9 Things to Look for When Evaluating a Grant Proposal

Ensuring that your foundation makes impactful grants to the right nonprofit partners starts with a thorough proposal evaluation. A proposal should include more than just the organization’s mission statement and program description.

To help you better evaluate submissions so that you are set up for success, here are nine items you should look for in any grant proposal:

  1. Organization Background & Experience: Has this organization run similar programs in the past—similar budgets, focus area, geography? Does their previous experience set them up for success with this new program?
  2. Financial health of organization: Make sure you take a look at the nonprofit’s financial records and ensure that there are no red flags that could indicate this may be an unwise investment.
  3. Program Partners: If the nonprofit will be working with other partners (whether nonprofit, academic, government, even other grantmakers), are these partners experienced in this type of program? Are they subject matter experts or invested in the target community? What specific roles will the partners play, and how will their activities be tracked? If there aren’t other partners, are you comfortable that the one organization can fully implement the program on its own?
  4. Program Description: This should be more than a few sentences with high level goals. The proposal should include a detailed description of how the program will be executed, how exactly the pieces fit together to achieve the desired outcome, and of the different phases involved in implementing and running the program. Which leads us to #5…
  5. Program Timeline: Of course, even the best laid plans are subject to change, but the proposal should include a general timeline of when the various parts of the program will be executed, how the program will ultimately come together. This timeline should serve to help you, as the grantmaker, to monitor the progress of the grant and ensure it’s on track with hitting various milestones.
  6. Measurement Plan: Has an appropriate plan been laid out to monitor and measure the program outcomes? If appropriate for the grant size, is an experienced independent evaluator involved to administer the outcomes measurement plan? Or if being implemented internally, do the staff tasked with tracking results have the appropriate knowledge and experience to accurately do so?
  7. Sustainability Plan: Has the organization specified a plan to obtain continued funding and/or an ability to self-sustain the program after the grant period has ended? In other words, is the nonprofit already thinking about what happens after this grant?
  8. Communications Plan: Does the proposal outline an appropriate communications plan as part of the overall program, to promote awareness and gain buy-in from the target population? And separately, does the proposal outline how the organization will publicize the program, share learnings at conferences and in publications, etc.?
  9. Detailed Budget: Does the proposal include a detailed line-item budget? Does the line-item budget include reasonable costs (meaning neither inflated nor underestimated) for personnel and program-related expenses? A detailed budget enables you to be a good steward of your foundation’s grant funds.

In my experience as a former corporate grantmaker, if a grant proposal includes satisfactory responses to these nine elements, that’s a good indicator that the organization has carefully thought the project through and will be a great grantee partner.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and have a two-way conversation about the application responses—some of my most successful grants resulted from working together to refine the proposal by sharing experience based on past learnings. And make sure that you have the right technology in place that allows you to easily ask for and collect this information in applications. A clear, easy-to-use application form will help set you and your partners up for success from the very beginning.