Department of Nutrition

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The Grant Game: Problem Statement

How do you begin to get funding for your project or research? Simple … write a proposal to a funding agency! However, the grant game is not quite as simple as that. It is highly competitive and there are limited funds available. Therefore, you must submit a good proposal that is well-written and of interest to the prospective funding agency. In this section, you will learn what a proposal is and the six parts that make it complete.  What is a proposal?

A Proposal is a plan that requires proof and deals with people problems. People problems are the overriding focus for proposal development.

A proposal is a plan that requires proof. A proposal is really nothing more than a planning document. A planning document has six basic parts:

  • Mission Statement
  • Assessment
  • Problem Statement
  • Objectives
  • Methodology
  • Evaluation

Mission Statement

Look at each section of a planning document proposal separately. The first part of any planning document is a statement of an agency’s Mission. The Mission Statement tells your reader who you are and what you are about. If you are an educational institution, your mission statement will address educational goals. If you are a nutrition program, your mission statement will address nutritional goals.

Your proposal should only deal with topics related to your agency’s mission. If your agency’s mission is to provide agency program education for the elderly, you have no business writing proposals dealing with day care center children.
Remember there are 6 parts of a planning document. See if you can name one?


Now look at the second part of a plan — the Assessment. This is the section where you measure what the needs are and how well your agency is meeting the needs. It identifies the gaps in addressing needs. If your mission is to provide a specified service to everyone in the region, how can you assess to what extent everyone has received the specified service? The key to a good assessment section is data. Think numbers! Be sure to measure your progress toward meeting your needs.

How about an example… If your mission is to provide a specified service to everyone in the region, document that in 1999 the Agency Services Program provided the specified service to ________ people.

Now, do you recall the earlier section on the Proposal Introduction? We talked about establishing credibility. One way to establish credibility is to cite statistics regarding how well you do what you do. These same statistics will help you identify problem areas! In effect, statistics can do two jobs for you….

  1. Help you establish credibility
  2. Help you identify a problem area

Once you’ve outlined your mission and used statistics to establish credibility and identify a problem area, you are ready to begin the next section of a planning document.

Problem Statement

The third part of a planning document is the Statement of the Problem. We identified the problem in the Assessment Section by using statistics. Do not forget —– Foundations and agencies are interested in people problems — not the problems of your agency. Be sure to couch your problem statement in terms of people problems. In our example, we might say the problem is that the Agency Services Program only reached ___% of the people in need, leaving ___% with unmet needs.

The fourth part of a planning document is the Statement of Objectives. The fifth part of a planning document is your plan or Methodology for solving problems you’ve identified. The plan for correcting the problem is your Proposal, because a Proposal is a planning document. The sixth part of a proposal is your evaluation. Here you document how well your project went and how you will answer the question: “How well did you meet your objectives?

Now, go back and look at an example of the six sections of a planning document. This example will help you logically move from the Introduction section of the proposal to the Methods section.

  • Mission:  know what you are about. (Teaching new clients about agency services)
  • Assessment:  how well are the needs being met? (Reaching 50% of the potential clients)
  • Problem:  what is the problem? (We need more money, because we don’t have the funds to reach all the potential clients)

Is that the best way to word your problem statement?
Remember to couch your problem in people-oriented terms. Like this problem:

“Half the potential clients in our target area don’t have the information they need to access the specified service.”

See how the problem is now related to people, and not to your organization’s lack of money.

Now, we can go to the fourth part of a planning document–the Statement of the Objectives. Objectives describe what is to be achieved.

By 2002, 100% of the potential clients in the district will be able to access the specified service.

Then, the fifth part is the Methodology, which describes how your objectives will be achieved.

Last, but very important, is the Evaluation, which describes how well you meet your objectives. In your proposal show how you will collect data so you can document what percent of the potential clients in the district are able to access the specified service.

Let’s recap. A proposal is a plan that requires proof and deals with people problems. If you carry your written dialogue through the six steps required in a planning document, your document will tell your reader:

  1. Who/what you are;
  2. How successful you are at doing what you do;
  3. What the problem is and what additional help is needed;
  4. What your objectives are;
  5. How you plan to go about meeting your objectives and solving your problem;
  6. How you will document how well you met your objectives and solved the problem.

Steps 1 and 2 above are usually handled in the Introduction section of your proposal.
Step 3 is your Statement of the Problem section in your proposal.

Step 4 is your Objectives section.

Step 5 is your Methodology section.

Step 6 is your Evaluation section.

A proposal is a plan that deals with people problems. In it you clearly outline the problem and how it will be resolved. The six parts of a proposal are:

  1. Mission Statement: Identify who you are and what your agency does
  2. Assessment: Identify people’s needs using data
  3. Problem Statement: State the people problem
  4. Objectives: State what the people can achieve, or the project’s outcomes
  5. Methodology: Outline how you will resolve the people problem
  6. Evaluation: Document how you will measure success or attainment of the objectives

This plan is your proposal. It is your tool for showing the funding agency that your project or research should be funded. With it in hand, you’re ready to play the grant game! In the next section Objectives will be discussed more fully.



This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number T79MC09805, Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Health Nutrition, $223,929, 50% funded by the University of Tennessee, Department of Nutrition. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.

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