"Let's just send the same proposal to a bunch of funders."
Don't do it! Funders often specify what they want to see in proposals, the order in which the content should appear, and formatting (often down to the font size, headings, and margins). "Canned" proposals can be spotted a mile away and raise a big red flag to the grantor. I've even seen submissions in which the author (or copy-paster, as the case may be) forgot to replace all for the name of the funder, such that Foundation X received a proposal that still says "Foundation T" on the bottom of page 2. Yikes!
The good news, however, is that a template proposal, created before you're faced with a deadline, will help you tremendously. Although no two funders are alike, they do often want to see similar kinds of information--so, luckily, once you have solid proposal content for a program down on paper, it's rare that you'll have to reinvent the wheel too much.
Here's a quick list of some commonly requested proposal fodder (by no means exhaustive):
- Organization's mission, history and background (prepare one-page and half-page versions)
- Organization's goals and objectives
- Need and rationale: Why this program? Why your organization? Who in the community will you assist?
- Program details: Numbers and demographics served, timeline, specific activities, etc.
- Evaluation: How do you assess the impact and outcomes of your program?
- Budget: Be prepared to provide line-item budgets at the organizational and programmatic levels.
- Endorsements/letters of support: It couldn't hurt to identify 3-5 types of constituents (e.g., client, collaborator, community partner, etc.) and ask them to serve as references for any future grants you will submit. You could even ask them to draft template support letters that can be tailored for future proposals as needed.
- Commonly requested attachments: 501c3 letter, form 990, board list, audited financials, annual report.
Getting these core elements down on paper now will save you a lot of time in the long run. Once you have a funder's guidelines in front of you, you can take the time to refine or expand these details based on exactly what they need to see.