To make the grant writing process easier, it helps to do prep work to reduce the amount of research, writing, and information gathering required once the proposal process begins.
The required elements of a grant proposal vary by funder. However, some pieces of information (or “boilerplate”) are basic ingredients of almost all proposals. Proposal guidelines are recipes, to use a cooking analogy, and the items below are staples that you should always have stocked in your informational pantry.
Common Grant Proposal Pieces
Organizational mission statement (1/2 to 1 page)
Overview of the organization (goals, history, significant accomplishments, 1-2 pages)
Capability statement (1/2 to 1-page summary of the organization’s expertise)
Organizational structure (organizational chart or diagram)
Also useful to have on hand are the following supporting materials. Most of these materials will end up in the proposal's annex. For many grant applications, the annex materials will not be counted against the proposal's page limits.
Supporting Materials to Collect for the Proposal Annex
List of current projects (include the project period, a brief description of each project, and the funding source presented in the form of a table)
Past projects (list of projects funded over the last five years, including funding, brief description, and partners)
Bios of organization's senior leaders (president, VPs, directors, etc.)
Resumes of senior leaders (3-4 pages each)
Resumes of senior technical staff (2-3 pages each)
List of current board members (name, degrees, job titles)
List of partners (generally these will be organizations, but it is also good to track any small businesses you partner with, particularly women- or veteran-owned businesses)
Certificate of nonprofit status
Most recent tax filling (e.g., Form 990 for US-based organizations)
Copies of annual reports and publications (preferably electronic versions)
You may want to consolidate copies of each of the items above (boilerplate plus supporting materials) into a single e-folder labeled "proposal elements" or something similar. You may also want to create separate folders to collect the resumes of current staff, copies of job descriptions for senior positions, and past project reports. Whether you need to create a new filing system for these items depends in part on how your organization currently stores information and if it is easily accessible. As long as you know where to find them, you may not need to store copies of the materials in a dedicated proposal folder. For example, your HR department may keep copies of current resumes and job descriptions that you can request on an as-needed basis.
Having the information above on hand and easily accessible will save time during the proposal-writing period. Instead of having to pull things together from scratch for each proposal, you can adapt the archived information to fit the current opportunity.
Keeping Information Current
After you have prepared and collected the boilerplate text and supporting materials, you will need to create a schedule to keep everything current. If you do not have a plan to review and update the materials on a regular basis, within a matter of months they may become outdated and lose their value. At a minimum, the proposal ingredients should be reviewed annually. You may find you need to update them more frequently. How often you may need to review the materials will depend on factors such as the frequency of staff and board member turnover and the rate at which new funding and projects flow in and out of your organization.
As with other “living documents,” it is essential to record the date of the last review so you can easily identify the current version. You may also want to keep track of who reviewed what, when. One way to do this would be to create an Excel spreadsheet to track the materials in your proposal kit along with any edits made over time. The spreadsheet could list the name of each document, when it was last reviewed, who completed the review, and a summary of any changes made. While this may seem like a lot of information to collect, it can be a valuable resource when the institutional memory fades and there is confusion about what was updated.
Storage Options for Boilerplate Text
Storing proposal pieces on a shared drive is preferable to storing them on a computer’s hard drive. If the documents are on a shared drive, not only are they more accessible to others working on proposals but also a shared drive often offers more secure storage.
If you do not have access to a shared drive or a Web-based tool such as Microsoft’s SharePoint, consider exploring online storage options such as Dropbox. However, before storing anything with a third-party service, first confirm that doing so will not be in violation of any organizational policies. Finally, if you end up using an external storage service such as Dropbox or Box, you will need to arrange for others at your organization to have access to the account (i.e., do not use a personal Dropbox account!).