Simple Steps to Write an Executive Summary

by | May 22, 2023 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Research, Grant Writing

The executive summary is one of the most important parts of any grant proposal.


Think of your executive summary like a movie trailer. The executive summary sets the tone for your proposal, previews your proposed impact, highlights your organization’s expertise, and demonstrates how your work aligns with donors’ funding priorities.

That’s a LOT to accomplish in only a few words. That’s why we recommend taking the time to polish the executive summary for every grant proposal you submit.

Luckily, writing a great executive summary isn’t rocket science—though that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Since Funding for Good’s team has written hundreds of successful proposals, we thought we’d break down what it takes to write a winning executive summary.


What Is an Executive Summary?

Most nonprofit grant proposals open with a brief executive summary. In a few hundred words—2-4 paragraphs—an executive summary introduces and summarizes the overall grant application.

The executive summary should also inspire donors to continue reading the proposal. This means that the executive summary has a dual purpose. It serves as both an informational and an inspirational tool.


How to Write an Effective Executive Summary

Many nonprofit grant-seekers approach writing an executive summary in one of two ways:

  1. Writing lofty yet vague text that conveys few concrete details.
  2. Squishing in as many facts as possible.

Neither of these approaches is ideal—and can turn off donors.

An executive summary should be clear, concise, and persuasive and include the following:
  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • A description of your problem
  • A few key descriptors of your program/project
  • What makes your program/project extraordinary
  • How your organization/program/project is uniquely positioned

Example of an Executive Summary

Let’s look at an example of a nonprofit executive summary in action. Below is an executive summary that we wrote several years ago for a successful grant proposal.

Of course, reading an executive summary is different than writing one. So, to help you write an effective executive summary, let’s break down our example line-by-line.

Deconstructing a Successful Executive Summary

Paragraph One

In the first paragraph, the first sentence includes the mission statement of the organization.

well-written mission statement should describe who you are, what you do, and how you do it. If your mission statement isn’t stellar yet, then it might be time to consider a strategic planning process for your nonprofit.

 The second sentence describes what is being requested, including a dollar amount.

 The third sentence previews how the program or project is unique.

 BOOM! First paragraph done!


Paragraph Two

Next, you can strip the second paragraph down to basics—and essentially fill in the blanks.

{Program/Project Name} was designed in {Month Year} {to do what?}. Since its inception, the program/project has {grown, expanded, served, etc. who/what?}. Due to {what reason} we have a need for {what is your need for}, but lack funding to provide {it, them, etc.}. {Program/Project Name} strives to {do what} of {for whom} through {list services you provide}.

TA-DA! Second paragraph done!


Paragraph Three

The third and final paragraph indicates how your program/project is extraordinary (this needs to be quantitative/measurable) and includes data and statistics to support the claim.


Recommended Writing Process

As with most elements of grant proposals, we recommend starting with content first before worrying about language. Your first step is gathering information to cover each of the key elements. For example:

  • Do you have a concise description of your organization’s mission?
  • Can you describe the problem you are trying to solve?
  • Are you clear on what makes your organization uniquely situated to solve this problem?

An executive summary can be written before or after you have drafted the full grant proposal. In most cases, however, you will want to write the executive summary after you have written the rest of the proposal. This way, the information you need will already be at your fingertips.

In some cases, though, writing the executive summary first can help you understand how to frame the rest of your proposal for a specific donor audience. This may be the case if you’re adapting an existing grant proposal or program description for a new donor.


Bonus Executive Summary Tips

Remember, an executive summary needs to combine information and inspiration.

  • As you’re revising, be sure to think about the interests of your audience—and mention how your proposed work matches those priorities.
  • If you have great quotes from letters of support, client recommendations, incredible statistics, or other extremely compelling data, you should include a couple of snippets. Just remember not to go overboard. You have the rest of the grant proposal narrative to describe your impact.
  • Follow up the last paragraph by encouraging donors to consider assisting, partnering, or collaborating with you to accomplish your goal or fill a critical gap.

Now it’s time to get writing!

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