Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)

Community College of Allegheny County

Grant Application

Grant Proposal Writing Guidelines: Application Phase

Once you have identified a funding source and received an application package, you are ready to write a grant proposal. The task of proposal development can be overwhelming but don’t be intimidated. Most grant proposals follow a comparable format, and with proper preparation and a step-by-step approach, you can develop a quality, fundable proposal. The most difficult part is getting started.

A proposal must convince the prospective funding source of two things: 

  1. That a problem or need of significant magnitude exists.
  2. That your institution has the means and the imagination to solve the problem or meet the need.

First, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the guidelines and submission deadline of the funding source before you begin the writing process.

Second, it is helpful to understand the components of a typical grant proposal. Although the order in which they are requested may vary from program to program, the sections of a proposal narrative commonly include the following:

1. Proposal Abstract or Summary: (1/2 - 1 page in length) 

This section is an overview of the entire project, highlighting the who, what, when, where and why.   This is usually the section that the reviewer reads first, so make it clear, concise and interesting because this could make or break your project. It may be beneficial to write this section last as a means of recapitulating what has been proposed. A summary should meet the following criteria:

  • Identifies the grant applicant
  • Is brief, clear and interesting
  • Includes at least one sentence on problem/need, project objectives, ethods, and credibility of institution
  • Includes total cost; funds already obtained and amount requested in this proposal
  • Numerical or statistical data needed to back up your statements

2. Introduction: (1-2 pages)

This section provides an overview of your institution, its mission & goals, its capabilities, its resources, and its past successes. This section should lend credibility to your institution or department so that reviewers feel confident that proposed project activities will be carried out effectively and efficiently. This section should also highlight how the institution has attempted to address the proposed need. The introduction should meet the following criteria:

  • Clearly establishes who is applying for the funds
  • Describes applicant institution’s mission and long range goals    
  • Describes institution’s current programs and activities
  • Describes institution’s population
  • Provides evidence of the institution’s accomplishments
  • Offers endorsements in support of the accomplishments
  • Supports qualifications in area activity in which funds are being sought
  • Describes qualifications of key personnel
  • Provides other evidence of administrative competence
  • Is brief and interesting

3. Need or Problem Statement: (3-4 pages, may be limited to less by funder)

This section must document the need or rationale for your project. This section should clearly describe the specific problem/need that your project will address, including the history or background of the problem, any national, state or local ramifications and what others have done to address it. This section must include significant statistics and literature reviews to demonstrate your knowledge of the problem and to validate its existence. Finally, this section should describe the population to be served by the project, social and economic costs affected by the project, and the specific process through which the problem may be solved. This section should meet the following criteria:

  • Describes the target population to be served
  • Defines the problem to be addressed and the need in the geographical area where the organization operates
  • Is related to the mission of the applicant institution
  • Is of reasonable scope
  • Is supported by relevant statistical evidence
  • Is supported by relevant anecdotal evidence
  • Is supported by statements from authorities
  • Is stated in terms of target population’s needs and problems, not the applicant institution’s
  • Makes no unsupported assumptions
  • Is brief but interesting
  • Makes a compelling case


4. Project Goals & Objectives: (1-2 pages)

This section describes the outcomes of the project in measurable terms. It is a succinct description of what you hope to accomplish. This section also identifies how the project objectives are related to the purposes and priorities of the perspective funding organization. Program goals and objectives should meet the following criteria:

  • Provide at least one objective for each problem or need committed to in the problem statement
  • Objectives are outcomes not methods
  • State the time frame by which objectives will be accomplished
  • Objectives should be measurable and quantifiable by some means

Types of Objectives:

Behavioral: A human action is anticipated

Example: Twenty-five of the fifty adult participants will learn to read

Performance: An anticipated time frame within which a behavior should occur at some quantifiable proficiency level

Example: Twenty-five of the fifty adult participants will learn how to read in one year and pass a basic reading test

Process: The process used to achieve a goal can itself be an objective

Example: We will document the teaching methods utilized, identifying those with the greatest success

Product: A tangible item results

Example: A manual will be created describing effective literacy teaching techniques for adult learners.


