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
- Planning Resources
- Submitting a Proposal
- Review and Selection of Proposals
- Beyond NNLM
Welcome to the NNLM Proposal Writing Toolkit!
The Proposal Writing Toolkit is a guide to help NNLM Network Members apply for funding through each of the Regional Medical Libraries, Offices, and Centers. Network membership is free! See below for eligibility guidelines and click on each tab for assistance on writing and submitting your proposal.
How many applications will be funded?
The number of applications chosen for funding depends on how many quality applications are received, the budget amounts requested, and the number of awards available from the Region, Office, or Center. Refer to the specific Request for Applications (RFA) for more details.
Who can I contact with additional questions?
If you have additional questions after reading through the Request for Applications (RFA) and this guide, please request a consultation with NNLM staff. You will receive a response within 3 business days.
If my organization has received funding in the past, can we reapply?
Yes. Please note that organizations that have not been funded since May 2021 will receive priority if there are more quality applications then available funds. Priority may also be given to more recent subawardees who are applying for a different type of award than previously received.
Previous awardees that did not comply with award requirements will not be funded at the discretion of the Associate/Executive Director.
Our application was not accepted last year, can I reapply?
Yes. Make sure that any reviewer concerns were addressed. Read the Request for Applications (RFA), instructions, and review criteria carefully, as they may have changed since last year.
If you have concerns about reapplying or about your application, you can request a consultation to discuss it with the Region, Office, or Center.
Who is eligible to apply for funding?
Any NNLM member organization is eligible for funding opportunities in their region, and any organization in the United States that has health information access and/or data as part of its work is eligible to become an NNLM organizational member.
Members include public libraries, community colleges, health departments, community-based organizations, clinics, associations, K-12 schools, and more. Every organizational member has at least one ‘liaison’ and individuals with that status will be able to submit an application on behalf of the organization.
Can individuals apply for funding?
Consult with your Regional Medical Library (RML) if you are not associated with an NNLM member organization. There may be specific professional development opportunities for which you are eligible to apply as an individual.
If you are interested in other grant types, such as for an outreach project, you would need to either become affiliated with a NNLM member organization or partner with one.
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.
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:
- Consider the NNLM Initiative and Priority Areas
- Save time by integrating content from the NNLM Class Catalog, which includes training materials for all of our developed classes.
NNLM award opportunities change throughout the cooperative agreement period. If you don’t see a specific award type, contact your Region, Office or Center to discuss the project and determine what current awards may be comparable to previous offerings. 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.
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.
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:
- Envisioning Your Grant Proposal (PDF)
- Preparing to Write a Proposal (PDF)
- NNLM Grants and Proposal Writing Guidance (PDF)
Free Grants and Proposal Writing Tips and Tutorials Beyond NNLM
- Applying for a Grant: the General Approach from Community Toolbox, Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas
- Grant Writing Basics blog posts from Grants.gov Community Blog
- Introduction to Proposal Writing: free, self-paced learning from the Candid Foundation Center
- Tips for a Successful Grant Application from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Writing a Grant from Community Toolbox, Center for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas
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.
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:
- How to Deconstruct an RFP (North Dakota State University)
- How to Deconstruct a Funding Opportunity Announcement (University of Utah)
- How to Deconstruct a Funding Opportunity Announcement (Carthage University)
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.
Resources to Help Plan Your Project
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.
- National Center for Health Data Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- Reports and Data Resources from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
- Census Data from the U.S. Census Bureau
- State Health Facts from the Kaiser Family Foundation
- County Health Rankings & Roadmaps from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Rural Health Information Hub (RHIHUB), supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
- City Health Dashboard from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine Department of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
The NNLM Evaluation Center (NEC) has resources and guides to help you plan a community assessment, to assist with your proposal writing.
- 5 Steps to an Evaluation: provides guidance and tools to effectively design and carry out an evaluation of your project. It also includes 4 unique pathways for common populations:
Consider a partner or collaborator for your project to help enhance the outcomes of your project.
- Browse the NNLM Membership Directory to find other Institutions near you that provide health information resources and services.
- Browse the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps Partner Center.
- Request a consultation with NNLM to brainstorm possible ideas for network member partnerships.
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.
