NNLM Proposal Writing Toolkit

NNLM Proposal Writing Toolkit

Welcome to the NNLM Proposal Writing Toolkit which provides tips, tricks and resources you can use while developing and submitting your application.

Project Planning
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Project Planning

Ready to begin? Brainstorm project ideas as you learn about conducting community assessments, making statistics your friend, building partnerships, and promoting reliable health information resources. Tips and tricks for writing a strong grant proposal will help you tie it all together. 

Project Ideas

To get an idea of what project ideas could be funded, we recommend that you browse NNLM's Past Funded Projects. These are Projects that were funded by NNLM from 2016-present and are now complete.

In general, project ideas that support the mission of NNLM, and strategic plan of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), are encouraged.

You should also:

If there's a project idea that you have, we encourage you to contact NNLM and request a consultation. Staff are available for consultation on potential project ideas, and training and integration of NLM resources.

Additionally, we encourage applicants to read the Funding FAQs as it may address several questions. 

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Grants and Proposal Writing Tips and Tutorials

If you are new to the grant writing process, there are a number of resources available to help you get started. Below is a list of resources to help you write your proposal.

NNLM Grants and Proposal Writing Class

Designed for beginning grant proposal writers, this class presents a general overview of the grant and funding processes as well as the level of detail required in a successful proposal. Each component of the grant writing process will be addressed, including: documenting the need; identifying the target population; writing measurable objectives; developing a work plan, an evaluation plan and dissemination plan. This course is also available as a webinar recording. 

Here are some helpful NNLM guides and resources to help you along the process of writing your proposal:

Free grants and proposal writing tips and tutorials beyond NNLM:

Terms to Know

Here are some common terms and acronyms you will encounter when writing grants and proposals. All links included here refer to NIH definitions; definitions may vary depending on your funding source.

  • Request for Proposals (RFP) – a public notice that funding is available
  • Request for Applications (RFA) - a public notice that funding is available
  • Call for Applications (CFA) - a public notice that funding is available
  • Letter of intent – a letter sent to a funder by an applicant prior to applying for a grant.
  • Letter of application – accompanies your award proposal for funding

Visit the NIH Glossary & Acronym List for other definitions unfamiliar to you for grants and funding.

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Deconstructing a RFP

A grant opportunity announcement is often a complex document detailing many parts of the application to prepare, the documentation to produce, and formatting specifications. If we are not careful reading an RFP, we risk missing the purpose of the grant program, thus spending time responding to the wrong RFP, and we risk missing essential details that could disqualify your proposal from review. One strategy to avoid this is to deconstruct the RFP. 

To deconstruct an RFP, you need to move every important thing from the RFP into an outline or checklist so they can be acted on. While initially time consuming, it can save you time of repeatedly searching the RFP and related documentation for the information you need. You can review these resourcs to help you deconstruct a grant opportunity announcement:

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NNLM Application Templates

These templates are for planning purposes only, for NNLM grant applications. You will need to fill out the online application to be considered for an award.

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Resources to Help Plan Your Project

Health Statistics

It's important to include statistics in your proposal, related to the population for which you plan to provide outreach services. Consider the following resources for your statistics information.

Community Assessment

The NNLM Evaluation Center (NEC) has resources and guides to help you plan a community assessment, to assist with your proposal writing.


Consider a partner or collaborator for your project to help enhance the outcomes of your project.

Letters of Support

Many grant proposals need letters of support, which are written by any organizations that you will partner with. These letters serve as evidence that you understand the need your project hopes to address, and that other organizations working to fill that need have confidence in your institution’s ability to execute the project.

If you require a letter of support from an organization, request one well in advance and agree on a reasonable deadline for submitting one. Sending a copy of the RFP to the partner organization can help them write a letter tailored to the grant in question, and give them some direction on what needs to be included. It might also be helpful to schedule a check-in a couple days before your agreed deadline for finishing the letter, to ensure that the letter is on schedule and answer any questions your partner organization might have.

