Where do I start?

Start with an idea for a project. If your idea involves partners in other departments or organizations, begin talking with them early. Contact the Grants Office for help finding foundations and government agencies with priorities that match your project.


Start with a Request for Proposals (RFP) from a foundation or government agency. If the RFP is related to your area of interest, the Grants Office can help you develop a description of your current research that matches the requirements of the RFP.

How do I know if the funder is a good match?

Go to the funder’s website and read about their goals and grantmaking philosophy. Review their list of recently funded proposals, because this list is usually the best indication of whether or not the funder would find your project appealing. Unless the funder has supported projects of similar size and scope to your own, they may not be a good fit. (This is true even if even if you are working in an area directly related to the funder’s mission—for example, in international development or social psychology.)

If you are encouraged by what you see on the “past grantees” list, then download or request the funder’s proposal guidelines. Carefully note the deadlines.

Read and reread the guidelines, highlighting key words and phrases. Determine whether initial submissions should come in the form of a letter of intent (LOI), preproposal, application, or full proposal.

I’ve located the foundation or agency that is a good match for my project. Now what?

Create a checklist of everything the funder requires you to submit with your proposal.  

Before you jump into writing the proposal, consider writing a 1-2 page concept paper to sharpen your thinking. A concept paper gives you the freedom to ponder the basic questions that will need to be fleshed out in your formal proposal, including:

  • What is the idea or problem you want to tackle?
  • Why is it important?  To whom it is important?
  • What related work has already been done by others? What gap does your project fill?
  • Why are you the ideal person to address this topic or to lead this project?
  • Why is now the right time for your project?
  • How long will it take?
  • What will your research/project contribute? What will be known or understood when it is complete?
  • What resources (time, money, access, collaborators, travel, materials, equipment, space) do you need to complete this project?
  • What will you be doing? What specific activities will you undertake?
  • Why will your project succeed?
  • What will success look like and how will it be measured?
  • How will you share the results?
  • Can this project/research be easily replicated or carried forward?
  • Will the project/research continue once grant funding ends? If so, how might it be funded?

Besides writing and revising, what else should I be doing?

Contact the Grants Office to determine whether it makes sense to contact a program officer at the foundation or agency.

If appropriate, email the program officer to request a phone appointment. The program officer will likely ask you to send your concept paper in advance of the conversation. The Grants Office can help you prepare for the call and, when appropriate, can participate in the call.

Develop a realistic timeline, working backward from the deadline for proposal submission.

Schedule time to work on your grant budget. The foundation or agency may have an official budget form. Use our Grant Budget Worksheet for your draft budget, because it will automatically calculate fringe benefits, cost of living increases for multiple-year grants, and indirect costs.

Request letters of support or letters of commitment. Make sure your recommenders are aware of all deadlines. Some competitions allow reviewers to submit letters after the deadlines; most do not. Share your concept paper with your letter-writers, so they can write more persuasively on your behalf.

Fill out a GrantsLink form to let your department chair and the Dean of the Faculty know that you intend to submit a proposal.  (Sometimes funders require a "match" from your institution, which means that Amherst College wouldcontribute the same amount of money that you receive from a potential grant award.) Make sure your GrantsLink form is in at least five days before your deadline.

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

Most proposals include the following:

  • an executive summary
  • background information about your institution and project
  • a discussion of why the project is important
  • a description of your project methodology
  • a description of what will be done and who will do it
  • the expected results and how they will be evaluated
  • a plan for sharing the results
  • a case for the sustainability of the project after grant funds are expended
  • the project timeline and budget

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

Ask a colleague or two to read your proposal. It's wise to get feedback from someone outside your discipline. With advance notice, a Grants Office staff member can serve as an educated general reader and provide feedback.

Make sure that everything described in the proposal narrative is reflected in the budget and everything listed in the budget is discussed in the proposal narrative.

Make revisions and finalize the proposal.

Make sure you have signed and submitted the GrantsLink form before submitting your proposal.