Materials and Resources to Integrate in Your Proposal
Consider integrating NIH, NLM and NNLM resources within your project proposal.
Development of Training Materials
- Before developing new training materials, we recommend you review and adapt NNLM Training materials. Please visit our class catalog and our informational materials to integrate into your proposal first.
- 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.
Scope of Funding
NNLM Regions, Offices and Centers (ROCs) are awarded Cooperative Agreements with the National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health. Under these Cooperative Agreements, NNLM funds projects tied to its mission. If funded, your institution will sign a Cost Reimbursement Research Sub-award Agreement with the ROC’s sponsoring institution.
NNLM primarily funds information outreach and professional development. All projects should include direct outreach activities, such as training, health fairs, or programs for the public.
Applicants do not need to apply for the maximum amount listed for the award. Ask for the amount that is needed to fulfill the project objectives.
A clear budget defines all costs related to project implementation including the funding source contribution and other contributors (in-kind support, matching funds).
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.
- Sample Budget
- Budget Spreadsheet template: use this template to create your budget and submit it with your application.
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
- 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
You may use NNLM funds to pay for:
- Transportation and accommodation including per diem NOTE: Per diems are the only food costs allowed. 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.
- Conference and event fees
- Consulting services
- Equipment, supplies, communications, and other things that are necessary to support the project or activity
- Indirect costs (IDC) or Facilities and Administration (F&A) fees are allowed. They are factored into the total budget for the project and cannot exceed the maximum amount listed for the award.
NNLM funding may not be used to purchase:
- Entertainment, food, and alcohol
- Intellectual Properties, such as copyrights or patents
- Furniture or general-use real estate
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- 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.
Refer to the NIH Policy on Allowability of Costs/Activities to learn what other items may be limited or prohibited.
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.
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.
Regional Medical Libraries and the All of Us Program Center
Officially submitting your proposal requires several steps related to your account and your institution's network membership. We recommend consulting with your Regional Medical Library or Center requesting applications two weeks in advance of the application deadline to ensure successful submission.
Where can I find the deadline for an application?
Specific due dates and deadlines are listed on the Request for Applications.
Are there any requirements for submitting an online application?
Yes. Refer to our system requirements below.
Submitting a Proposal
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.
Before attempting to submit your application for funding in the NNLM online application system:
- Confirm that your institution is a NNLM Member with a NNLM Member record.
- If your institution is not a NNLM Member, submit an application for Membership at least 3 weeks prior to the funding deadline. Membership is not automatic. A Member record is required to successfully submit an application.
- Not sure if your institution is a Member or has a Member record? Search the NNLM Membership Directory or contact your Regional Medical Library
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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 Review Committee is made up of Network members who represent the Region; public libraries, a variety of health science libraries, and community organizations.
Applications over $50,000 are subject to additional review by the National Library of Medicine.
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.
Human Subjects Research
Unlike most NIH funding, NNLM typically does not support human subjects research for clinical intervention.
According to Title 45, Code of Federal Regulations 46, a human subject is "a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research:
- Obtains information or biospecimens through intervention or interaction with the individual, and uses, studies, or analyzes the information or biospecimens; or
- Obtains, uses, studies, analyzes, or generates identifiable private information or identifiable biospecimens."
Under Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, an Institutional Review Board (IRB) is an appropriately constituted group that has been formally designated to review and monitor biomedical research involving human subjects. In accordance with FDA regulations, an IRB has the authority to approve, require modifications in (to secure approval), or disapprove research. This group review serves an important role in the protection of the rights and welfare of human research subjects. For more detailed information on IRBs, see the IRB Frequently Asked Questions.
If you are unsure if your project meets human subjects research criteria:
- Use NIH’s Human Subjects Research infographic for examples of projects that involve human subjects research
- Use NIH’s Exempt Human Subjects Research Infographic to learn about exemptions from these federal regulations
- Use the NIH decision tool to help determine if your project constitutes human subjects research
Depending on the scope of your project and its expected budget, there might be many appropriate funding sources beyond NNLM. These can include federal agencies, foundations and private organizations, or other resources. Use the Choosing a Funding Source guide (PDF) to help when investigating funding sources.
There are many federal agencies that fund projects related to health librarianship and health literacy:
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 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.
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