If you’ve been in the fundraising business as long as I have, you’ve spent considerable time finding creative ways to prove your organization is a perfect match for prospective funders. Often I’ve been tempted to write “please just give us the money” in a grant application. Sweet and to the point, right? Obviously, you know that won’t get the results you’re seeking for your organization. Even when you've done an outstanding job of researching which funders you should approach for grants, it's difficult to be certain that your organization and a funder are a good fit.
There is an effective tool that you can use to get your foot in the door with a funder that won’t take nearly as many hours as writing a full-blown grant proposal.
It’s called the letter of inquiry (LOI) or letter of intent. These mini-proposals are a lot like trying out for a role in a play or movie. It's a quick way of finding out if you’re a good fit with a funder without investing a ton of time submitting their rigorous grant applications.
When grantmakers or foundations request an LOI, typically, they’re looking for a concise explanation of your organization or project that will make them eager to give you a grant. Some prospective funders may send your org an invitation to submit a full grant proposal after reviewing your well crafted LOI, while others might even find enough info from your pitch to render a funding decision. This means a great LOI might win you funding for your project more quickly than you expected.
Here are 6 great reasons you should master the skill of writing an LOI:
Many times a funder will request a letter of interest or letter of intent before a full proposal will be accepted from an applicant
They are commonly the first opportunity for you to make a great first impression and build relationships with grantmaking staff
An LOI gives a funder the chance to quickly review a project idea and determine alignment with their funding priorities, saving you both time if it’s not a fit
It gives key industry players a glimpse of your exciting new initiatives, increasing brand awareness
The LOI development process forces you and your organization to think ahead and realistically assess the organization's capabilities and plans
Submitting your LOI often puts you on the funders’ mailing list, ensuring you will receive any future addenda, changes, and modifications for that particular grant, including deadline changes
If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re starting to believe in the power of the LOI. Ready to start crafting your next great LOI? Keep reading to learn the building blocks you’ll want to incorporate.
Typical Elements of an LOI
The introduction acts as the executive summary. It usually includes the name of your organization, the requested amount, and a description of the project. You can also include the qualifications of project staff, a brief description of the evaluative methodology, and a timeline showing key milestones.
The organization description should be brief and emphasize the ability of your organization to address the stated need or problem. You should provide a short history and description of your current programs. Show a clear, direct connection between what you already do and what you want to do with the requested funding. You can expand on this in more detail if you are invited to submit a full proposal.
The needs statement has to convince the reader that there is an important, unmet need or problem that can be solved by your project. The needs statement should include a description of the target population and geographical area, meaningful statistical data (abbreviated), and several specific examples. Case studies are often used here.
The methodology should be appropriate to your needs statement and show a clear, logical, and attainable solution to the stated need. Briefly describe major activities, names and titles of key project staff, and your desired objectives. Logic models, though waning in popularity, could be useful in demonstrating your methodology. Similar to the organization description, this section will be presented in much greater detail when you go on to submit a full grant proposal.
Other Funding Sources
Other funding sources being approached for support of this project should be listed in a brief sentence or paragraph. You’ll want to tailor your list to prioritize any “peer funders” who may have geographic or programmatic similarities with the targeted funder.
The final summary repeats the intent of the project, offers to answer additional questions, and thanks the potential funder for their consideration.
Other Writing Tips
ALWAYS review a funder’s guidelines and priorities BEFORE you start writing
Typically LOIs should be no more than two pages
Do your research to make sure your project and the funder’s priorities match by looking at their most recent grantees
Organize your ideas by starting your writing with an outline
Be brief, yet compelling by using power words, storytelling, and leveraging data
Include attachments only if the funder asks for them, and be sure to follow all guidelines for attachments.
Believe me, if you can get really proficient at summarizing the great work your organization does you’ll find more doors opening than you thought possible.
Contact me at TB.com and tell your stories or ask your questions about LOIs. You can even book me to help you craft your next great LOI.
Want to learn more about developing award winning proposals and get insider secrets to how funders make decisions? Register for our upcoming webinar.