Grant-Writing Checklist

Please use the Grant-Writing Checklist below to help you in your resource development efforts. Regardless of your experience level, the checklist provides a simple review of the steps that go into writing a grant. Each step of the way, we have provided hyperlinks to additional information on UMaine Extension policies and tools to help you as you work. Please feel free to print all, or part of this document for your use.

Learn more about the important players in the UMaine Extension grant-writing process.

Go to the Grant-Writing Toolbox for commonly-used and highly effective tools to assist you as you plan your funding project, seek funders, prepare proposals, submit applications and evaluate your work.


Grant Writing and Approval Process: 10 Important Steps (print 10 Steps as Word document or PDF)


Grants and contracts have played an important role in the funding structure of Cooperative Extension over the years. Today, more than ever, securing outside funding to complement our budget is important to our growth and sustainability.

There are several key components to grant-writing, including planning, researching, sharing ideas, gaining internal and external support, writing, reviewing, getting approvals, submitting and managing awarded grants.

Assess need

A project should be the result of a determined need in a community. Focus on the conditions in the lives of your clients that you wish to change. Gather statistics, research, and expert testimony to assess and support this claim of need. Client surveys and referrals are good methods of needs assessment. For a list of useful questions to help guide you in your needs assessment planning, please check out the following helpful impact evaluation list.

Develop project idea

Once you understand the need, your project should be designed to meet those needs. It is important to be clear that you are developing a project which:

  • addresses a documented need;
  • supports the mission of the organization;
  • is within your personal plan of work;
  • does not duplicate work already being done;
  • develops or utilizes partnerships where appropriate.

At this point, it is important to determine who will be the Principal Investigator for the grant.

Assess feasibility

All funding should be used to support program priorities identified in the Plan of Work. Activities that are funded with grant money should enhance or support regular UMaine Extension activities. It is important to avoid seeking grant money just because it is potentially available.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the project fulfill the mission of Cooperative Extension?
  2. Does the project fit within your Plan of Work?
  3. Is there internal support for your project (supervisor, team members, etc.)?
  4. Is there adequate staff time to undertake the project (both putting together the proposal and conducting the project if funded)?
  5. Do you have qualified leaders for the project?
  6. Is required funding reasonable and manageable by Cooperative Extension?
  7. Do you know of other agencies or organizations undertaking similar work?
  8. Is there a plan for project sustainability over time, if appropriate?
  9. How are you going to evaluate the project outcomes?
  10. Is the funding you are planning to request adequate or do you need to look for additional/alternative funding sources?

Write and share concept paper

Write and share a concept paper with Program Administrator, the Financial Administration office, peers, and potential partners. Developing a concept paper is a key tool to help you share and refine your project idea(s). A concept paper:

  • is a brief (usually 1-2 page) summary of what you are planning to do in your project;
  • focuses your project idea to cover the appropriate scope of goals and activities, and to share with your colleagues;
  • is a useful tool for sharing ideas with potential partners;
  • allows you to get everyone on the same page from the beginning;
  • enables you to garner support for your work well before you have a final proposal ready to share with others.
  • Concept Paper Worksheet

Develop a grant-writing team

Although you may be an excellent grant-writer and the lead on a project, it is preferable to pull together a grant-writing team to write a proposal. Your team members should be provided with information about the project, a copy of the guidelines, deadlines and other materials and work with you to develop a timeline and division of tasks and responsibilities. Examples of team members include your colleagues, your supervisor, support staff assisting you in the proposal preparation process and external partners.

Secure necessary partnerships

Partnerships create new capacity and outcomes that are not attainable by either of the organizations individually. When developing partnerships, make sure that there is a real commitment to working collaboratively, not just support for your work alone. Start with an honest conversation (with yourself and your potential partner) about the value of the partnership for the project.

Questions you need to be able to answer are:

  1. Does the partnership enhance your capacity to conduct this project and submit this proposal?
  2. Is there true commitment to collaborative working on both sides of the partnership?
  3. Who will you be working with at the other organization and will the working relationship be a positive one?
  4. Why and in what way is the partner willing to be part of this project?
  5. Are there geographic, time or other restrictions that will create challenges for this partnership? If so, how do you plan to overcome the barriers and is it worth your effort to do so?

Once you have decided to take on a partner, you need to tell them from the outset that:

  • they will be involved in the grant-writing process;
  • they will need to complete a letter of commitment*, or if appropriate, a Subrecipient Commitment Form and all related documents, which will be submitted to UMaine’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs with your proposal.
  • you may want to contract with the partner through a memorandum of understanding (MOU). For more information about MOUs, contact the Financial Administration Office.

