This really should have been Tip # 1, because it is what i would call "The Cardinal Rule of Asking for Grants," but I am not the most organized person on the planet and do not always think in a linear fashion, so here you go:
Tip # 2 - Before writing one single word of your proposal, check out the foundation and the guidelines for the program you are applying to.
It seems like common sense, but I don't know how many times I have gotten full proposals from organizations, and they end up being ineligible or uncompetitive because they are something we don't fund. Or with their proposal they send us stuff that we specifically tell them not to send.
But it is so easy these days to find out information!
Just go to a search engine and type the name of the foundation. Chances are you can find their webpage. On their webpage you are likely to find information for grantseekers. And if you can't find their webpage, you can find it (or their other contact information) over at the Foundation Center's Foundation Finder.
Read the webpage thoroughly, check out all the links on it. Most of the time the guidelines will be spelled out there in back and white. For example the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a section titled "For Grantseekers" and it gives you all you need to know. Then, if you still have a question you can call them and ask.
It is really easy. It will save you time from writing a proposal that is doomed for failure. You can use that time instead to send out proposals to foundations that are a good fit.
Just read the guideline. Please?