What is a Proposal Narrative? Grant Writing 101
Are you new to the grant writing game? Are you wondering what a proposal narrative is? Or maybe you’re looking for some tips and tricks on how to write a proposal narrative? In this article, we will provide some insights on how to write a good narrative.
We will also share some grant proposal narrative examples for comparison. So if you’ve never heard of a proposal narrative or if you’re interested in learning more about what makes a good narrative, please read on.
First Things First: What is a Narrative in a Grant?
So what is a proposal narrative for a grant? Or what is a story proposal?
A proposal narrative is the bulk of the writing within a grant proposal. Some funders may also call it a story proposal because it is your opportunity to tell the story of your organization and your program/project.
Note that the narrative may look quite different for different funders so make sure you follow the guidelines and requirements provided. Reading up on the funder as well as knowing all of the ins and outs of the project or program will help prepare you for writing the narrative.
A proposal or project narrative could be 5-10 pages long or longer depending on the requirements of the funder. Many funders will request specific sections and information or even provide a template for the proposal narrative.
It is important to organize your narrative into sections even if the funder does not provide specific directions. Continue reading for a list of some typical sections that you may want to include, though the exact titles could vary based on your organization and your program/project.
The goal of a proposal narrative should be to tell a story that convinces the funder that your program/project deserves to be funded. Your story may look like this:
Beginning: Background about your organization and its accomplishments
Middle: Explanation of your program/project with enough detail to demonstrate that you have a clearly defined plan
End: Intended results, or what your program/project will do for those you serve
How Do You Write a Good Grant Narrative?
Whether you are writing your first or your 50th proposal narrative, we’ve provided some steps that will help make it a good one.
1. Make sure it reads well. Most funders will read MANY proposal narratives as they review MANY applications. Making sure that your narrative flows well and is easily readable is important. Even steps as simple as making sure to add white space such as paragraph breaks will help.
2. Keep the information organized. Some funders may provide specifics on how they want the proposal narrative organized and some may not. Either way, It is important to lay out the narrative in specific sections as it will likely be several pages long.
3. Avoid repetition. While there may be some key facts and information that bear repeating, try to minimize the amount of this repetition as this may stand out to the funder.
4. Edit, edit, edit. Make sure that you edit your proposal narrative, as there is nothing more unprofessional than poor spelling and/or grammar. This is an easy item to fix but also an easy item for you to lose points on. Get a friend or colleague to help you edit.
5. Explain things well and avoid acronyms. Keep in mind that the person reviewing your proposal may not be as knowledgeable as you on certain information relating to your organization or your program/project. Make sure that you explain things well without getting too wordy.
Aside from these general tips, it is important to make sure you follow all instructions provided by the funder. If there is an opportunity to review the information submitted by previous awardees of the funder, then use these as a guideline in preparing your narrative.
While a project proposal narrative may seem long, make sure that you make use of the space provided to tell your story, describe your program/project, and include required information without getting too wordy.
What Should a Grant Narrative Include?
We’ve been sharing information to answer the question of what is a proposal narrative, but it is also important to know what to include in the narrative. Here are some recommended sections if they are not already outlined by the funder.
In this section, you will describe your organization including your mission and your story. It is important to include information about organization staff, service area, and current work of the organization. The description should also help distinguish your organization from others that may be similar. It is recommended to list your major accomplishments to demonstrate the importance of your organization within the community you serve.
The program/project description should provide details on the specific activities you are requesting funding for. Ensure that you provide enough detail so that the funder understands the work they are supporting without making things too wordy. You may outline the goals of your program/project within this section and describe which staff will be responsible for the project.
Project Implementation Plan
This section will allow you to provide details about the timeline for your program/project and exactly how you will achieve your intended results. Some funders may ask for a detailed chart or specific format for the implementation plan. Within the implementation plan, you should outline the roles and responsibilities of organizational staff specific to the program/project..
Here you will describe the intended results in more detail and explain how you will evaluate whether or not you have achieved the results you expected. You may also describe the sustainability of your program/project as many funders want to know that the work they are supporting will continue beyond their funding.
Budget Narrative/Need for Support
You can use this section to explain why you need the requested amount of funds and how you will use the specific items or services that you are seeking funding for.
Today, many funders take applications through electronic grant interfaces and the information requested may be broken down differently. The basic information about your organization will be one section and then program/project specifics will be its own section of the application. Funders providing funds for multi-year projects, larger amounts of funding, or government funding opportunities are likely to request a separate proposal narrative.
More Tips and Tricks on Grant Proposal Narratives
Here are a few more tips and tricks to help you write a good proposal narrative.
1. Tell your story. Be sure to include pertinent details on who you are, what you do, and what makes your organization special. Write as if you were talking to someone who has never heard of your organization.
2. Don’t forget the details. While you don’t want to get too wordy, the funder wants to see that you have thought through all aspects of your program/project.
3. Find a good match. While it can be easy to get caught in trying to make your work fit a certain funder, you want to make sure your program/project fits the interests and focus areas of the funder. They will know if you are trying to “make” your program/project fit.
4. Have a plan. Having a plan applies to the actual program/project, it also applies to how you will complete your project proposal narrative. Make sure you know and follow all requirements laid out by the funder.
5. Phone a friend. If you happen to know of another organization that has previously received funding from the funder you are applying to, reach out to them for advice.