* A letter of commitment clearly states what your partner agrees to provide to the project. Not only does this demonstrate your partnership to reviewers, but it also provides you with written documentation of their agreement when it is time to implement the project.

Research funding opportunities

There are many different types of funding. Listed below are major categories. For more information or assistance in determining the type of funding that may be appropriate for your project, please contact the Financial Administration Office.  For a list of resources for finding funding opportunities, see the Grant Writing Toolbox.

  1. Corporate (Ex. Corporate Giving Programs, Foundations and Donations)
    • Corporations often give in areas that their company works or serves. Corporate Foundation and charitable giving programs exist for many reasons, two of the primary ones being: 1) tax-deductible use of their profits, and 2) public image. Examples of large corporate giving programs include the Ford Foundation, Phillip Morris, and the Microsoft Foundation. Examples of small corporate giving programs include those from local banks or sponsorships from a local supermarket chain. When accepting a corporate gift or grant, it is important to be sure a corporation will not be able to exert inappropriate restrictions or controls on your work.
  2. Private (Foundations and Donors)
    • Private funds come from many sources, including family and individual foundations, charitable trusts, and outright donations of funds and in-kind gifts. Private funds may have many restrictions or few. It is important to research private givers, as their goals and giving patterns are not always immediately clear.

Gifts vs. Grants

IMPORTANT: Please be sure to check the University of Maine policies on gifts and fundraising and Policies & Guidelines / Civil Rights – Donations and Sponsorships In Support of UMaine Cooperative Extension Programs Guidelines before you seek donations or other major gifts.

Assess prospects

To assess the appropriateness of a grant or contract prospect, look at the financial information about the foundation, their subject focuses, geographic limits, the types of funding they provide, the population they serve, the types of recipients they give to and application information. To simplify the process, feel free to use the Funder Prospect Assessment Worksheet.

Grant Writing and Approval Process

Step 1: Contact your Program Administrator, UMaine Extension Financial Administrator, and the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs or Development Office

Inform UMaine Extension administration that you are seeking funding. Informing administration that you are working on a project and with a specific granting agency allows several important things to happen:

  1. Your supervisor and Program Administrator can work with you to support your project, connect you with potential partners and support your proposal submission. The PA must approve the concept of the proposal and the allocation of time dedicated to it prior to starting to write a grant. Send a copy of the request for proposals (RFP) or guidelines for proposal submission to the appropriate PA as soon as the concept has been approved. The RFP is used to make sure all match requirements and organizational commitments are understood early in the process.
  2. If your grant will be routed through the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs (ORSP), a member of their Pre-Award staff should be contacted as soon as you begin working on your proposal.  They will review the RFP for any issues or concerns and can assist with budget development.  Your budget and budget justification will need to be approved by ORSP before you are able to submit your proposal.
  3. The Financial Administration Office can also assist you with the development of your budget and work with the University of Maine Office of Research & Sponsored Programs.

Note: Some foundation grants are routed through the Office of University Development, rather than the Office of Research & Sponsored Programs.  See this page for more details on how to determine which office will handle your grant.  When in doubt, contact the Financial Administration Office.

Step 2: Make review appointments early (This is important!)

Make review appointments in advance with your Program Administrator, the Financial Administration office and the Executive Director of UMaine Extension. You must submit your final grant proposal including the final approved budget for internal (UMaine Extension) and UM approval process at least 10 working days in advance of the deadline the proposal is due to the funding source unless otherwise arranged. Failure to allow this lead time may result in the proposal not being reviewed and approved by the submission deadline.

Step 3: Develop your proposal outline based on the Request for Proposals (RFP).

An efficient way to develop a proposal is to start by creating an outline, based on the guidelines in the RFP document. The guidelines will likely split the requested information into sections (need statement, background information, methods, evaluation strategies, etc); be sure to adhere to the guidelines. Although grants are increasingly encouraging innovation and creative solutions, grant proposal format is not one of those areas where creativity is rewarded!

How to create an outline:

On your computer…

  • Develop a list of the headings with corresponding numbers or letters.
  • Start filling in each section with bullets of information you wish to include in each area.
  • As a result, you will have a structured set of information that you want to include and can share with your team members. At this stage, everyone should be considering the concept of the proposal, not wordsmithing it.
  • If you would like additional assistance, check out the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs’ Proposal Preparation page.

Step 4: Write your proposal and budget draft

To develop a proposal draft:

  • Begin to tie your proposal outline together in a logical order with clear sentences.
  • Avoid using jargon and flowery language. Wordiness slows a reviewer down.
  • Reviewers prefer clear, concise, powerful language and wording and show that you know what you want to do, how you are going to do it and why.
  • Keep to the length of the sections or total proposal outlined in the funder’s guidelines.
  • Eliminate any sentences that are nonessential.
  • Add items that enhance or explain ideas as you refine it.

