Proper formatting and clarity are the foundations of technical writing. The executive summary is the most important component of the grant writing proposal because it establishes the purpose of the proposal and acts as the first call-to-action for the reader.
A lot of people still question whether it’s better to write the executive summary before or after you write your grant proposal. It ultimately comes down to your writing process, but it’s generally recommended you write the executive summary after the the rest of the proposal so you have all of your facts organized and in mind.
If the cover letter seeks to provide a brief statement of your work and pique the agency’s interest than the executive summary should be there to seal the deal. Your executive summary should be brief, no longer than 6 paragraphs, and provide a compelling description of the body of the grant proposal.
You could always hire a government grants management firm to help you write your proposal. If you decide to write a grant proposal on your own than follow these tips to create a cogent executive summary that will help your proposal get approved.
Elements of the Executive Summary
Identify the Problem: Address a problem that directly relates to your organization and the agency you’re requesting funds from. Don’t get bogged down in emotional pleas and logically flesh out the problem in a one paragraph statement. This should remain brief and only be one or two paragraphs.
Provide a Solution: This is the most obvious purpose of the executive summary. Provide a brief appeal of how your organization can directly solve the purported problem using the agency’s grant funds. This should provide both the qualitative and quantitative benefits of solving this issue. Not only are you seeking to explain why your problem is the most important to the agency, but also how your organization could provide the best results from its grants funding.
Explain the Qualifications of your Organization: Federal agencies and nonprofits don’t give out funds to anyone so you need to clearly outline why your organization is qualified to address and solve this purported issue. Again, be brief, you have an entire proposal to go into more details about your experience and resume.
Outline your Funding Requirements: Now that you have outlined your solutions, explain what your organization needs to meet the requirements of this task and what the federal agency could provide. Of course, research ahead of time and know what the agency is offering or the limits of what it can provide.
Too Much “About Us”: Often, writers fill up their executive summary with too much information about their organization. The executive summary is not an “about us” section nor is it a biography of your organization. We’re inclined to write too much about our organization in the executive summary because we feel that it will provide us with a competitive advantage. One paragraph is enough and agencies will give you the benefit of the doubt to begin.
Jargon: Just because the federal agency you apply for is directly involved in your field of research, that doesn’t mean you should try to impress them with technical jargon. It only proves how little your organization is actually connected to its audience.
Failing to Address Agency Needs: Finally, it’s important the proposal remains a two-way street. Yes, your organization is doing the heavy lifting, but why would a federal agency fund your project or research if they have no stake in it?
An executive summary is probably the most stressful portion of the grant proposal. Sometimes this two page document can take you almost as long to compile as any other portion of the proposal. It’s key to do your research beforehand and to highlight the key points of your proposal. Above all, keep it brief. Agencies have to read through hundreds of proposals and a four page statement will be thrown in the trash before they even flip the page if you waste their time.