Getting Started

Summary: A successful grant proposal is always the result of several combined factors: early preparation, a well written proposal and a concept that falls directly in line with the funder’s guidelines.

Initial Steps:

Step 1: Origination of your grant proposal:

  • You have an idea for research or a project for which you would like to find a funder. If your project involves campus or external partners, the grant preparation process should begin 6-12months before the application deadline. Begin planning and talking with partners early.  Contact the UW Foundation and Corporate Relations team for help researching foundation and/or companies with priorities match your research or project.

Step 2: Knowing your funder:

  • In looking for financial support for your project it is important to realize that there are several options for which you may want to research.
    • Corporate Funders
      • Corporate Foundations
      • Marketing Budgets
      • Additional Pools of Funds (R&D, Etc.)
    • Charitable Foundations
      • Private Foundations
      • Family Foundations

Is a company or foundation the right match for your project? In evaluating the fit of your project for a particular funder and vice versa there are several questions you will want to ask and some research you will want to conduct.

  • Start by reviewing the funder’s website.
    • Evaluate the grantor’s mission and giving focus to ensure alignment with your project.
    • Review the projects the funder has supported recently. Keep in mind funder priorities do change depending on leadership or important national or global causes.
    • Determine the funder’s timeframe for submissions.
    • Examine in detail the funder’s proposal guidelines.
      • Do they have geographic limitations to their giving (example: New York State only)
  • Review the grantor’s giving guidelines very carefully.
    • Mistakes made by not properly following the seemingly insignificant rules such as font size or providing a specific number of copies upon submission can and often do result in a rejected proposal.
    • Pay attention to submission dates. Different grantors will have different submission dates ranging from rolling to quarterly to once per year.
    • Be careful that the funder you are applying to does not have a policy limiting UW-Madison to one proposal per year. By submitting without proper diligence you may accidently disqualify others who are planning submission from funding. Check with the University of Wisconsin Foundation Corporate and Foundation Relations team for assistance.
    • Be sure you understand funder’s process for grant submission. Some funders require a concept paper, a letter of inquiry (or intent), a pre-proposal, a full proposal or a combination of all of these.
    • Be sure the funder gives to university-based projects.
    • Review any geographic limitations to the funder’s giving.

Step 3: I found a potential funder for my project, now what?

After reading the guidelines, develop a checklist for all the proposal components you will need to begin developing the framework for a proposal.  Be sure to include all forms the grant-maker requests. Please contact the UW Foundation Corporate and Foundation Relations team for assistance in gathering documents or if you have any questions.

  • Develop a 1-2 page concept paper.  This can be an informal document or outline that answers the basic questions that will be fleshed out in your proposal.  You will want to answer most if not all of the following questions in your concept paper:
  • What is the idea or problem I want to examine/address?
  • Why is it important?  To whom?  What related research/project has been done before and why is mine different/needed?
  • Why am I the ideal person to address this topic or do this project?
  • Why now?
  • How long will it take to achieve results?
  • What will be known/understood as a result of this research/project?
  • What resources do I need to do this project (time, money, access, collaborators, travel, materials, equipment, space, etc)?
  • What activities will take place?
  • Why will this project succeed?
  • What will success look like and how will it be measured?
  • How will you disseminate results?
  • Can this project/research be replicated or furthered?
  • Will the project/research continue once grant funding ends?
  • Contact the Dean or Department Chair and UW Foundation to discuss your intentions to submit a proposal. This will help coordinate communication around any other potential proposals being submitted to the same funder and to ensure funding requests fall in line with the dean’s priorities.
  • Call the program officer at the foundation or agency to discuss your idea.  Often s/he will ask you to send your concept paper in advance of the conversation.
  • Develop a timeline backing up from the deadline for proposal preparation and submission.
  • If letters of support or commitment are needed, contact appropriate colleagues to make arrangements.  You may want to send them your concept paper as well.
  • Begin to create a budget for your research/project. Assistance on developing your budget can be found in the toolbox under the “Writing Your Proposal” section.

What should I keep in mind as I begin to write my proposal?

  • Consider your audience.  The guidelines will usually tell you who will be reviewing your proposal.  A review panel can range from experts to educated generalists/non-experts. Avoid overly complex language.
  • It is important to get the reader’s attention right at the beginning and convey your enthusiasm for your research/project.  Think of your proposal not just as a vehicle for telling but also as a means of inspiring someone to action, i.e. funding your research/project.
  • Follow the specifications in the guidelines for font size, margins, length and/or word count, and sequence and organization of sections.  Use subheadings to differentiate sections and include white space when you can.
  • Include a discussion of the broader issues/problem so reviewers see you are aware of previous work in the field and how your work expands upon what has already been done.  If you have conducted a pilot project or research, discuss lessons learned leading to your current work.
  • Be as clear as possible about the details of your project/research, what will take place when, etc.
  • When appropriate, create a compelling title for your proposal.
  • Decide upon and prepare any attachments that are permitted.
  • If allowed for, write a cover letter.

If there are no submission guidelines, what format should I use?

See the “Writing Your Proposal” section for more detailed information on proposal preparation.  Most proposals include some or all of the following:

  • Executive summary
  • Background of institution and project
  • Discussion of why the project is important
  • Methodology – what activities and steps you will undertake to address the issue or need
  • Description of what will be done and who will do it
  • Expectations and how they will be evaluated
  • Dissemination of results
  • Sustainability after the grant
  • Timeline and budget

What should I do once I complete a draft of my proposal?

  • Ask a colleague or two to review and comment on the proposal.  A CFR staff member can serve as a lay reader and provide feedback, given lead time.
  • Make sure that everything in the proposal narrative is reflected in the budget and everything in the budget is discussed in the proposal narrative.
  • Make revisions and finalize the proposal.
  • Submit proposal or have proposal submitted by CFR.  Be sure all submission requirements are met – number of copies, page limits, required forms, mode of submission (mail or electronic), etc. If you are submitting the proposal yourself please be sure to notify CFR.