How to Write a 501(c)(3) Proposal for a Tax-Exempt Organization

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A 501(c)(3) is a nonprofit charitable organization exempt from federal taxes by the Internal Revenue Service. Nearly a million public charities, the most common type of 501(c)(3), were registered with the IRS in 2007 and include hospitals, churches, educational institutions and scientific programs. A public charity must have an active program and donations are tax-deductible up to 50 percent of the donor's income. A well-written, clear proposal containing supportable facts and figures is vital to the success of any charity's fundraising efforts and there are ways to make yours stand out from the rest and attract your grant-maker's attention.

Research the company thoroughly. Assemble a reference and information pack to use while you're writing the proposal. Include company names, job titles and contact details, recent press clippings, copies of earlier correspondence and a copy of their current Form 990. This is the annual reporting form donors must complete giving details of who they've donated to and how much they gave. Find it online from GuideStar or the Foundation Center 990 Finder.

Establish the correct format style and stick to it. According to Non-Profit Guides, a full proposal is generally 15 pages long. Find a comprehensive free guide on their website. Grant-makers often have their own forms and guidelines for applying for funds so it's vital to keep to their exact instructions. Whatever the format, however, your proposal pack should include a cover letter and cover sheet; a narrative content; finance requirements; details of your experience and qualifications; a conclusion; and any appendices.

Write the proposal as if answering a series of funder's questions. Tell them who you are, how you qualify and what you want from them. How will you address problems along the way? Who benefits from your program and how? How will you measure the outcomes of the program? How does the nature of the program suit the grant-maker?

Include detailed budgets. Funders generally ask for two kinds of budget: a set of general operating projections and one which details the specific costs of an activity or program. Look online for samples of appropriate budget templates if the funder doesn't provide their own. These cost projections are crucial as they reveal how well you've planned and researched your program.

Invest in learning how to write a grant proposal. Grant writing is an acquired skill and although you can hire a professional to do the job, they're never going to be as knowledgeable or as passionate as you are about your project or cause. Spending time learning the necessary skills will always pay dividends. Funding is a 501(c)(3)'s lifeblood and the proposal is key to getting the funding. Find free online tutorials and webinars at the Foundation Center as well as private training courses costing approximately $195 per day. Find more advice at, the online governmental resource set up for this exact purpose.


  • Once you've gathered all your material, dive in and start writing. Instead of getting stuck on the first sentence, go back and edit it later.