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How to Write a Proposal for a Non-Profit Organization

Updated on June 17, 2013

How I suggest you make your funding pitch

I work with non-profit organizations week after week who need help getting one kind of grant or funding proposal or another put together.

How does a non-profit organization write a proposal to get the funding and support they need? In order to get the material and financial backing you need, I always point out that you have to prove your project is worth the investment and you can be trusted to deliver on your promises. This means being able to articulate every aspect of your project and needs in a proposal.

Proposal Pack Communication #2
Proposal Pack Communication #2

How to write any kind of non-profit proposal

Grant funding, donors, material support, etc.

I know that it's still hard right now for small businesses to secure funding. It's even harder for nonprofit organizations to find the dollars they need to stay solvent. People who run nonprofits ask me for advice all the time, wanting to know how they can write the best proposal to get support from donors, volunteers and grant committees.

Here's what I tell them: You know your organization does good work and deserves funding, but no funding committee is going to take your word for it. You have to demonstrate your worthiness by presenting your case in a written proposal. I know that might sound a little intimidating, but it's really not. You are the expert on your organization, so you're already halfway to the finish line. But it's key to understand the point of view of the people who will read your proposal and make a decision whether or not to support you. Of course you need to talk about your cause and your organization, but you always need to keep in mind the readers' position.

We all get charitable solicitations, so it shouldn't be so hard to put yourself in the recipient's shoes. Imagine yourself opening up a donation request you received in the mail. The natural questions are: What does this nonprofit do? Who are they? Will they use my donation wisely? Why should I believe what they tell me? Those are all the questions you need to answer in your proposal.

Now expand that line of thought outward to match the level of funding you're seeking. Consider who is making the decision whether or not to offer the funds. If you're approaching a big donor such as a corporation or established charitable foundation, think about how funding your organization could be a potential marketing avenue for the donor. Your proposal will be most persuasive when you can outline not only all the benefits the community will receive from your work, but also the benefits the funding organization will receive. Established organizations that provide funding usually have a specific culture, strategy, and rules for accepting or rejecting requests. If you understand how those organizations operate and the types of projects they typically support, you can tailor your request accordingly.

Along with constantly considering the viewpoint of your proposal readers, you need to know that proposals have a standard structure you should follow. It doesn't matter if you are feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, training the unemployed, educating drop-outs, protecting the environment, providing access to medical services, or recruiting and organizing volunteers, the overall structure of your proposal will be the same. Here's the basic order: an introduction, then a summary of the needs that are not currently being met which you are addressing, followed by information to help the funder understand how their organization would benefit from supporting your cause. Explain the benefits you can provide to them in exchange for their support. Then describe the services you will provide or the project you are proposing in detail and include the costs. Finally, wrap up your proposal should conclude with information about your organization's history and trustworthiness.

The introduction section is usually only a Cover Letter with a personal introduction, contact information, and a brief statement of your request, followed by a Title Page. Simply create a name for your proposal that indicates the project or scope of services you will provide. Some examples of titles might be "Proposal to Expand Bayview Wildlife Rescue Center," "County Hospice Needs More Beds and Trained Volunteers," and "Food Banks Predict Growing Need to Feed the Hungry."

My Non-Profit Proposal Kits on Amazon

Or shop direct and download Proposal Packs from Proposal Kit. All of my Proposal Packs are used by non-profits and these are just a handful of the available design themes.

Proposal Pack Classic #10 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1
Proposal Pack Classic #10 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1

Subtle blue bars in varying shades distinguish this dignified proposal pack design.

Proposal Pack Classic #5 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1
Proposal Pack Classic #5 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1

A touch of color and the subtlety of shading will help your proposal to stand out when you choose this style. A colorful and bold classic design.

Proposal Pack Business #17 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1
Proposal Pack Business #17 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1

Point the way with your proposal. The dynamic design and angular arrows of this geometric pattern will add a sense of action to your proposal.