An effective letter of support is brief and specific. They should not exceed one page in length. They describe the existing or intended partnership between the organizations, and it should describe what the partner organization will do to support your project. A letter of support should also explain your partner organization's typical activities and why they are a good partner for this project. Letters of support are especially important if you have a partnership with an organization that works with underrepresented or otherwise vulnerable people. In this case, the letter of support should detail what you and your partner organization will do to make sure your project is effective and culturally sensitive.


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    Materials and Resources to Integrate in Your Proposal

    Consider integrating NIH, NLM and NNLM resources within your project proposal.

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    Development of Training Materials

    • All awardees are required to share any data or training material resulting from funding. This information must be submitted to the funding Region.
    • In addition, recipients of funding are expected to use or adapt existing training materials before developing new materials. Consult with NNLM prior to developing materials.
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    A clear budget defines all costs related to project implementation including the funding source contribution and other contributors (in-kind support, matching funds).

    Allowable Costs

    • Funding requests may cover personnel time, registration and/or exhibit fees, travel and per diem (per diems are the only food costs allowed), communication costs, equipment, software, materials and supplies, reproduction of educational materials, and other costs as needed. Refer to the NIH Policy on Allowability of Costs/Activities.

    Unallowable Costs

    • Food for program attendees
    • Furniture
    • Promotional Items. It is HHS policy that appropriated funds not be used to pay for promotional items. Promotional items include, but are not limited to: clothing and commemorative items such as pens, mugs/cups, folders/folios, lanyards, and conference bags that are sometimes provided to visitors, employees, grantees, or conference attendees. Typically, items or tokens to be given to individuals are considered personal gifts for which appropriated funds may not be expended. More information is located at: HHS Policy on the Use of Appropriated Funds for Promotional Items.

    Fly America Act

    Federal travelers are required by 49 U.S.C. 40118, commonly referred to as the "Fly America Act," to use U.S. air carrier service for all air travel and cargo transportation services funded by the U.S. government. For more information, please see the policy on GSA.

    Creating a Budget Table

    During the award application process, please provide a basic table explaining how costs will be allocated. Provide a line item (e.g., Personnel, Materials and Supplies, Travel, etc.) and the approximate funding amount.

    Creating a Budget Justification

    For each Expenditure Category in your budget table, you must include a budget justification detailing how you reached the total cost. Here is an example budget justification:

    • Personnel: Cost for 2 instructors to provide 20 classes each in Mississippi to populations underrepresented in biomedical research / community groups / public librarians to provide 4 hour workshops on consumer health. $250 per class for 20 classes = $5,000.
    • Travel: GSA Travel Rates will be honored when traveling to teach throughout the Mississippi region. The cost breakdown is as follows:
      • Estimate hotels $110 per night for 20 nights, for overnight instruction = $2,200.
      • Per diem rate of $49.50 per day for 40 days of travel = $1,980
      • Mileage $0.575 per mile, estimated 80 miles per trip, 20 trips = $920
      • Total Travel = $5,100
    • Equipment:
      • Surface Pro X - Black, 8 GB, 128 GB $899, per 2 instructors = $1,798
      • Surface Pro X Keyboard $112 per 2 instructors = $224
      • Total Equipment = $2,022
    • Reproduction: Printing costs associated with handouts provided during training sessions. 20 classes, 25 attendees per class = $500
    • Supplies: Additional supplies to facilitate in-person class activities (markers, flip charts, flip easels, highlighters, notepads, pens, etc.) = $250
    • Indirect Costs: The library requests 10% for Modified Total Direct Costs, 10% of $12,872 = $1,288
    • Total Amount Requested: $14,160
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    An evaluation plan is an important part of a grant proposal.  It provides information to improve a project during development and implementation. It helps keep track of aspects of the project/program to measure its success. Some elements to include are:

    • Outcome Evaluation Plan (summary) – We you able to successfully meet the objectives? Takes place at the conclusion of the project. Include data you plan to collect, when, by whom and how the data will be used.
    • Process Evaluation Plan (formative) – How do you plan to make adjustment along the way if needed? This is an assessment tool to show you are keeping track of how things are progressing.
    • Data Collection Tools – Surveys, pre-post tests, client assessments, focus groups, observation by trained personnel, documentation of activity, anecdotes, physical measurements, logs, control/comparison groups.
    • Performance Measures – Compare what happened with what was expected. Validates if objectives are being met. Include number of participants, testimonials, observations, or photos.

