Determining the format in which to submit a proposal depends largely on the targeted funding source. Public (especially federal) sources almost always provide highly structured guidelines for proposals. But private sources--foundations, corporations, corporate foundations, organizations--vary widely in their procedures. The best advice is to locate and read the source's guidelines closely. Frequently, these guidelines will detail exactly what the funding source expects. If the funder requires a particular format or application form, use it. If not, it is best to send a letter proposal, which can be followed by a full proposal if the funder expresses interest.
Usually the funder will request that the initial approach come in one of three formats:
- Letter of Inquiry: A one- to two-page document in business letter form that briefly outlines the proposed project
- Letter Proposal: A three- to five-page document in business letter form that contains seven key components
- Full Proposal: A 15- to 20-page document that contains a cover page, table of contents, and eight key elements