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Elements of a Proposal

Elements of a Proposal

The format below is a guide to help you prepare the information you may need to submit your request for funding your nonprofit program. Most potential corporate and foundation donors have a specific format they want you to use when submitting your proposal or application. Many times, a potential donor may ask for a letter of intent (letter of inquiry or LOI), concept paper, or a proposal. Whichever one you are requested to submit; the information below will assist you in preparing your document.

The Summary (or Narrative)

The first section of your proposal is the summary, which is approximately 1-3 paragraphs. It provides an overview of the program you wish to get funding for. This section is located at the beginning of your proposal and includes the following:

  • A brief description of your organization such as its mission statement and a few major accomplishments. Basically, it gives a very brief description of your organization’s credibility.

  • The reason for the grant request. That is, what is the problem or need you will address through funding.

  • The objectives to be accomplished through funding.

  • The activities that you will implement to accomplish the objectives.

  • The total cost of the program, funds already committed to the program, if any, and the amount you are requesting from the potential donor.

Note, this section of your proposal is an overview or an introduction to your program and should be no more than one or three
paragraphs. It should be clear and concise. The remaining sections of your proposal will go into greater detail concerning the need for the program and how you plan to solve that need. The summary is basically where you get the potential donor’s attention, encouraging them to read more about your pr


The Introduction

This is the section in which you describe your organization and its qualifications for funding in more detail. More than likely, the
potential donor may never have heard of your organization; therefore, you need to prove that your organization is credible and right for the job. Items you might want to include in the introduction:

  • When and why your organization was formed.

  • The purpose of your organization, its mission, and goals.

  • Significant events in the organization’s history.

  • A few major accomplishments and their impact on your constituents. (Donors like data. They are very interested in the impact of your work.)

  • The number of people your organization has reached and how they were reached.

  • Other items you believe will help introduce your organization.

The Problem Statement or Needs Assessment

This is one of the most important sections of your proposal. What is the problem you plan to solve through funding? The problem must relate to the purpose, goals, and mission of your organization. The previous information in your proposal tells the reader that your organization is an expert in this area and knows how to solve the problem.

In describing the need to be addressed, use evidence and statistics, it helps to provide the rationale for your project. It’s a short, concise way to identify the need. While at the same time, expressing impact of the unmet need and the urgency to solve it.


The remaining sections of your proposal focus on how you will meet this need. The elements of a 
problem statement or needs assessment include the following:

  • What is the need or problem?

  • Who has the need or problem?

  • Why is this a need or problem?

  • What will happen if the need or problem is not solved?

  • If other organizations are addressing the same problem or need, what gaps have you identified that your organization will address 


Throughout the writing of your statement, it needs to be supported by data such as survey results, research findings, government data, or requests for services from your organization. You need to prove there is a need or problem through statistical evidence.

Program Objectives

Program objectives are the outcomes or the desired results you will achieve through your program’s activities. In other words, objectives are measurable and are used as the criteria to determine your program’s effectiveness. Remember to make your objectives attainable and realistic. In writing you objectives, include the following:


  • Describe the outcomes of your program.

  • Define the population to be served.

  • State the time when the objectives will be met.

  • Describe the objectives in numerical terms, if possible.


Next, is your methodology section. This section describes, in some detail, the activities that will take place to achieve the objectives. In creating your activities think about what activities and strategies you will implement to bring about the outcomes as described in your objectives section of your proposal.

Overall, your methods should describe who is doing what to whom, and why it is being done that way. Your methodology section should flow naturally from the need/problem statement and the objectives and should include the following:


  • Clearly describe the program activities.

  • Provide the reasons for those specific activities.

  • Describe the sequence of the program activities.

  • Describe the people served or how you will select the people to be served through your activities.

  • Provide a realistic number of activities that can be done within the time frame of the program and the grant.


Your evaluation section describes how you will determine how effective your activities have been in accomplishing your objectives. It basically shows how you will measure the results of your activities. Your evaluation can also be used to determine if changes or adjustments need to be made to the program to make it more effective in accomplishing the objectives. In conducting your evaluation.  it’s important to have measurable objectives. This helps with having an effective outcome evaluation. There are many types of evaluation tools including surveys, observation, interviews, and focus groups.


In preparing your budget, the potential funding partner will usually provide information concerning how much they will donate for a grant as well as provide a format in which to present the budget. However, the following information on how to prepare a budget should give you the elements you need to prepare a budget for the potential donor.

First and foremost, your budget needs to reflect your objectives and methods sections of your proposal. Overall, you budget will need three sections:

  • Personnel

  • Non-personnel

  • Indirect Costs


This section, which is first on your budget, would be written out as follows:
Title, % of time on the grant, #of months working on the grant, Amount requested (Total)

For example:


  • Project Coordinator @ 30% time (30% of their monthly salary of $5,000) for 6 months          $9,000

  • Marketing Manager @ 15% time (15% of their monthly salary of $6,000) for 6 months             $5,400

  • FICA @ 7.6% of $12,600                                                                                                                   $1,094

  • Fringe Benefits (Health insurance) @ $100/mo per staff member x 2 staff @ 6 months            $1,200


This section of your budget focuses on non-personnel costs such as rental space, equipment, supplies, travel, and

For example, if you are holding a workshop for volunteers you may need to rent a room, rent AV equipment, provide
breakfast, and print and distribute materials.

For example:

  • Printing 100 manuals for workshop participants                                             $1,000

  • Travel (local) for the project coordinator to conduct 4 workshops 

        (30 miles @ .65/mi for 4 workshops)                                                                     $78

  • Postage and shipping                                                                                      $500

  • Supplies and materials                                                                                           $2,000

  • AV Equipment rental for 4 workshops                                                                  $400

  • Breakfast for 25 participants per event (or 100 participants)                              $3,000

Indirect Costs

Indirect costs are not directly associated with your program but are needed to operate your organization such as
administrative salaries (i.e., IT, accounting), office rent, and phone. Note that some potential funding partners will not
cover indirect costs. So, make sure to review their giving guidelines carefully.
However, those organizations who cover indirect costs may only cover a certain percentage such as “not to exceed 20%
of total costs of the program.” Therefore, if your program cost is $23,672 then your indirect cost rate could be 20% or $4,734.40.


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