    The NNLM Evaluation Center (NEC) has resources and guides to help you plan a community assessment, to assist with your proposal writing.

    The Evaluation Planning and Pathway resources presented here provide guidance and tools to effectively design and carry out an evaluation of your project.

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    Project Outcome Toolkit from the Public Library Association: Provides libraries with FREE access to quick and simple patron surveys, an easy-to-use survey management tool to collect their outcomes, custom reports and interactive data dashboards for analyzing the data, and various resources to help move libraries from implementing surveys to taking action using the results.

    Submitting an Application
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    Submitting an Application

    Now that you have a better understanding of what comprises a quality proposal, the next step is learning about the application submission process.

    NNLM's online applications system allows users to submit proposals for funding directly via the NNLM website. Please refer to the specific application instructions on each Request for Applications (RFA) for detailed requirements. After you have confirmed that your Regional Medical Library (RML) is using this method to accept proposals, review the system requirements below and watch our brief video tutorial to learn how to submit your application.

    System Requirements

    Before attempting to submit your application for funding in the NNLM online application system:

    1. Confirm that your institution is a NNLM Member with a NNLM Member record.
    2. Confirm that you (the applicant) have an NNLM user account.
      • You must be logged in to your NNLM user account to successfully submit an application.
      • If you are submitting an application on behalf of the Project Lead, the Project Lead must also have an NNLM user account prior to submission.
    3. Confirm that your NNLM user account is connected to the NNLM Member record for your institution.
      • To connect, fill in the “Organization” field on your NNLM user account using the autocomplete function. 
      • If you are submitting an application on behalf of the Project Lead, the Project Lead must also be connected to the NNLM Member record for your institution prior to submission.

    Please note: You cannot successfully submit an application without these components. If you have questions about these or any other system requirements, please contact your Regional Medical Library in advance of the application deadline.

    Submitting Your Proposal

    Once you have met the system requirements above, submit your proposal:

    • Make sure you are logged in to your NNLM user account.
    • The NNLM online application has no "save feature" to pause and return later, so it is recommended that you become familiar with all sections of the funding opportunity you are applying for, and prepare your materials in advance, before submitting your online application.
    • Click the "apply for this grant" button near the top of the funding opportunity page.
    • Fill out the fields, and hit "submit" at the end.

    Contact information for all Regional Medical Libraries

    Review and Selection of Proposals
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    Review and Selection of Proposals

    After developing and submitting an application for funding, you may be wondering how NNLM reviews project proposals, and what criteria will be used to score your application.


    After the application deadline, your project proposal will be reviewed by the staff of the funding Region, Office or Center (ROC), and/or external reviewers who are selected by the ROC. The reviewers will answer a series of questions on a scale of 1-5 (poor, fair, good, very good, excellent).


    The following criteria is used for evaluating your proposal:

    • Significance: Does the proposed program make a significant contribution to the mission of NNLM? Does the application explain the need for the project including demographic information about the target population or geographic area?
    • Methodology/Approach: Does the statement show the logic and feasibility of the technical approach to reaching the target group or community? Does the proposal include a timeline or implementation schedule for major events and activities? Does the program specify what NLM resources or NNLM national initiatives will be promoted and how they will be utilized throughout the project?
    • Evaluation: Is there an evaluation plan? Does the plan make sense given the goals and objectives?
    • Project Staff: Does the application clearly outline the qualifications, roles and time commitment of the project staff?
    • Budget: Is the proposed budget within funding limits? Is the budget justification sound?
    • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Does the project promote diversity, equity and inclusion or is the applicant a first-time applicant within the five-year funding period?
      • NIH-designated U.S. health disparity populations include Blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, underserved rural populations, individuals with a physical or mental disability, sexual and gender minorities, individuals under 18 or over 65, and individuals with less than a high school degree.

