Sunday, May 11, 2008

Descriptions of Different Grant Proposal Documents' Formats

Do you know the different document formats that you will need when applying for grants? Maybe you aren't sure what a LOI is. Do you know when you should format your grant proposal as a business letter, instead of in a report format?

The way that you determine which format to use for your document will depend upon what stage in the grant seeking process you're in, what the document is for, what the foundation prefers that you're applying to, and to some degree what style you prefer.

Always keep in mind that each foundation is different and wants/requests different information, and prefers not to receive other information or items. Always format each grant request to the specific foundation you're applying to. How? Get their giving guidelines and follow them religiously. In doing this you're helping the foundation select your proposal to grant to. Don't know what guidelines are? Read my post, About Grant Guidelines...

When you first approach a foundation for a grant you will want to contact them however they prefer that contact is initiated (and you should be able to find this out on their website or in their giving guidelines). Some foundations want any nonprofit who is going to approach them for a grant to begin everything by phoning or emailing them. Then again, some foundations never want phone calls. You have to research what each foundation that you're going to apply to; and know what they prefer. Do as they request and do not do what they state they do not like (e.g. maybe they state they do not want photos or videos submitted with proposals, no phone calls, etc.). For a further discussion on the foundation's limitations, read Insert Photos? Fancy paper? Professional binding?

Traditionally, the first method to contact a foundation is to submit a Letter of Inquiry (LOI). It is usually a very small (one or two page) letter formatted version of the full grant proposal. It is often easiest to create after the full proposal has been written. It is concise, to the point, clear, and only the first step; remember, you'll likely submit a full grant proposal in the next step in applying for a grant. The LOI is just an opportunity to tell them what you're asking for a grant for, about your organization, its track record, and a bit about the project/program/item you need.

IF a foundation invites you to apply for a grant or if, in their giving guidelines, they state that they accept unsolicited grant proposals (and if they do not state that you must send a LOI, first), then send a full grant proposal. This can also be called a case, grant application, or expanded grant proposal. These can be as short as two pages (if the foundation limits the number of pages that can be submitted) or as long as ten pages (if the foundation requests this much information in the document). You'll want to submit the longest possible document they'll accept because you'll want to take advantage of the opportunity to state your request fully. Usually grant proposals are between 3 and 8 pages long. Again, check the foundation's giving guidelines; keep the number of pages in your document to their page limit, include the information they request, cut the information that isn't necessary, and make sure it's a concise, honest, legible, informative document. The proposal can be in a 'report' format as long as it will be sent under cover of a letter (one page and usually no more than four or five paragraphs - keep it short).

Sometimes foundations ask that you first go through a 'test' on their website which is usually an interview, no more than ten questions long, with one or two word answers to be answered or submitted online. When they do this the foundation wants to be certain that whatever you're seeking a grant for is something that they might fund. If it's outside the scope of their giving (as outlined in their giving guidelines), they will tell you - and they will have saved your nonprofit and their organization time and resources. This is why they do this.

Sometimes foundations ask that you fill out a specific grant application form (something similar, usually, to a job application) and it can be online or something you should print out and type on. Some foundations use a nearby community foundation's standard grant application form (because it meets their needs), or they develop their own. They're usually no more than three pages, and often one page.

When you do submit a full proposal, if you are mailing it through the United States Postal Service and if the foundation's giving guidelines do not say otherwise, you can: fill out the grant application (if it's required), write a cover letter, write a report style grant proposal, and include attachments. Should you staple them together? Should you not staple? Should you include five copies of the document? I don't know, but you can find out by following the application directions in the foundation's giving guidelines. Make copies of everything that you're sending and put it into the foundation's file in your office. The actual package should go into the envelope in that order, and be certain that everything is completed and signed with ink. Seal it and mail it with confidence.

If you are given a grant, thank the foundation. If you are not awarded a grant, thank the foundation. In a week or two (when they'll have time) call the foundation, if you did not get the grant ,and professionally and openly ask why your grant request was denied, what you can change or do differently the next time you apply; and listen to them. They're telling you how you can get the grant! Make their suggested changes, and apply again (when their giving guidelines state that you can). If you'd like to read more about denials, read The Declined Grant Request

Some foundations require an update report while the grant is being used on your project or program. You will want to send them a letter formatted document stating what their money has been spent on, what it's done, and what the expected outcome and future plan is. Thank them, again. This is usually no more than three pages long. Only send this if it's requested.

Whether or not a foundation requests it, it is a good idea to submit and end of grant report (one to two pages) that lists what exactly the grant was spent on, who benefited, the outcome, and any other pertinent information (e.g. forty low income, single parent, mothers were given two new professional outfits to wear to job interviews, etc.). It is usually formatted as a business letter. Again thank them. For more information read Reporting to Grant Donor After End of Project

When to use which format can depend upon your best judgement, too. If you are not told in giving guidelines which format a foundation prefers for a specific document, you may email or call them and ask (if it's OK to do this); or you can look up the traditionally accepted format in The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing. It's an excellent resource.

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