Project Design: Part Five of How to Write a Winning Grant


In this article and podcast, we go over how to list out the activities for the project, the selection process, where the project will take place, the challenges, the contingencies, the sustainability plan, how to list non-federal partners and resources, how to list leveraged resources, and what you need in place to oversee and monitor non-federal resources and partners. This is where a lot of people start writing, but – as you should be able to tell by now – if you start writing here, you may rewrite this several times. Why? Well, if you do not understand your true problem, have an overarching goal, created clear objectives and outcomes, and know what your budget can cover…then, yes, you will be just coming up with ideas for the project approach. This can turn into a crazy process where grants really do feel too overwhelming.

If you have followed the articles and podcasts in this series, you have done the following already:

  • Have all information about the organization in one neat place
  • Completed research and have backed up needs with current references and identified a target population
  • Identified a goal, developed S.M.A.R.T. objectives, specific outcomes, and a tasked timeline.
  • Finalized a budget, to include identifying resources for any matching funds required.

Description of Activities

What are detailed descriptions of all activities? Use your action plan timeline as a guide to write each activity in clear sentences, and include additional information to include all aspects of the activity.

Ex: The kickoff meeting will include the executive director and board of directors, and we will look over all objectives, goals, and activities. We will immediately start on grant implementation.

This is where you can clearly state each activity that is required for implementation of the project. Make this clear and create a logistical flow. Think back again to the previous article where we talked about the mindset behind grants. Pretend you are that 15-year-old who is making a case to your parents to give you money for a soccer uniform and membership dues for the senior soccer team. Create a point-by-point basis for what you are going to do, how you are going to do, who will implement it, when it will get done, and make sure that you put into place any safeguards against what might happen. You basically want to answer any and all questions before they are even asked.

One specific area that you will want to define is how will you select the beneficiaries or who will benefit from your proposed grant project. For example, you may indicate that you will serve 100 people for your project. How will you recruit and select these people? For the organization that we have been using as an example for this series, Youth Soccer Rocks, they will partner with the schools they have identified with letters of commit and will attend assemblies at the schools and talk about the project. They could have sign-up sheets or applications at the end of the school assemblies and may leave some applications with the sport coaches. There are so many ways that you can recruit your targeted beneficiaries so figure out what way makes the most sense for your project. Then of course you must talk about the selection process. One idea is that “Youth Soccer Rocks will utilize applications with the highest poverty threshold household youth to be prioritized.” If you get more than 100 applications but state that you will serve only 100 people you may have to identify how you will select the participants. Sometimes it is fine to surpass the number of beneficiaries (or geographic area) that you indicate you will serve. But if you identify in your budget limitations then you do need to put into place a selection process to meet this potential challenge. For example, your project may be limited to serving 100 people if you only budgeted for 100 uniforms or transportation that will accommodate 100 people. We will get more into challenges and contingencies in a minute, but this gives you another idea how a grant really is a big puzzle and certain parts do overlap.


Where will your project take place? This may seem silly and basic, but when reviewers are reading your grant they may not have a clue about your community. You need to be clear.

Ex. Youth Soccer Rocks activities will occur at the Clubhouse soccer pitch and classes will be held at Rocking Socks High School. Our main headquarters will be at the Youth Soccer Rocks suite where we have one office of 200 square feet.  

See how specific this is? Once again, this is a part of the magic puzzle. If you say you will have an office of 200 square feet, then make sure that is in your budget. For this example, it is a leveraged amount that the organizations (through a federal grant, which is why we are stating this is leveraged and NOT in-kind) is supplying the space at no cost. Remember this doesn’t mean that you don’t include this explanation. Clearly say how this square footage is accounted for and remember to include a letter if this is an in-kind support.

Challenges, contingencies, and sustainability

Challenges, contingencies, and sustainability plans are important to identify in your project design. Challenges are what could go wrong, contingencies are what will be put in place to mitigate challenges, and sustainability plans are how the project can be maintained after the grant has ended. These components are important to look at because you will face challenges when administering a grant. Things will come up, and sometimes you can be ahead of the curve by identifying some potential issues and outlining a plan to address such issues. Businesses do this within business plans, but somehow the world of nonprofits oversees this important process. The reality is that things do happen, so you need to be prepared to work through hiccups and bumps or derailments to implement someone else’s money. Plus, let’s face it, this money is going to end. Grants are kind of like start-up capital or seed money. Once the grant is over, the funding source wants to know that the project will still operate at some level.

Flashback to your goal: What change are you going to make in your community? This will be a lasting change and positively impact your community. If the grant project just fades out as soon as the money is gone, then what real impact have you had on the community? This is another reason why so many grants require matching non-federal funds. They want to know that the community is supporting the project.

