The short answer is: “Exactly what they ask and no more.” When the number of proposals far exceeds the amount available, it is human nature to look for the easiest reason to toss out a proposal. No excuses for a 10 point font when the rules require no smaller than 11, and no slack when a key document is not included in the grant package. Lately, more funders either require or accept online applications making some format details beyond our control.
Those who review proposals read for clarity. Help the reader grasp the purpose of your project or research quickly with simple sentence structures, politeness, and passion. Avoid slang and overly complicated statements. You won’t know if your proposal will be read by an expert in a related field, but you can be sure the reader will be sifting through a large pile of proposals. Make sure yours is memorable for conveying a unique solution to a well-stated problem. Think through each step you’ll take to complete the project successfully and writing will be easier.
Finally, and most importantly, does your project or research fit the funder’s stated purpose for giving? Will you advance a foundation’s philanthropic investment or the government’s research interests with your idea and its implementation? The final paragraph should remind them that your proposal is a great investment.