5. Project Methodology: (4+ pages)

This section describes the activities to be conducted to achieve desired objectives. It also includes the rationale for choosing a particular approach. Generally, a straightforward, chronological description of the operations works most effectively. This section should meet the following criteria:

  • Clearly describes program activities
  • States reasons for the selection of activities
  • Describes sequence of activities
  • Describes staffing of program
  • Describes participants and participant selection
  • Describes resources which will be needed
  • Provides a timeline for the activities


6. Evaluation: (1-2 pages)

This section presents a plan for determining the degree to which objectives are met and methods are followed. This section is extremely important as funders pay particular attention to evaluation methods since this helps them determine whether a proposed project represents an intelligent investment for them. This section should include the following criteria:

  • A plan for evaluating accomplishment of objectives and evaluating criteria
  • A plan for evaluating and modifying methods over course of the program
  • Identifies who will be doing the evaluation and how they were chosen
  • Describes how data will be collected
  • Explains any testing instruments or questionnaires to be used
  • Describes the process of data analysis
  • Describes any evaluation reports to be produced


7. Future Funding: (1/2 page)

This section describes a plan for continuation beyond the grant and/or the availability of other resources necessary to implement the grant. This should include resources to sustain the project, if the institution will absorb the expenses, and an assurance that individuals being served have adequate follow-up. This section should meet the following criteria:

  • A specific plan to obtain funding if program is to be continued
  • Description of how maintenance and future program costs will be covered (if applicable)
  • List of alternative funding sources
  • Accompanied by letters of commitment (if necessary)

8. The Proposed Budget:

Budget sheets required by the funding agency are completed and included in this section. Usually following the detailed budget sheets is a budget narrative justifying the expenditures in relation to project methodology/objectives. Critical to the development of the budget are considerations related to the reasonableness of the expenses, the administrative cost (indirect cost), adequateness of the budget to support the project, and the extent of support provided by the institution (matching funds). The institution’s policies and procedures will be utilized for salaries, purchase of equipment or rental, and other supplies, unless specified by the funding source. This section should also address the institution’s ability to house project staff, equipment or the project’s need to rent space. A budget should meet the following criteria:

  • Is sufficient to perform the tasks described in the narrative
  • Is detailed in all aspects
  • Includes project costs that will be incurred at the time of the program’s implementation
  • Contains no unexplained amounts for miscellaneous or contingency
  • Includes all items asked of the funding source
  • Includes all items paid for by other sources
  • Includes all personnel; full-time, part-time, volunteers, consultants, etc…
  • Details fringe benefits, separate from salaries
  • Separately details all non-personnel costs
  • Includes any donated services
  • Includes all indirect costs and matching funds

9. Personnel:

This section justifies the personnel needed to adequately support the project. Job descriptions will reflect needed skills, as well as duties, percentage of time on each of the job tasks, and may be placed in the appendices of the proposal. Personnel expenses are located in the budget pages and justified in the budget narrative. An explanation is provided concerning the experience and qualifications of the individuals to be included in the project. This section of the proposal is reviewed critically by the funding agency and usually weighs heavily in the decision to fund the project.
In addition to the contents of the proposal, its appearance is important. Foremost, a proposal should be presented neatly. A cover letter should be submitted, followed by the proposal and attachments, respectively. Since proposals are not voluminous, it is not necessary to include an index or table of contents.

Proposals should not be submitted with binding, as funders often dismantle the proposal and make copies of it when referring it to a review committee for consideration. To assemble a proposal, use staples or a folder to keep it organized.

In summary, a proposal should reflect planning, research and vision. The importance of research cannot be overemphasized, both in terms of the funders solicited and the types of funds requested. The most successful proposals are those, which clearly and concisely state the institution and community’s needs and are targeted to donors that fund that field, a reflection of careful planning and research.