Although grant opportunities are discovered—and pursued—in many different ways, this section offers a brief description of how many people begin the grant proposal process. Below are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing to work on a grant proposal:

Develop a scholarly agenda

Ideally, grant applications should grow out of a well-developed scholarly agenda that directs your research and goals. Grant opportunities should be pursued as part of this agenda, not as an afterthought. Visit the Office for Research and Scholarship.

Write a one-page abstract/executive summary

Before you begin a grant proposal, write a brief (one-page) summary of your proposed project. This will help you clarify and focus your ideas. This summary should include:

  • Description of the project (What will you do?)
  • The need for the project (Why does it matter?)
  • Timeliness of the project (Why now?)
  • The target audience (Who cares?)
  • The methodology (How will you do it?)
  • Your qualifications to undertake the project (Why you?)
  • The outcome you expect to achieve (What's the end result?)

Be as clear as you can about what you hope to accomplish and what your vision of the project is. Remember that the people reviewing your proposal may not be experts in your field, so the project description should be written for all audiences, not just your colleagues.This summary will become important as you shape your ideas, present them to fellow faculty members, talk to program officers, inform us of your project, and, eventually, persuade potential funding sources.

Find a mentor

Input from your colleagues is vital through every stage of the grant writing process, so be sure to seek out advice and feedback from them.

Alert key people on campus

Notifying the appropriate people ensures that department leadership is informed about your plans for time off, course releases, etc. and helps draw attention to your project.

Alert the Grants Office

We may be able to offer you some background on the funding agency, including Calvin's current (and past) relationships. In some cases, there may already be a proposal pending, precluding us from sending another one at the same time. This is important information for you to know before getting too far into the proposal-writing process. Contact us.

Call the Program Officer

Once you have decided on a funding agency for your project, contact a program officer. A phone call not only enables you to find out if your proposal is “on track,” it also gives you an opportunity to make a personal connection and to verify the foundation’s current priorities. A well-planned phone call that asks informed, specific questions can be extremely beneficial.

Know the Essential Elements of a Good Proposal

Although foundations and government agencies all have their own guidelines and requirements, following is a list of the basic components of a good proposal:

  1. Cover letter: usually from the President or Provost
  2. Executive Summary
  3. Proposal Narrative
    • Introduction
    • Need
    • Goals and objectives
    • Methods, procedures, steps
    • Outcomes
    • Timeline
    • Partners (if relevant)
    • Evaluation
    • Disccemination
    • Continuation/sustainability
    • Personnel
  4. Budget and Budget Narrative
  5. Organization Information (as requested)
    • 501(c)3 status
    • Board of Trustees listing
    • Financial Information: audited statement, budget
  6. Appendices
  7. Letters of Support

Final Steps

Check the details

In the final stages of grant writing, attention to detail is paramount. Your proposal should conform to all of the funder's guidelines (page length, format, supporting documentation, and so forth)—and then check again.

Grant Office Assistance

We will be glad to assist you with formatting CVs, bibliographies, reference lists, preparing online forms, editing, proofreading, budgeting, understanding indirect costs, obtaining signatures, drafting institutional cover letters, making copies, overnight mailing or e-submission.

Final review

When everything is in place and ready to be sent (ideally, one week before the deadline), you should send your proposal (and all supporting documentation) to the Grants Office for a final review. We will work with you to refine the final submission.


Congratulations! You’ve submitted the proposal. Reward yourself for a job well done.


After your proposal has been sent, the waiting begins. Few foundations welcome follow-up phone calls or e-mails during this phase, so it is best to wait patiently for a response.

The award

If you receive positive news from your foundation, you will need to follow through with a few final steps:

  1. Notify all appropriate individuals and departments.
  2. Schedule a grant award meeting with the Grants Office. During this meeting we will:
    • Review grant award documentation
    • Discuss grant accounting and how to set up the grant account with FSO
    • Establish reporting and evaluation timelines
    • Coordinate funder stewardship letters