Updated: Jul 20, 2022
There are lots of elements of grant writing that can seem mysterious. Letters of inquiry (LOIs), sometimes called letters of intent or interest, tend to be one of those elements that cause stress for new grant writers.
Often, grant-makers request that nonprofits submit a letter before sending a full proposal for review. It's their way of screening applicants, often in place of receiving phone calls or emails. In some cases, these foundations may include several review committee members who are decision-makers, making it hard for one individual to provide the necessary feedback on behalf of all the members on a phone call or email exchange.
In short, a letter of inquiry is a 1-2 page document on your nonprofit's letterhead requesting an invitation to submit a full proposal to a grant-making foundation for review. Below are 6 helpful tips for drafting a high quality letter that inspires a grant-maker to want more (i.e. your full grant proposal).
Always address your letter to a person. Do your homework. Dig into those IRS Form 990s if you need to, but make sure you address your letter to a specific human being. Using "Dear sir or madam" or "Dear committee members" should be your last resort. Can't find it anywhere? Call the foundation and ask to whom you should address the letter.
Include an attention-getting opener. Nothing reads more boring than "XYZ Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Anytown, USA." Snooze. Remember you're not filling out a form. You've been given the opportunity to inspire and captivate your reader. Find a client story that perfectly illustrates your mission and paint a picture of your mission and your programs in the first paragraph. The men and women reading these letters may have read hundreds by the time they get to yours. Wake them up. Grab them in your opening paragraph.
Don't get bogged down in your history and data. Save some information for your full proposal. Draft a couple of paragraphs that show the need and how your organization uniquely meets that need with your programs. Then include the hook: "But, if we had $XX,XXX, we could do so much more."
Make it relevant. Don't just tell the foundation who you are and what you need. Blatantly state how your need matches that foundation's specific funding priorities. Why would they be a good partner for your nonprofit? Make a relevant connection that continues to inspire them. Use inclusive language: "Together, we continue to ensure (insert your mission that matches their interests here)."
Ask them, don't tell them. You're not sending this letter as a "Save the Date" for your future full proposal. You're sending this letter to determine the foundation's interest in reviewing that proposal. If they are interested, you'll receive an invitation to submit. In your letter, share how honored you'd be to receive an invitation to submit a full request if the foundation deems your project a match for its funding priorities this year. There should be no implied expectation of that invitation at this point.
Close with Contact. Always include your contact information in the closing paragraph. State that you would be happy to answer any questions and make it easy for them to contact you via email or phone. They shouldn't have to dig for it; if they do, they may be tempted to move on to the next letter.
BONUS: Work backward. One of the most effective ways I've found to draft high-quality letters of intent is to work backward from your grant narrative. Once you've drafted that full proposal, use the content to pull together your LOI, summarizing some of the details and reworking some of the wording. These documents should complement each other, and working backward will save you time and ensure that the message in both documents is the same.
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