Every grant proposal needs a story.

But this story needs to be a tightly focused and organized one. All elements need to work together to serve the overall purpose of the proposal, which is an awarded grant.

What you don’t want is to create what I call a Grandpa Joe story- a rambling- maybe interesting, maybe not- narrative that veers into unexpected and colorful byways and off the beaten track, while introducing unexpected (and likely irrelevant) characters before- hopefully- ending in the right place. People speak this way, and we all know those who tell these stories.

But your proposal narrative needs to have more rigorous control than this, no matter how good your idea and program are.

That’s where the beloved staple of journalism classes comes to grant writing. The 5 Ws- who, what, where, when and why, plus the H- how.

I should mention that while the 5 Ws and H have been around a long time, I was first introduced to them for grant writing through the excellent writers at Seliger and Associates. Please check out their blog at Grant Writing Confidential for outstanding tips and suggestions on public grant writing.

The 5 Ws and H should be- together with your logic model- the organizing structure of your grant proposal. You use them to gather essential information and an overall description regarding your program that guides you as you prepare to write your proposal.

In order to effectively answer the 5 Ws and H for your proposed project, it is important that you, the grant writer, carefully read the RFP and understand all components of what the funders is looking for. It is actually a very good idea to have the RFP open as you put this description together.

Your first step should be to create a simple sentence, saying what your proposal is about. Let’s do one.

“Project JOBS will provide job training and career development in the hospitality sector for at-risk youth and young adults age 18-25.”

Let’s go through each of the six.


This actually has two parts: (1) your organization as applicant, and any partners you will work with and (2) the clients you are serving in the project. So first detail why your organization and partners are qualified to serve this population and with these services. Next, define who the clients will be. How many are you serving with the grant money? Sometimes the RFP gives a required number, or you pick it. Once you have this, you can better define your target clients. Are they all formerly or currently justice involved youth? Are they currently out of school?


You’ve defined this one already above and likely the RFP provides specific parameters for what you will do, including specific project elements. The details of how this will be implemented are discussed in ‘How’ below.


Where are the service areas and how does the need in these areas reflect the need for this program? Depending on the size of the grant and the funder, this might be an entire city, specific zip codes, or other defined service areas. A funder might designate areas for service and invite applicants to bid for them, or have you establish your own service areas with high need (this is more common for federal grant RFPs).


Generally, the RFP will define a funding period that will become the basis for your project period. For example, it may say a three year (36 month) period with an allowable six month period at the start for planning services. Your timeline will become the basis for the ‘when’ and will detail all major activities, such as hiring staff, quarterly partnership meetings service activities, enrollment completion graduation, and follow-up.


What is the need for these funds? This is your needs statement- the very high number of at-risk youth and young adults in your target areas who are unemployed and in poverty, for example.


This refines the ‘What’ you articulated above with more detail that develops it into a full program design. How will Project JOBS provide the job training? How will clients be assessed for services, and how will they get introductory education services required before they can complete the training? Will they receive credentials upon completion? Is the training provided in partnership with future employers, and does it reflect their input on needed skills in their field? Are there internships for clients after they complete training? Here’s where you put together the full project design with all services.

So the 5 Ws and H. They provide an invaluable structure to define critical aspects of your project at the beginning and guide the full creation of the proposal, including the all important logic model.

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