on the Foundation Center’s website.

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