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posted on Jan 9, 2020

By Maria Lahiffe and Tais McNeill

Faculty_of_Instructors/Ottawa_Community_Foundation_logo.PNGThis blog post is based on the course notes for the VO course, Write Great Grant Proposals, taught by Tais McNeill. Tais is an Associate, Grants & Community Knowledge at the Ottawa Community Foundation. In addition, he is a grant reviewer with United Way Ottawa, Community Development Framework, and United for Refugees.

If you work for the social good, then there is a grant out there which could help you in your work. Millions of dollars in grants are awarded every year in Canada alone, given out by governments, foundations, corporations, and other not-for-profits. Here is how you can take advantage of this important revenue stream.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Before you type a single letter into your document, do some preparatory work. This includes:

  • Learn about your funder
  • Get organized
  • Communicate with your funder

Learn about your funder

Not every funder is the same. Different funders respond best to different approaches. Do your homework. Read the funder’s website(s), annual reports, newsletters, and other communications. Find out what is said about them in the media. All of this will give you a better sense of who they are and what makes them tick.

Communicate with your Funder

As part of getting to know your funder, pick up the phone. Communicate with a funder as much as you can, to learn what they want to see and how they want to see it. Funders are in business to give out money. Let them help you make their jobs easier, by finding out how they can give their money to you.

Get Organized

Find out what is required for the proposal. Usually there is more than just the proposal document: you may need to provide financial statements, workplans, org charts, or other documentation about your organization and the work you do.

Write your Application

In writing your application, make sure you include the following, even if they are not specific headings in the grant template.

  • Value proposition
  • Activities
  • Impact and measurement
  • Budget

Value Proposition

Your value proposition is a statement which answers the following  questions:

  • What do you do?
  • Why are you the best one do to it?

In the context of a grant proposal, you may want to narrow down the focus of your value proposition to the project which you are seeking to get funding for. Define the problem and explain the solution in straightforward, clear language. Make sure your explanation of the solution makes it clear why you are the best organization to solve this problem.


Explain what you will do throughout the project. Show that you can do this – i.e. that you have the resources, expertise, and community connections to get the job done. Make sure to use straightforward, clear language. Steer clear of jargon.

Impact and Measurement

Explain your impact in terms of outputs, outcomes and key performance indicators.


These are the direct things your project will produce. For example, if you plan to run a school breakfast program, then outputs would be

  • Healthy food prepared
  • Children who have been fed


These are more indirect, and get at the true reason why the project is important. For example, the real reason for the importance of school breakfast programs is that hungry children are more likely to act out and less likely to learn well. Thus, potential outcomes of a school breakfast program could be

  • Decrease in antisocial behaviours
  • Increase in academic achievement

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Your outputs and outcomes are the goals of your project. Key performance indicators are the things you will measure to determine if you achieved your goals. For our example, KPIs could be



Healthy food prepared

100 breakfasts per day prepared, which contain at least 20% protein and at least one fresh fruit or vegetable

Children who have been fed

100 children per day eat at least ¾ of the breakfast they are given

Decrease in antisocial behaviours

50% reduction in disciplinary actions for children participating in the program (e.g. visits to the principal’s office)

Increase in academic achievement

10% average increase in grade point average for children participating in the program

In formulating KPIs, think of the SMART acronym. The best KPIs are

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound


Do your homework: know the range of funding which is available from this funder. Also consider that very few grants will fund a whole project. Granting organizations want to know that they are part of a healthy funding ecosystem which will keep your project afloat. Finally, make sure there is good alignment between activities and expenses.

What next?

Come to our workshop to learn how to make this all work in practice.

Click here to register Thursday, April 9, 2020. 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to all aspects of running a non-profit or a charity. Click here for our event calendar. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.

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