A grant proposal is a written document or application submitted in response to a call for proposals issued by a grant-maker agency or as a result of opportunities for funding or an invitation received by an applicant. A generic grant proposal includes a cover letter (optional), cover page, table of contents (optional), abstract, problem or needs statement, goals and objectives, project description, timeline, organizational capability, evaluation, references, budget, and appendices (optional; see Box 15.3).


The cover letter introduces the grant proposal to the project or program officer of the grant-maker agency. Sometimes the cover letter is not needed, because the grant application may have to be processed through a web-based system. When necessary, a cover letter includes standard greetings. Then, state one or two sentences that specify the purpose of the proposal and amount (e.g., Grant Middle School in Naples, Florida, is seeking a grant for the amount of $200,000 to provide after-school tutoring to help at-risk students improve their reading skills). There can be:

- One or two sentences about the objectives

- One or two sentences summarizing the project description

- One or two sentences about the credibility of the applicant

- One or two sentence about the best ways to contact the applicant

Box 15.3 Generic Contents of a Grant Proposal

- Cover Page

- Table of contents

- Abstract

- Problem or needs statement

- Goals and objectives

- Project description or activities

- Timeline

- Organizational capability

- Evaluation

- References cited

- Budget

- Budget narrative

- Appendices


The title and abstract can make a high-impact first impression about a grant proposal. The title is the short summary version of a grant proposal. It should give an idea of what the proposal is about. The development of a grant proposal starts with a title that can be revised and refined throughout the writing process.

The abstract presents a brief summary of the project (Box 15.4). It must be clear and concise, and no longer than one page (usually 250-300 words, single space!). The abstract is the last section to be written. The abstract may be all some reviewers will read.


"Need" as a verb refers to what is required or desired to fill a discrepancy. The word "need" also means solutions or means to an end. A need is a gap or discrepancy between a current (what is) and a desired situation (what should be).

Box 15.4 Abstract

- One or two sentences summarizing the gap or the need for the project

- The specification of the target population

- The goal(s) and objectives of the project

- One or two sentences summarizing the activities

- One or two sentences summarizing the evaluation

- One or two sentences summarizing the organizational capability

- The amount of funding sought through the proposal

Current Situation


Desired Situation

(What is...)


(What should be...)

A need can be formulated through a normative, expressive, comparative, or emotive approach.

Normative approach: In a normative approach, a need will be defined based on evidence of current situations that are considered below the established desired situation stated by standards, opinions, and experiences of experts and/or current research and findings. The difference between the current and desired situation is a gap or a normative need (see Box 15.5).

Expressive approach: An expressive approach is based on the gap between the desired supply required to meet the demands for an evident need and the current supply of a particular service or product as documented by facts or data (see Box 15.6).

Comparative approach: A comparative approach refers to an unfavorable situation when comparing what is available to one group with what is available to another group (Box 15.7).

Box 15.5 On Normative Need

- Desired situation: All children should have the opportunity to go to school.

Current situation: Suppose a significant group of children in a particular community cannot go to school for reasons that are not related to illness.

- Gap: This would be evidence of a normative need.

Box 15.6 On Expressive Need

Desired situation: Single mothers should have a safe child-care facility to leave their children in if they have to go to work or attend school.

Current situation: Suppose the waiting list of the only child-care center in a small town is triple the number of children they are currently serving.

- This would be evidence of an expressive need.

Box 15.7 On Comparative Need

Desired situation: All children should have the same opportunity to succeed in school.

Current situation: Children in Zip Code 54903 have well-equipped school facilities, whereas children in Zip Code 54905 are attending crumbling schools with almost no equipment and no lunch programs.

- This would be evidence of a comparative need.

Box 15.8 On emotive Need

Desired situation: Individuals with mental illness should not be allowed to buy a gun.

Current situation: Suppose there is evidence that there are no restrictions for people with mental illness to buy a gun, in order to respect the freedom of people to bear arms.

- This would be evidence of an emotive need.

Emotive approach: An emotive approach is used when anecdotal or personal stories or testimonies illustrate a gap between a current situation and a more desired situation that a group or individuals see as a problem or issue to be addressed (Box 15.8).

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