6. Use data. If your program/project focuses on improving youth reading scores, use data to support the need for this type of effort. You can also use data to show that similar work has been effective at achieving your intended results.
You can look for more information about how to write a proposal narrative and other grant-related tips and tricks through online resources such as our blog.
Examples of Bad Grant Proposal Narratives
One good way to answer the question of what is a proposal narrative is to review examples. This section includes some fictional bad grant proposal narrative examples and the next includes some real examples of good proposal narratives.
The Reading Friends is an organization that pairs youth with adults to help them learn to read. We serve people in Green County.
Our We Can Read project will focus on adding 200 new reading buddies volunteers to our program. The project will set out to recruit and train these volunteers from area schools and then match them to adults who need help learning to read.
We are seeking funding to support staff and supplies for this project. We plan to have three staff working on this project. Tasks will include marketing the program which will help with recruitment, training the volunteers, and matching volunteers to those in need. Supplies will include snacks for training sessions and readers which volunteers will use to help teach others to read.
While this example has clear headings that would likely be what a funder is requesting, the narrative lacks detail. They do not provide information on past successes of their organization. They also do not provide specifics on which staff will work on the project and what their credentials are. The budget lacks detail on the amount of the request.
Little Explorers Farm is a nonprofit focused on providing outdoor learning opportunities for pre-K students. Our mission is to inspire a love of the outdoors and encourage educational play.
Our project is called Tiny Tykes Treehouse. We are seeking funds to support the construction of a new learning tree house at our farm. The treehouse will allow our students the opportunity to play but will also have learning opportunities built-in. We are not exactly sure how much this will cost, but know that our request of $20,000 will get us well on our way.
Project Implementation Plan
We will begin designing and planning once we receive the funds and are hopeful to complete construction within 1-2 years. We are still working to find an architect to work with but can let the funder know those details once we have them.
While this narrative is laid out clearly, it still lacks specifics about the project. The writer even admits that they do not yet have detailed plans for the construction and most funders would want to see more if they are funding a capital project.
Examples of Good Grant Proposal Narratives
Here are two examples of good proposal narratives to help demonstrate what a proposal narrative is.
Our first example is summarized from a proposal submitted by a professor in the Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology at the University of South Florida to the National Science Foundation. The sample proposal can be found on the USF website. Section titles are based on the requirements outlined by the NSF and the university.
This particular proposal narrative starts out with a proposal narrative summary that includes the following sections: Overview, Intellectual Merit, and Broader Impacts.
The overview describes the data currently in the digital database. Then the author explains the plan for the project which is to add new data to the SouthEast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections (SERNEC) Thematic Collections Network (TNC). Adding these new species will require transcription, imaging, and georeferencing of the new species to keep data accurate and up to date. The overview lists who they plan to use to complete the work (staff, volunteers, students, etc.) and the experience of those involved in the project. The author also spells out the major acronyms that are part of the project within this section.
In this section, the author describes the importance of the project. They explain the value of the information that they will add to the digital data collection as a means of demonstrating the value of the project. They also list multiple groups who will benefit from access to the shared data.
The authors utilize this section to explain the additional benefits of the project. They mention that the students involved in the project will become trained in the digitization of the data and will increase literacy in botanical species. They also mention various groups who will gain access to additional data because it will be digital.
Following the project summary, the author expands on each of these sections to give all project details. They also provide many references to support their project plan as well as images including maps.
Our second example comes from a sample proposal submitted by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to the Museums for America funding opportunity through the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences. You can see the full sample proposal here.
The author began their narrative with a proposal snapshot, similar to a proposal narrative summary, that briefly described their project and listed the three main activities within the project as bullet points. Following this snapshot, the proposal narrative included sections as provided by the funder. This funder requests the organizational profile and schedule of completion as separate sections.
The organization goes into specific details about the project and describes how they came to the idea for the project. They include each of the guiding questions/concepts provided by the funder as additional headers within this section. Another key feature is the clear identification of project partners. The project justification section includes the following subsections: Need, Problem, or Challenge Addressed; Who Will Benefit; Advancing YBCA’s Strategic Plan; and Addressing MFA Program Goals as requested by the funder.
Project Work Plan
Within the project work plan, the organization lists the specific activities of the project as a numbered list, each with a brief description. Information is also provided regarding the maturity of the project and risks of the project. The work plan is where the author of the narrative explains the time, personnel, and financial resources associated with the project. Evaluation methods including how to track progress during the project as well as how they will share project results are included here as well.
Information is provided on their intended outcomes. The organization explains that exact outcomes will be decided as they review the project since this is a pilot project. They list project goals which have been developed through conversations with stakeholders and project partners. These goals are presented in a bulleted list. This section also includes how the project will change participant attitudes, tangible products that will be produced, and plans for sustaining the project beyond the funding period.
Wrapping Things Up: What is a Proposal Narrative?
Hopefully you have found some information to answer the question of what is a proposal narrative. We hope this post has helped you increase your understanding of how to write a proposal narrative and what to include in the narrative.
You should now feel better equipped to write a good project proposal narrative and have confidence in your grant applications. If you are looking for further tips and tricks about writing grants you may find our guides on How to Match Your Grant Application to Funder Interests or How to Never Miss a Grant Deadline helpful.