Beef Wellington

Writing a Grant is Like Preparing Beef Wellington

A great meal can be as complex to prepare as Beef Wellington, or as simple as roasted chicken. The same is true of writing a winning grant proposal. The grant writer, like the chef, must focus on ingredients, preparation, and presentation. For an epicurean presentation of Beef Wellington, a master chef with experience should be in charge. He or she will know the best ingredients to include, and how much time and creativity it will take to prepare the duxelles, beef, and the puff pastry. This effort culminates in the presentation, which should be a work of art. Equally, we see RO1, National Resource Center, and Title III grants that are led by experienced principal investigators. These successful grantees understand what is needed to compile the complicated ingredients, prepare, and present the finished product to reviewers. Simpler recipes such a roasted chicken on the other hand, still need the proficiency of a master chef who may give advice on how best to make a simple recipe look like an expert presentation. In this case, Thomas Keller – probably the best American chef of our time – came up with the best recipe for roasted chicken. The preparation required less time, fewer ingredients, and less fanfare, but the ultimate presentation was still a work of art. Similarly some foundation grants, NIH mentored K-awards, and training grants necessitate the advice of a seasoned grant writer. He or she knows that the donor is expecting excellence, resourcefulness, and a keen awareness on how best to assure outcomes that make a difference.


  1. Understanding the Request for Proposal (RFP)
  2. Excellent match between the request and the donor’s priorities
  3. Answering the “so what” question
  4. Simple prose and white space on the paper
  5. Examples of the approach
  6. Clearly written abstract
  7. Explanation on what is needed to fill the gap
  8. Methods to ensure the strategy works
  9. The grand finale: the significance of the results


Read the entire RFP, from top to bottom. Once you clearly understand the directions that the donor provides in the RFP, you can begin to put the pieces of the proposal together. You will use the same type of language given in the application; doing so makes your proposal more desirable to the donor. Double check that you and your organization are eligible for the grant you are seeking, and that your project or research aligns with the donor’s mission. This makes certain that the match is made between yourself and the donor, and preparation of the pieces can begin. These segments will be the product of extensive research on your part to move in the right direction. The pieces are:

  1. Abstract – This will take careful preparation, since it is the most important part of the application. It is the first impression, the precise summary of the entire proposal, and the evidence that success is possible.
  2. Introduction – Present the problem or question to be addressed. The “so what” question for your project or research must be apparent, and should begin or lead into the narrative.
  3. Need Statement/Statement of Significance – This is where the convincing argument for the project takes place. You will tell your impressive story, citing research and examples with enthusiasm and clarity. Demonstrate that you have done your homework, defined your terms, developed your reasoning, and backed it up with examples.
  4. Plan of Operation/Methodology – Logic and a tightly structured plan prevail here. This is the heart of the proposal, and it consists of the goal or hypothesis, objectives or specific aims, and activities. Each segment will clearly illustrate the way your proposal will unfold. The evaluation follows, which should be clearly outlined in the incremental measurements of each activity – and these will be used to ensure your success in meting your goal.
  5. Significance of Results – In research proposals, this will be the way in which your hypothesis has been proven – or in the case of project grants – how your outcomes unfolded. This will be the section that shows the ultimate success of your proposal.


Your presentation should be memorable. Don’t assume that the reviewers will overlook sloppiness because your idea is phenomenal. You can achieve a superior presentation with images, graphs, and Gantt charts, which are easy to understand and remember. Most importantly, if your proposal will have a significant impact, it should be stated as such. For instance, provide examples of how your work will make a difference, change the field, save lives, or set the stage for what will change. Whether the presentation necessitates the elegance of a fine dining restaurant or the simplicity of a well-prepared meal at home, the true mark of success lies in what was expected and what has been delivered in an impressive manner.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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