    Reviewers also are given the opportunity to comment on strengths and weaknesses of the proposal.


    The following are exemplary samples from project proposals, corresponding to each criteria section:


    Reviewers will score applications using a standardized scorecard pertaining to the award type. If further clarification is needed, the applicant is given a period of time to submit more information.



    After the application proposal is scored, the reviewers submit final recommendations to the Associate/Executive Director of the ROC. All applicants will receive a notification of their award status.

    If your project is accepted, you will work with the ROC and complete the necessary paperwork to execute a contract with the sponsoring university. You will be asked to become familiar with NNLM's Guidelines for Award requirements and/or meet with an ROC staff member to review the requirements.

    If your project is not accepted, you can request a consultation with your ROC to improve your proposal for future funding opportunities.

    Funding Beyond NNLM
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    Funding Beyond NNLM

    Depending on the scope of your project and its expected budget, there might be many appropriate funding sources. These can include federal agencies, foundations and private organizations, or other resources.

    Download the Choosing a Funding Source guide (PDF) to help you when investigating funding sources.

    Federal Agencies

    One place to start looking are federal agencies. There are many federal agencies that fund projects related to health librarianship and health literacy:

    • Grants.Gov
      One-stop shopping for information on applying for grants at all federal agencies.

    • Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
      The mission of IMLS is to advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development.

    • National Library of Medicine 
      Grants are available for fundamental and applied research in biomedical informatics and data science.

    • National Science Foundation (NSF): Find Funding
      The National Science Foundation funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering.

    • Office of Minority Health (OMH): Funding
      The Office of Minority Health provides support to agencies and organizations in the public and private sectors to eliminate health disparities among racial and ethnic minority populations. These entities include state offices of minority health and health equity; community and faith-based organizations, institutions of higher education; tribes and tribal organizations; and other scientific and research organizations dedicated to improving the health of these targeted groups.” The Knowledge Center provides additional no-cost services, such as funding searches for to non-profit organizations with 503-c status, faith-based organizations, universities, hospitals/medical centers, local/county departments, researchers and students.

    Foundations and Private Organizations

    Many foundations and private organizations also provide grants. Even if the available grants are not specifically aimed at libraries, many of these funders are interested in projects that support community health. Just be sure that your project aligns well with the goals of the specific grant you’re applying for and the organization in general.

    If there is a specific health need in your community that your project will try to address, look for organizations that focus on that health need. A simple trick that sometimes works is to perform an internet search for ____ Association, filling in the health need you’re interested in.

    You can also look for state/territorial and local organizations that address this health need. They might offer grant opportunities, or they might direct you to other organizations that do.

    Local Funding

    Local funding sources can also be important to investigate, but it might require more effort to identify them. Sometimes, the best way to find local funding sources is to ask people in your community who are already working on the need your project will address. If there are people or groups who have worked on similar projects or with similar populations, ask if they know of any local funding opportunities. A community business network, such as a chamber of commerce, might also have leads on local businesses or foundations that offer grants.

    One advantage of applying for funds from a local organization is that there is often less competition than for a grant that seeks applicants nationwide. Some of these grants require that your project specifically benefit people living in the town, city, or county where the funder is located, so ensure that your project has the same geographic scope as the grant before applying.

    Other Resources

    • Rural Health Information Hub: Funding
      Summaries of the latest and ongoing funding and opportunities for rural communities, including federal, state, and foundation opportunities

    • Philanthropy News Digest from Candid.org
      Philanthropy News Digest publishes Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and notices of awards as a free service for U.S.-based nonprofit and grant making organizations. Candid.org (formerly Foundation Center and GuideStar) is a 501c3 non-profit organization offering subscription-based data tools on nonprofits, foundations, and grants

    • Library Grants: Blog
      Postings of grant opportunities specifically for libraries; includes grants of interest to community organizations as well. Authored by Stephanie Gerding, MSLIS