To develop a budget draft:

Follow specific formatting pre-determined by the granting agency. Your draft will likely need to include expected income and expenses, indirect costs and totals being provided by other sources and being requested directly from the agency.  See ORSP’s Guide to Budget Preparation document for an overview of the budgeting process.

  • If matching is required, UMaine Extension salary dollars and UM fringe benefit dollars can usually be used for match. The Financial Administration Office should be contacted prior to including any UMaine Extension wages or fringe as match in your budget, in order to verify the match requirements and the availability of the salary as match. In addition, it is possible that overhead costs, often called indirect costs, or Facilities and Administrative (F&A) costs may be used for match. The amount of these costs, and whether or not they must be charged to the sponsor or can be used for match, is negotiated with ORSP. Indirect costs may be charged to either or both the University and the funding organization. There is a budget template available to help in budget creation and calculation of indirect costs. The rates charged differ depending on the project. See ORSP’s rates page for the most current indirect and fringe rates.
  • The question of whether or not there are any in-kind commitments by UMaine Extension to this grant proposal must be answered in the narrative.  Note: as a general rule, ORSP does not allow in-kind items as match. Do not assume in-kind match will be approved by ORSP without checking.
  • If it is anticipated that outside funds will be used to create a new position, either short- or long-term, the Principal Investigator (PI) seeking funds must arrange ahead of time for space for that person to be housed, any additional secretarial support, and furniture/equipment for that person to use. Funds for office equipment, computer software, etc., to support the grant must be part of the grant.
  • Before hiring a person who is totally dependent on grant funds, the supervisor (who will usually be the PI) needs to explain to candidates that the position is contingent on funding and that all expenses related to his/her employment will be paid out of grant funds. The anticipated duration of the grant should also be explained. This information should also be clear in any position description. The position must be defined (salary, duties, etc) through the Position Description Questionnaire (PDQ) process.  Please contact Francine Sulinski prior to including any new positions in your proposal. All regular UMaine Extension hiring policies for faculty, associates and classified staff must be followed.
  • If the new employee is to receive regular staff development opportunities (i.e., the same flexible staff development funds as other employees) the money for staff development must be built into the grant.
  • If the employee is to travel, money for travel must be part of the grant and the grant account number must be put on each travel reimbursement form. Anticipated extra telephone costs must also be part of the grant.
  • If for any reason some of the above items are negotiated with the granting agency to be paid by UMaine Extension or UM, the dollar amount of the support should be clearly shown on the grant budget as match, either cash (such as flexible development funds or postage) or in-kind (such as photocopying or telephone.) Note: as a general rule, ORSP does not allow in-kind items as match. Do not assume in-kind match will be approved by ORSP without checking.
  • Budgets should be written as closely to how they will actually be spent as possible.  The Financial Administration Office,  Accounts Payable/Purchasing, and Payroll/Personnel can assist with questions regarding best practices for purchases and payroll.
  • All budgets should be checked carefully with the Financial Administration Office before the final draft is submitted to the supervisor/PA for approval.

Step 5: Secure letters of commitment from project partners when required and/or appropriate

Letters of commitment should:

  • be solicited as soon as possible for partners and deadlines determined for when the letter will be ready for inclusion in you application.
  • include:
    •  the nature of the partnership;
    • what the partner brings to the table;
    • a statement of support for the project they are entering into;
    • the value of what they are offering (in dollars if being used as a match).
  • state additional arrangements agreed to between the lead agency and partner(s).
  • include the name and address of the partner organization.
  • be signed by a person with the authority to commit the organization.

Please note: The head of the partner organization generally has the most authority and consequently their signature adds impact to the letter. Sometimes two signatures, one of the lead administrator and one of the person conducting the work, give the letter even greater impact.

If the partner is acting as a subcontractor on the proposal, they will be required to complete a  Subrecipient Commitment Form and all related documents, which will be submitted to UMaine’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs with your proposal.

Step 6: Solicit and incorporate feedback from team members, partners, your Program Administrator, and the Financial Administration office.

Feedback is important in the grant-writing process:

  • Although you may be closest to your project, that can also be a limiting factor.
  • Having outside people read your proposal will give you information about impressions made by certain statements, confusing language, and unclear ideas in your proposal.
  • Having your team members read the draft allows them the opportunity to develop buy-in to the project.
  • Having a proposal everyone has seen can help avoid frustrations during the implementation phase by eliminating any “surprises” to those involved in the project down the road.

