Five Tips for Creating Strong Grant Proposals

By Kerri Bentkowski, Chesapeake Bay Trust

The Chesapeake Bay Trust is a grant making organization that reviews over 500 grant proposals annually. The Bay Trust met with the coordinators of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Resource Education and the NOAA B-Wet grant programs to identify common mistakes in education grant proposals and to develop tips to assist grant writers in preparing better applications.

For strong bones, your doctor says to drink milk and exercise. For strong grant proposals, grant coordinators have the following suggestions:

  1. Read and Follow Directions
    Before putting your fingers to the keyboard, read through the application instructions and the grant criteria to understand the grant process and the goals of the grant program. Each funder has a different set of rules for submitting grants. Be familiar with deadline dates, the range of the grant amount of the grant program, the decision date, reimbursement policy, and any specifications for attachments.

    After reading the goals of the grant program, evaluate how your project meets the grant criteria outlined in the description. Clearly show the alignment between the planned results of your project and the goals of the grant program.

  2. Carefully Format and Organize the Text
    Grant reviewers often are faced with hundreds of pages of text when reading the applications for a given grant program. Assist the grant reviewer with succinct statements on project goals and deliverables. Use bulleted statements, headers, text boxes, photos, and other tools to visually organize the text and emphasize key points. Ask a colleague to proof read to reduce redundancy and grammatical errors.

  3. Provide Thoughtful Responses to Application Questions
    A common mistake for new grant writers is not providing sufficient detail to address the application questions thoroughly. Even if you feel the grant maker is familiar with the project or your organization, provide a satisfactory explanation of the project goals and demonstrate how you plan to accomplish those goals. If you do not understand a question, call the grant coordinator and ask for clarification of the purpose of the question and the amount of description expected.

    The grant coordinators for the Bay Trust, ARE, and NOAA B-Wet grants all agree — the priority sections in the grant application are the project summary and the budget. As you prepare the application, know that these two sections often receive the most scrutiny.

  4. Submit an Effective Budget
    An effective budget is easy to read and demonstrates leveraging. Use an itemized, tabular format to create a reader friendly budget. Leveraging is a term used by funders to describe contributions from others sources that enable the applicant to accomplish its work. Show leveraging through discounts, in-kind donations of time and services, donations of materials, and cash matches from other donors.

  5. Show Authentic Partnerships
    Partnerships strengthen a project by maximizing the human and technical resources available to project. Identify the partners and define the role of each partner in the project. Consider including a letter of commitment from each partner describing their contribution. Grant reviewers may contact partners directly to confirm the commitment stated in the proposal.

These five tips seem simple, but they are central to most successful proposals in environmental education grants in Maryland. Apply them as you prepare your next grant application and see!

Download Chesapeake Classrooms' Education and Environment focused Grants for K-12 Schools (Adobe PDF document, 57 pages)
For more information about Chesapeake Bay Trust grant opportunities, please visit or send an e-mail to or

Author Kerri Bentkowski is Senior Grants Manager for the Chesapeake Bay Trust

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