Proposal Pack Contemporary #13 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1
Proposal Pack Contemporary #13 - Business Proposals, Plans, Templates, Samples and Software V17.1

The flowing arc of this design implies you and your proposal are in motion.

Proposal Pack Design Theme
Proposal Pack Design Theme

What do you need?

Outline the details of why you need the support - what is the money for?

After the Title Page, add topic pages to show the needs your organization addresses. Describe the financial and political support required and explain your goals. In this section, you would add pages with titles like Executive Summary, Needs Assessment, Goals and Objectives, Implementation Plan, Project Background, and so on. Provide all the data you have to prove the need for your services.

After your cause is covered, add topic pages to show how supporting you will reflect well on the donor. Include topics such as your Constituency, Market and Audience, Demographics, and so on. Combine these with a Marketing Plan and list of Benefits to show how the funding company would benefit from supporting your cause. Use topics such as Social Responsibility and Philanthropy to explain how supporting your organization will raise the visibility of the donor company in the community and show them in a positive light. You not only want to highlight your organization and what you have to offer, but also describe how beneficial the association of the two parties would be to the funding company.

After describing the need and showing the benefits to the funder, it's time to talk about what you can do. Include topics like Project Management, Project Methods, and Personnel. Use all the topics you need to describe exactly what you propose to do with the funds you receive.

The final section should be all about generating trust in your organization. This is where you will put topics describing your organization, such as Evaluation, Resources, Sources of Funds, Use of Funds, Sustainability, Future Potential, Supporters, Partnerships, Mission Statement, Tax Status, Legal Structure, Credentials, Capabilities, Programs and Activities, and Awards and Achievements. In other words, include everything you need to convince the funder that you can be trusted to deliver on your promises and (if appropriate) that you have a plan for the longevity of the program. Conclude your proposal with a call to action. You can use the Funding Request template to specifically ask for the funding, request other support such as Volunteering, or ask to schedule a meeting for further discussion.

Proposal Pack Nature Design Theme
Proposal Pack Nature Design Theme

Polish the presentation

Make your final proposal look great and proof for errors

Those are the basics of writing a funding request proposal for a nonprofit. Now for the finishing touches. Naturally, you'll proofread every page and make sure the wording and punctuation are perfect, won't you? And you should consider adding color and graphics to make the proposal stand out from the competition. You can use your organization's logo, choose colored page borders and or add custom bullet points and fonts.

Then deliver your finished proposal to the potential funder. If the funding organization is distant, you might want to email a PDF file, but a printed and hand-delivered proposal could be the personal touch that wins you the funding, so you might want to make that extra effort.

Of course each non-profit proposal will vary in details for each organization and project. But it's comforting to know that non-profit proposals should follow a similar format and structure. It's even more comforting to know that you don't have to start from scratch unless you enjoy the challenge of the blank page. You can speed up the process by using the pre-formatted topic pages in Proposal Pack.

These template pages contain explanations of the information that particular proposal pages should contain. They'll guide you all along the way. To further help you out, Proposal Pack also contains a wide variety of sample non-profit proposals. Instead of thinking "What now?" while you craft a proposal from scratch, with a dedicated product like Proposal Pack you'll think, "I get it. Hey, this is pretty easy!" And the next funding proposal you write with it will be even easier.

One of over 500 Proposal Kit testimonials

Running a non-profit is hard enough. With the help of the Proposal Pack it allowed us the template we needed to help get our proposal off to a successful start! The professional look I wanted was already created no need to reinvent the wheel just use what was already there. The Proposal Kit folks already knew what would work and it did for us! - Tom Donohue, Who's Positive

My Proposal Writing Tools for Non-Profit Organizations - Getting a leg up with your proposal writing already started

Many people in non-profits don't have the time or experience to start writing a detailed business proposal from scratch. Leveraging tools that I've created provide pre-written material and samples can save days of work and help prevent costly mistakes commonly made by beginners.

Are you in charge of securing funding or support for a non-profit? Did my lens provide any helpful information? What else can we provide?

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