Remember to ask for what you want when requesting feedback:

  • If you are looking for spelling and grammar errors, then make sure you clarify that.
  • If you are looking for the comments of the project plan and for assistance in reviewing the budget or the way a partnership is incorporated, then be sure to explain that.
  • Your clear direction about the kind of feedback you want and the deadline by which you need it will help increase your chances of getting what you need.

Incorporate feedback into final proposal draft and budget:

Feedback is meant to give you something to review and consider. The best feedback will help you clarify and simplify your thoughts and wording. If feedback enhances your proposal and fits into the proposal guidelines and POW, then incorporating it is a good idea. If a specific piece of feedback creates large problems in the structuring of your proposal and complicates the proposal, then it may be best to not incorporate it or to check with other team members.

Step 7: Check that your proposal meets all of the funding agency’s requirements and compile the proposal application (including all supporting documentation and forms)

This is the time to go through and make sure you have completed all the steps and structured your proposal properly.

Some things you should check carefully are:

  • Name of the grantor
  • Address/ where to send the proposal
  • Your contact information
  • Appropriate headings numbered/labeled corresponding to the guidelines
  • Page/word number limits for each of the sections
  • Budget format, accuracy, and completeness of the narrative
  • Appropriate and all needed appendices, including required letters of commitment
  • Page/style requirements (spacing, font type, and size, type of paper, stapling, binding, colors, etc.)
  • Documentation of necessary matching funds
  • Required approval signatures

Step 8: Submit final proposal and budget for UMaine Extension & ORSP review and approval

When a final grant proposal has been completed, it will need at least two weeks (10 working days) from the time it is presented to the Program Administrator to go through the final approval and submission process. Most grants must be submitted to the granting agency through the University’s Office of Research & Sponsored Programs. See ORSP’s timeline for proposal review here (this is important!).

A proposal abstract, budget and budget justification must be submitted to ORSP electronically on the PARS system. IMPORTANT: If you have not submitted a proposal in PARS before, you must have a PARS login and password set up.   Click here to register (allow 1-2 business days for processing). If you need immediate access to the system call Robin Crocker, 581.1471 or Cliff Wilbur, 581.1419 in ORSP.  You must also have completed the UMS Conflict of Interest training (valid for 4 years).  Visit the here for more information.

In PARS, you will need to designate the following approvers (in order):

  1. Senior Personnel (PI and co-PIs- if applicable)
    • Note: if you are working with co-PIs in another department, you will also need to add in the appropriate approvals for their department below.  At minimum, their Department Chair(s) and Dean(s)/Director(s).
  2. Your Supervisor
  3. Your Program Administrator (if not your supervisor)
  4. Grants review (Travis Beyerl)
  5. Assistant Director and Financial Manager (Dennis Harrington) (should be designated as Closing Account Admin, and Direct Cost Share Admin if applicable)
  6. The UMaine Extension Executive Director (John Rebar) for final approval and signature

The full proposal must be submitted to ORSP by the principal investigator (PI). Arrangements for submitting the full proposal should be made with your ORSP Pre-Award contact.

Please note: The applicant is responsible for walking the proposal through the approval process unless other arrangements* have been made.

*It is possible to make arrangements with your PA, Financial Administration Office, or a colleague to have them help move your proposal through the approval process. This requires clear planning and strict adherence to deadlines. The key in the process is to never make assumptions and keep checking on the status.

Step 9: Submit by proposal deadline (see funding agency specifications for delivery and dates)

  • Applicant is responsible for delivering the application to the funding agency by the deadline, unless other arrangements have been made with ORSP.
  • Deadlines are one of the most challenging aspects of grant-writing.
  • Make sure you are clear about whether the application must be “received by” or “postmarked by”. There is a critical and obvious difference between the two deadline requirements.
  • It is not recommended to use overnight mail to meet a deadline.
  • You will need to submit the full narrative of your proposal to your unit administrator and the Director. This can be done hard copy or electronically. You should also send a copy to the Financial Administration Office for UMaine Extension’s grant files.

Step 10: Manage your grant once it is funded

Principal investigators (PIs) are responsible for notifying the Financial Administration Office and their Program Administrator that their grant has been received and the approved agreement with the funder.

Required program reports should be submitted through the Program Administrator. Copies of reports with fiscal information should be sent to the Financial Administration Office.

PIs are responsible for tracking budget and expenditures.  PIs should review the general ledger (GL) for their grant(s) monthly, at minimum, in order to ensure appropriate spending.  A signed and dated copy of each month’s GL report should be kept on file as verification of the monthly reviews.  The Financial Administration Office is available to help with any issues during the grant management process.  See the Grant Writing Toolbox for more information on managing your grant.

IMPORTANT: Please review ORSP’s “The Post-Award Role &Responsibilities of a Principal Investigator at the University of Maine” document for a more comprehensive listing of your responsibilities as a PI.