Carnegie Mellon University

General Advice on Writing Successful Funding Proposals

There are two major types of funders of research currently being done at CMU across the disciplines: federal agencies and non-profits/foundations. While specifics may vary by discipline/field of study, there are some general criteria for successful funding applications to these two types of funders.
The following information provides a series of guidelines for the norms of asking for funding from federal agencies and non-profits.

Applications to Federal Funders:

The basic components of federal proposals include:

  • Proposal summary-the cornerstone of any proposal, your "first impression," should include abbreviated objectives
  • Problem statement-this includes current state of situation/research, followed by purpose of your contribution, likely beneficiaries, and social, economic, or epistemological impact. With many federal agencies, this involves quite specific "needs assessment" techniques, specific to the field of research.
  • Objectives-objectives are activities/results to be realized within the project; they either lead practically to, or inform the subsequent pursuit of, projected outcomes
  • Methods/design-structure of the project: research design, implementation/ activities, resources required, justification/rationale for all of these
  • Evaluation/outcome(s)-often includes proposed process and product evaluation and projected results/findings/outcomes. The more specific and concrete the proposal for these is, the more faith selection committees will have in the project.
  • Budget-having multiple sources of funding strengthens proposals. Vulnerable parts of budgets include: utilities, rental of buildings and equipment, salary, food, telephones, transportation. JUSTIFICATION is the key to a good budget.

Basic tips for Foundation and/or Nonprofit proposals:

  • Research grantmakers and target those appropriate to your field and project: make sure that the mission and objectives of the non-profit fits your own goals and project outcomes.
  • Follow exactly the funder's requirements, format, and guidelines.
  • Be sure, within those guidelines, that you answer these questions: Who are you? How do you qualify? What do you want? What problem will you address and how? What specific objectives will you accomplish and how? How will you measure your results? How does your funding request comply with the grantmaker's purpose, goals and objectives?
  • Demonstrate project logic and outcome, impact of funds, and other support.
  • Support your statement of the "problem" (significance to the field) with qualified third-party research/evidence.
  • Budgets that include multiple community sponsors are very successful. Non-profits and foundations love community partnering.