Grantwriting: Anatomy of a Grant Application

Edouard Vuillard, Landscape of the Ile-de-France, French, 1868 - 1940, c. 1894, oil on cardboard, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

A sort of mystery surrounds grantwriting, and as we’ve written, we’re out to dispel it and help you get started. Detailing the application gives context and guidance about the process of matching your needs to application details.  

Grant applications request information within consistent categories. Funders want to know about:

  • Your organization
  • Your proposed project
  • The issue or need it addresses

What does it take to win an award? Persuasion. In providing the requested information you must convince the grantmaker to fund your project by expressing its merits and your ability. 

The three classic modes of persuasion provide the perfect path. Ethos speaks to ethics, trust and integrity: gain the funder’s confidence in your organization. Pathos is an appeal to emotion: create an emotional response to convince them to fund you. Logos appeals to logic or reason: offer facts and data to back up your proposal.

Applying all three strategies creates winning applications.

Look at how the requested information aligns with making a convincing argument:

Let’s get into some detail about each category of information you need to provide in a grant application.

Tip: Don’t Waste Time! Check the funder’s grant guidelines and eligibility documentation to ensure your compliance before considering any grant program!


ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION – you’ll be asked for some or all of the following.

  • Year Founded
  • Number of Staff
  • Number of Volunteers
  • Executive Officers names and contact information
  • Proof of tax exempt status OR fiscal sponsor agreement
  • Board or Advisory committee members (name, occupation, city/town of residence)
  • Mission statement
  • Population served
  • Priority services or projects
  • Financial information: start/end date of fiscal year, current annual operating budget, revenues, expenses, assets and liabilities (If your organization is new estimate these.)

Tip: Keep this basic information together in a file and update as needed to streamline this part of the application process.


ABOUT YOUR PROJECT – includes basic information, answers to longer form questions (the project narrative) and details of the project financing.

  1. The basics: any or all of these may be asked
  • Amount requested
  • Total project cost
  • Project timing – start and end dates of the activities you plan to fund with this grant
  • Issue area being addressed (should fall within the funder’s priority areas)
  • Primary geographic area served (make sure it fits the funder’s area)
  • Population and number of people to be served
  • One-sentence project description
  • Key project personnel and a brief description of their roles and qualifications
  • Community involvement – describe the ways that community members will be involved in this project
  • If working with a school include a letter of agreement from a school representative
  • If collaborating with other organizations include letters of agreement from participating organizations that explain their involvement


  1. The narrative: you’ll be asked to answer specific questions about your proposal. Use this space to present your persuasive arguments! The questions vary but generally ask about:
  • The need for your project – What community issue or problem will it address? Whom do you seek to help and why? Here’s where you address the third category of information, THE ISSUE. Make this issue REAL and URGENT to the funder, perhaps using an anecdote or testimonial along with relatable statistics.
  • How you propose to address this issue or need – Explain your goal and what you’ll do to achieve it. Describe the approach you will take, your plan, exactly what you’ll do with this money. If you’ve done this type of work before, be sure to mention it.
  • The impact – Explain in detail how this project will make the community stronger. (For capacity building requests: Explain how this project will make your organization stronger.)
  • How you’ll determine success – Define the specific outcomes and results you hope to achieve, and how you will track progress and measure results. Define one or more project outcomes that you will evaluate and report on. 

Include those rhetorical appeals in your narrative answers:

Ethos – Cite a track record or pilot project to demonstrate your expertise or history in this area. Provide a solid plan to support your claim of competence.

Pathos – Create a sense of urgency about the issue. Paint an emotional picture of the people in need or the issue.

Logos – Provide facts and data to support the need for this project. Generate confidence in your ability to improve the situation by providing a strong, thorough plan of action.


  1. The financing: funding sources, expenses and a budget narrative. Remember, the funder is in effect considering investing in you to help achieve its own community goals. You must show that you are capable of delivering on your project’s promise using the money you request.
  • Funding sources – List all sources you have identified for your project, grants including this one, in-kind donations and any earned income, and whether they are pending or in place. 

     Tip: Check the grant guidelines on whether matching or in-kind funding is required.

  • Expenses – Detail the project expenses and the source(s) for each (ie., this grant or another source from above). Many funders provide a template or list of expense categories such as personnel, equipment, supplies, travel, postage/printing and indirect* costs, into which you fit your specifics. (*Indirect costs are not directly attributable to the project but allocated to it as part of the organizational cost. They may include portions rent, utilities, supporting personnel. You may generally budget a percentage of the project total as indirect costs.)

    Tip: Check the guidelines for a list of what forms of expenses are eligible for support.
  • Budget narrative – Describe how you plan to use the grant funds if you receive them:
    provide the rationale for each expense item to demonstrate that it is warranted, and d
    etail how you arrived at each cost to strengthen your plan. Explain how the project will be afforded over its lifetime.

     Tip: The budget detail and narrative MUST BE CONSISTENT and responsive to the funder’s specific requests!


This is what it takes to apply for most foundation grants, give or take specific wording and the level of detail required. And many applications do fall on the less detailed end of the spectrum! If you can describe your organization and explain your proposal in the way outlined here, you are ready to apply for a grant. 

Let us know your thoughts in the comments! Visit us on facebook.


image: Edouard Vuillard, Landscape of the Ile-de-France, c. 1894,