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NOFO 101

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The follow is an excerpt from the Student Philanthropy Board Handbook regarding NOFOs.



What is a NOFO?


The NOFO is a document that tells non-profit organizations that there is grant money available and explains what the requirements are to be eligible for the money.  After the NOFO is issued, non-profit organizations respond, following the instructions in the NOFO, with proposals that describe how they would use the grant money in their programs. The SPB reviews all of the proposals to decide which one best meets the requirements of the NOFO. The organization with the winning proposal will be issued the grant according to the terms established by the LLS grant and the LLS Coordinating Committee.


Choosing a Topic

Choosing an appropriate NOFO topic is crucial to avoid problems when drafting the NOFO text.

A NOFO should address a critical need in the community. Some critical needs are homelessness, hunger, poverty, low graduation rates, and violence, but you are not restricted to these areas. A good way to find out the current critical needs of the community is by looking at local newspapers. Ask, “What is the problem that this article is addressing?”


Once you have identified a critical need, look at ways that that problem can be alleviated within the restrictions of the LLS grant. This is a brainstorming step, so drawing diagrams or making lists can be helpful.

  • Critical Need > Focus on one aspect > How can we help/what would a program look like?

  • Elderly needs > Elderly aren’t connected with family > Help them use technology to connect with others
  • Decreased Hurricane Preparedness > Mobile home residents are at risk > Educate mobile home residents about hurricane preparedness


Considerations from Dr. Morgan Gresham’s Fall 2009 Technical Writing Student Philanthropy Board:


“Our SPB chose student-based mentoring programs that focused on 8th through12th grade students. Each team member was assigned the task of researching and preparing a report on the specific area of social concern. From these reports students engaged in an exchange of information to narrow the topic to either mentoring or academic improvement. These two issues were joined to create a cohesive board vision and to maintain an appropriately-sized audience among organizations. Through an online and in person meetings, our team created a useful dialogue from which it became possible to reach a workable consensus.”

  • Carefully selecting away issues requires careful consideration of ethical, practical, and academic limitations.
  • What areas have previous SPBs addressed?  What sets us apart?
  • Are there any organizations in our area that can address this need?
  • Will this issue be impacted effectively by the amount being awarded?
  • Can the effects of the grant on this topic be measured accurately?
  • Will grant funding be linked to sustainability?
  • Is this topic so broad that the board will receive too many proposals?
  • Is this topic so narrow that the board will receive too few proposals?
  • What topics does our professor have expertise in?
  • What topics do our students and board members have expertise in? (Be sure to note any ethical concerns or conflicts of interest right away.)



There are two different stages of research when working on a NOFO and it can be helpful to assign certain board members to research.  Initial research is done to discover a critical need in the community.  Secondary research is done once the team identifies the critical need they want to address.



  • Initial research can consist of reading local newspapers to find an area of critical need in the community. Although other research is appropriate, it is important to be able to justify what a need is critical in Hillsborough and/or Pinellas counties. Local news focuses almost exclusively on the needs of the area, so it facilitates the localization of a topic.
  • Secondary research is performed after a critical need has been identified.  This research helps identify and focus the NOFO towards a specific problem within the community with the critical need.  Scholarly journals help provide evidence for the team's argument and the NOFO's problem statement. A good resource are the e-journals and databases on the USFSP library website (http://www.nelson.usf.edu/). Reference librarians can help you with research, but appointments with them must be made two weeks in advance, so it would be beneficial for the researcher(s) on the SPB to schedule a session early.


Writing the NOFO


The NOFO is written by a team of students so it is important to consider aspects of team writing when drafting the document.


  • NOFO Style
    The NOFO is written in clear, concise language that gives non-profits a good understanding of the grant's requirements. Watch out for unclear words, lengthy descriptions, and informal tone. This document is being written for non-profit organizations as a formal USFSP communication and should be professional, clear and a good representation of USF St. Petersburg.
  • NOFO Structure
    The NOFO is written following a strict template designed by the LLS Coordinating Committee.  A sample NOFO is included in Appendix G.
  • Problem Statement

The Problem Statement is the main body of the NOFO. It describes what type of proposals the SPB is looking for, how the board decided on that topic, and how they will evaluate potential proposals.  

There are two editable sections in the Problem Statement.  


1) The first section states the topic for the NOFO. This is usually the first part a SPB will fill out as it states the problem simply and concisely. It is helpful to look at previous NOFOs for examples of how the sentence should be constructed. Usually, the sentence states the problem that the SPB is addressing and then the method by which they want to help that problem.
2) The second section describes how the SPB picked the topic that they are addressing. In this section, the SPB must justify each requirement in the NOFO and give any background information necessary to understand the issue.  Typically, this takes a half to full page of text.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


  1. How should we consider the previous NOFOs when choosing an issue?
    SPBs can look to previous NOFOs for ideas, but each SPB should identify a different critical need to target in their NOFO.

  2. Does electronic writing media mean email?
    Yes.  It also includes work done on Blackboard, blogs, Google sites, wikis, etc.

  3. How do you learn to use electronic writing tools?
    Most people experiment or use the expertise of peers and instructors.  You may also take introductory courses that assist with electronic writing tools and/or use online tutorials.

  4. What may we consider as a board when trying to narrow our community focus to a specific issue?
    Research your critical need to see what the main issues are and to specify your topic focus. 

    Refer to the "Conducting Meetings/Voting" section for the weighted voting method to help narrow your critical needs.

  5. How do we format the proposal?
    To be clear, the SPB only writes the NOFO, not the proposal. A proposal is a response from a non-profit organization to a NOFO that the SPB must evaluate.  The NOFO format is dictated by the LLS Coordinating Committee.  It has stringent guidelines.  A NOFO template is provided in
    The Appendix.

  6. Will we see an example of a grant application from previous years?
    Yes, you will be able to view the award-winning proposals from previous semesters. The instructor can provide these examples. The instructor will also provide examples of previous NOFOs.
  7. How much should our group members be getting involved with the community outside of our agencies we already chose?
    To be clear, the SPB does not choose a non-profit agency during the NOFO writing phase of class.  The SPB chooses a critical need in the community.  The SPB’s primary involvement comes through research of the NOFO topic.  The SPB does not directly get involved with non-profit agencies.  Only after proposals are received and evaluated does an SPB “choose” an agency.

  8. Will there be further information regarding guidelines to help the groups evaluate proposals?
    Yes.  Your group will create a scoring guide for incoming proposals in response to your NOFO. An example of a scoring guide is available in
    The Appendix.

see also


Examples - previous NOFOs and proposals

Comments (1)

Ehle so fly said

at 4:59 pm on Oct 27, 2010

this will deffinatley help, thanks Boda!

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