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Four common grant proposal documents (free samples included)

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Nonprofit work means paperwork. While Candid is working to reduce that burden broadly, here is one specific way we are trying to help: by providing sample grant proposal documents

There are four major documents that you may need to create if your nonprofit is looking for funding. Each has a different purpose and elements you’ll need to make your case to funders.  

In this blog, we share the major types of grant proposal documents, their components, and free sample resources to show you what a successful version of each one looks like. 

Letters of inquiry (LOI)

If you’re new to fundraising and grant writing, you may have not heard the term letter of inquiry, or LOI. Honestly, when you do, it’s good news. 

A letter of inquiry or LOI is something a funder may ask for in lieu of a full grant proposal. Instead of a giant stack of papers, you just need to write a few pages to create a LOI that will get the funder excited to support your cause or project.  

Sometimes, this can be the first step in a funder’s broader grant proposal process. In this case, you may be asked to complete a LOI to show whether you meet the grant criteria, so time is not wasted on a full proposal. Other times, it serves as the entire proposal. 

Here’s what a letter of inquiry should include: 

  • An introduction that summarizes the letter.  
  • A brief description of your organization and why this particular project is important.  
  • A statement of need that convinces the reader your project meets the specific needs of those you serve. 
  • A methodology that explains how you’ll do it. 
  • Other funding sources that are being approached. 
  • Finally, a summary of what was just said and a brief thank you to the funder for considering your organization.  

The biggest challenge is you only get a couple pages to make your case. In our LOI sample documents, you will see examples of how you can summarize projects in a compelling and concise way. 

Cover letters

This is the most important part of your grant proposal: the cover letter. Think of a cover letter as a compelling introduction to the contents of your full proposal. It’s your first chance to connect your project with the funder’s philanthropic mission.  

At minimum, your cover letter should include: 

  • An introduction to your project. 
  • The dollar amount of funding you need.  
  • How your project and organization will further the foundation’s mission. 
  • A list that outlines the proposal’s contents. 
  • Contact details in case the funder wants additional information. 
  • A signature from your organization’s executive director. 

Additionally, if your organization has branded letterhead, consider using it for added polish. 

In our sample documents, you’ll find three different examples of cover letters that include these aspects. 

Proposal budgets 

Proposal budgets may seem a bit dull, but many funders say it’s the first part of a grant proposal that they read. Your budget should show your credibility and impact with numbers.  

A proposal budget should include: 

  • Sources of income:  
    • Grants and other funding contributions. 
    • Earned income from events, products, and fees. 
  • Anticipated expenses: 
    • Direct costs, like staff time, consultants, supplies, equipment, and evaluation (such as conducting surveys or collecting feedback). 
    • Indirect costs—or the invisible costs, like rent, utilities, office supplies, marketing, and administrative staff. 

Make sure your budget adds up (it’s a big red flag when it doesn’t). Not only should the math be correct, but it should also match the request for funding you’re making in the proposal.  

To see this in practice, review our proposal budget sample documents.  

Full grant proposals

Here’s the big one. Writing a full grant proposal can be a little intimidating.   

Before you begin, make sure to read and re-read the instructions from the funder. You don’t want to miss some simple but important proposal requirements, like using a specific font. 

Here are the key elements of a proposal: 

  • Executive summary. This is where you’ll give a snapshot of the problem, your solution for addressing it, why your organization can help, and the amount of funding you’ll need to do so. 
  • Needs statement. Next is a needs statement that shows why your project is needed and aligned with funders’ focus areas. 
  • Project description. In this section, you’ll share your project’s goals and objectives, detailed activities, and information about your organization. 
  • Proposal budget. Finally, a budget that shows in numbers how you’ll address the problem. 

Reading examples of full grant proposal documents can be a helpful way to get started. You can also check out our free live and on-demand trainings.  

Need more help? Our team of online librarians is here to provide resources and support. You can reach out to them by emailing [email protected] or via chat during business hours. 

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  • Geoffrey says:

    January 28, 2024 7:23 am

    Insightful well arranged tips on proposal writing. Want to learn more and examples

  • Jesus Loera says:

    November 12, 2023 11:57 pm

    Good evening friends, I am Jesus Loera. Lately I have become interested in grant writing but haven't a clue where to start. I am a life long resident of Brownsville Texas. We are stuffed up against the Mexican border. Not extremely prosperous, sad to say. I work for a Community College in need of funding, I am a member of a Unitarian Church with only 6 members and I recently joined the local Freemasons. All these organizations in desperate need of finical help. I am willing to help as much as possible, but in need of some coaching.

  • Kate, Digital Communications Manager, Candid says:

    September 11, 2023 4:06 pm

    Candid does not suggest specific funders or approach them on your behalf. But we can point you to resources that should help you in your funding search. You can check out our Knowledge Base for information on getting grants and finding donors.

  • Christian Wilson says:

    August 30, 2023 11:22 am

    We need additional funding in the amount of $20,000 to feed 700 people during the weekend when there are no services provided. The local funders have been tapped out and tell us that they cannot assist us. Can you advise me of other alternative funding that might be available so that we can continue to feed these families?

  • Kate, Digital Communications Manager, Candid says:

    August 2, 2023 8:05 am

    Candid does not suggest specific funders or approach them on your behalf. But we can point you to resources that should help you in your funding search. You can check out our Knowledge Base for information on getting grants and finding donors.

  • Leslie England says:

    August 1, 2023 5:44 pm

    Greetings! We are a 501c3 trying to get a grant to buy a building for a homeless shelter in our area. We have no idea how to find grants or apply for them. Where do you begin?

  • Jean niyungeko Fessi says:

    July 20, 2023 2:40 pm

    the information is so helpful, thanks for being resourceful.

  • Bruce says:

    July 20, 2023 12:43 pm

    I also maintain both a paper and electronic file of key documents usually required like IRS letter, BOD list, 1page overview of organization including Mission statement, most recent 990, annual budget including income and expenses. All this helps especially with online applications!

  • Lorent Damaseke Mvula says:

    July 20, 2023 9:04 am

    Thanks for the knowledge and skills I have learned on grant proposals, this really sharpens my knowledge.

  • RMM- ED says:

    July 20, 2023 8:50 am

    Thank you for posting this!

  • Riv says:

    July 20, 2023 8:42 am

    This is super helpful, thank you!

  • Cindy Dashnaw Jackson says:

    July 13, 2023 11:48 am

    This is an incredible resource and a generous action, Melissa. I hope many nonprofits see this article!