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How to Write Grants: Purpose, Structure & Content

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Although grant writing can be time consuming and resource-intensive, well-written grant proposals can secure funds that would otherwise be out of reach. This lesson provides guidance on the general purpose, structure, and content of a grant proposal.

Persuasive Communication

We've all seen it. It's the TV spot carefully crafted to move even the hardest heart to tears. Sometimes it's images of abused and neglected animals. Other times it's children who are malnourished due to famine and starvation. The purpose of these spots is to compel viewers to donate in an effort to help ease some of the worst suffering on the planet.

Let's presume that you decided to help by making a donation in response to the emotional appeal. Is it safe to say that you believe your donation is going to help the people or animals you saw in the TV ad? How would you feel if it went somewhere else? Perhaps to buy a private jet for the charity's CEO. It goes without saying that you'd probably feel misled.

Like a TV spot that displays suffering while appealing for donations, a grant proposal is a form of persuasive writing that attempts to secure funds to solve a specific problem.
homeless man sleeping on ground

The Purpose of a Grant

In much the same way that your donation was a gift, a grant is an allotment of funds provided by one entity to another based on a shared value. Much like you directed your donation to suffering people or animals, money received from a grant is for a specific and often very narrow purpose. Grants are often awarded after consideration of an applicant's financial needs. This determination of need is based on the information provided in the grant application, and an applicant's proposal must be entirely accurate, compliant with the instructions to apply, and completely free of errors.

Much like our hypothetical TV appeal, a grant proposal is a unique form of persuasive communication. In the TV spot, the images were used to persuade views. A grant proposal is a document that uses persuasive writing to accomplish the same goal of demonstrating significant need. Grants can be offered by governments, non-profits, for-profit organizations, and sometimes even a wealthy individual.

Grant Structure & Content

Returning briefly to our initial example, let's consider your recourse should you conclude that your donation had been misappropriated. Because you are a private donor, you have very few options for holding someone accountable other than to refuse to donate in the future. Government grants, on the other hand, come with stiff penalties for misuse. In fact, even in cases where no fraud was intended, grant recipients can be forced to pay back (with penalties and interest) the monies received as a result of an inaccurate proposal. For this reason, the structure and content of a grant proposal are often more important than other kinds of business writing.

Grant Proposal Content

Unlike some other types of business writing, grant proposals must be written exactly as the grantor specifies in the application instructions. While non-governmental grants may be less rigid, most government grant programs have incredibly detailed (and sometimes complex) guidelines for submitting a proposal. Whether public or private, nearly all grant proposals include some foundational information. These universally-mandated elements include:

  • A high-level introduction or summary of the proposal
  • Information about the problem or issue that will get better as a result of the grant funds
  • Detailed information outlining how the grant money will be spent
  • A budget for the project or initiative

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