  • Challenges: What could go wrong?
  • Contingency: What will you put in place to mitigate challenges?
  • Sustainability Plans: How can the project keep going when the grant has ended?

What are your potential challenges?

Ex. Not enough youth will sign up for the Youth Soccer Rocks club.

What are your contingencies?

Ex. We will work with our partners to increase referrals and increase our visits to more schools. We are confident the incentives of scholarships, trips away from home to games, free uniforms, health checks, and the nutrition program will attract more than 100 disadvantaged youth.

What is your sustainability plan?

Ex. Youth Soccer Rocks will leverage business partners, rotary clubs, and other partners with continued sponsorship of scholarships. We will also have fundraisers, such as car washes and other events, whereby the youth will be significant contributors to raise money for the second-year scholarships.

Expand on these ideas, but remember this is where you are saying that the project will not just flop once grant funding is over. Even if a funding source does not request this information, I recommend you insert this (maybe just as brief as above if you have page limitations) as you will solve problems before reviewers can even think of the problems and provide real solutions for your project managers to items that may come up. Let’s face it, many of the project managers who will implement grant projects read the grant applications to guide them in the implementation process. Many of them may not have been involved in the design process because a lot of times grants call for recruiting and hiring these positions. Therefore, you want to think of not only grant reviewers when writing your grant, but think of the grant as a guide for new hires.

Non-federal funds

This may seem like a budget section, but if no-federal funds are required as a matching for your grant, this is also shown in the project design. Of course, this also needs to be demonstrated within the budget: you will identify where your non-federal support comes from within the project design. Specifically, you must point out what type of non-federal support your organization has secured, any other leveraged funds, and how partnership will be secured. A reminder is that non-federal funds must be from non-federal resources and may be hard or soft match, dependent on the Funding Opportunity Announcement. If there is no requirement for non-federal matching, I would only include any support as ‘leveraging.’ Although the difference sounds only semantic, there is a difference in the level of support. The other point is that, if the grant only requires a 20% non-federal match, don’t state that you will match 50% and think that will get you brownie points. It may show more support, but you will be required to give that 50% since you stated you would – even though the grant did not originally require that much of a match. That can deduct brownie points, because the reviewers know that things happen (remember back to challenges and contingencies), and they know that one of your funding sources might drop off and leave you scrambling.

Who are some of your non-federal resources? (in-kind volunteers, venue space, vehicles, other non-federal grants, etcetera)

Ex. Youth Soccer Rocks will have the in-kind support of Rocking Socks High School for a space to teach our nutrition classes valued at $150 per class for 10 classes per year, with a total value of $1,500. See attached letter of commitment. These are state (non-federal) monies.

What are leveraged resources? (These may be other federal grants or programs that cannot add a monetary value to your budget, but they can add value of support).

Ex. Youth Soccer Rocks will have our headquarters for this project utilizing a space that is paid by from a federal grant. We will leverage that space of 200 square feet at no cost.

How will you get these non-federal and leveraged sources? This is for you to think about pre-grant. How are you going to get this support?

Ex. Youth Soccer Rocks will identify our partners at our next meetings. The project assistant will communicate via email messages to request letters of support. We will obtain signed letters of commitment and support with all monetary value listed in the letters. We will do fundraising to secure any other outstanding matching funding.

How will you oversee and monitor all your non-federal resources and partnerships?

Ex. Youth Soccer Rocks will meet with our partners monthly and request reports for our meetings to outline all responsibilities.

Where else would you include all this information? You will include it in your Action Plan Timeline. We discussed this in the podcast Part Three: Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes. This is so important to have all your key activities listed in your approach. Remember sometimes you have do this is in a two to four-page foundation application and other times you may have 20+ pages to write all this in. Really, the approach to all of this doesn’t change, just the amount of detail. The more succinct and clear you can write the less words you need and the easier it will be for program managers to understand what they are supposed to do or grant reviewers to get through your grants.

So, there you have it. Once you have all other measures in place, get to town on writing your project approach. Make sure you leave ample time to write this section. At times, some funding sources request logic models, detailed training plans, evaluation plans, and so forth. We will cover these in future podcasts.

Today you learned how to write the project design which includes

  • Activities
  • Selection process
  • Location
  • Challenges, contingencies, and sustainability plan
  • Non-federal partners and resources
  • Leveraged resources
  • Oversee and monitor non-federal resources and partners

On our next article and podcast we will be starting the new series on making sure you organization has the capacity to win grants. Want some free templates? Go to to join the mailing list with free templates, discounts on books and more. Speaking of books. Wish Granted! Tips, Tools, and Templates to Write a Winning Grant is coming out on Amazon on August 22nd. You can actually go and pre-order it today!


Have a grant or funding question?