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Proposal Writing Tips

Structure, attention to specifications, concise persuasive writing, and a reasonable budget are the critical elements of proposal writing.

There are many ways to organize proposals. Read the grant guidelines for specifications about required information and how it should be arranged.

Standard proposal components are a cover letter, executive summary or abstract, narratives, budget, conclusion, and attachments. 

1.  Cover Letter

An effective cover letter should:

Be no more than one page
Succinctly summarize your proposal, including your request amount
Convey institutional support for your project in both works and tone
Include a contact name and telephone
Be written on the College’s letterhead and signed by the College’s President

2.  Executive Summary or Abstract

Many foundation trustees and corporate officers may not read your entire proposal. An executive summary or abstract provides you with the opportunity to encapsulate your proposal in a few short paragraphs.  It should:
Be no more than one page
Summarize and bullet the proposal’s key points
Highlight both project need and outcomes
Relate the project to the goals and priorities of the funding agency
Restate the request amount

3.  Narratives

An effective narrative includes:

Statement of need – introduces the funder to the issues you will address.  It explains the purpose, goals, measurable objectives, and a compelling, logical reason why the proposal should be supported using both hard statistics and anecdotal data. 
Approach – describes the method and process of accomplishing goals and objectives, description of intended scope of work with expected outcomes, outline of activities, description of personnel functions with names of key staff and consultants, if possible.
Evaluation – will demonstrate how to determine if you have accomplished what you set out to do.  Generally, funders require very technical measurements of results such as statistical analysis, pre- and post-tests, surveys or focus groups.
Project Timeline – paints a picture of project flow that includes start and end dates, schedule of activities, and projected outcomes.  Should be detailed enough to include staff selection and start dates
Credentials – contains information about the applicant that certifies ability to undertake successfully the proposed effort.  Typically includes institutional background or individual track record and resumes.

Tips on Writing the Narrative:

Narratives typically must satisfy the following

  • What do we want ?

  • What concern will be addressed and why ?

  • Who will benefit and how ?

  • What specific objectives can be accomplished and how ?

  • How will results be measured ?

  • How does this funding request relate to the funder's purpose, objectives, and priorities ? Who are we (organization, college) and how do we qualify to meet this need ? questions:



There are many ways to represent the same idea. However, the HOOK tailors the description of the idea to the interest of a particular funder. The HOOK aligns the project with the purpose, and goals of the funding source. This is a critical aspect of any proposal narrative because it determines how compelling the reviewers will perceive your proposal to be.

4. Budget

Budgets are cost projections. It is also a window into how projects will be implemented and managed. Well-planned budgets reflect carefully thought out projects

Funders use these factors to assess budgets:

Can the job be accomplished with this budget ?
Are costs reasonable for the market – or too high or low ?
Is the budget consistent with proposed activities ?
Is there sufficient budget detail and explanation ?

Many funders provide mandatory budget forms that must be submitted with the proposal. Don’t forget to list in-kind and matching revenue, where appropriate. Be flexible about your budget in case the funder chooses to negotiate costs.


Your concluding statement should be brief, reiterate the significance and the purpose of your project, and invite the funding source to join with you in ensuring the project’s success.


Most funding agencies will specify what attachments they require and what they would prefer you not send.  Keep in mind that reviewers will be looking at hundreds of proposals, so keep the unnecessary clutter to a minimum. Examples of attachments include:

  • Curriculum vitae

  • Audited financial statements

  • A list of the College’s Board of Trustees

  • A 501 (c)3 tax-exempt letter

  • College publications and promotional materials

Most of these materials are available to faculty and staff by contacting the Director of Foundation and Community Relations.

Additional Tips and Suggestions


St. Thomas Aquinas College
125 Route 340
Sparkill, NY 10976



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