More and more grantmakers are asking grantseekers to submit a brief letter of inquiry or intent (LOI) to screen before allowing them to submit a full proposal. Making a strong and concise case for why you are a good fit for their funding is the first critical step to getting a foundation grant.
Before starting an LOI, I research the funder’s guidelines to make sure my organization is eligible and that their priorities and interests are a good match. If the funder does not have a website, I often take look at their IRS 990 tax return to see what other types of organizations have been funded before and in what locations. I also check to make sure if there are other suggested steps, such as first talking to a program officer as well as the requested LOI format. Some funders ask that you complete an online LOI, some have specific word or character restrictions, some want a condensed version of proposal, and others ask for more open-ended letters or emails. Almost all, however, will want some sort of summary of the project that includes an explanation of the need or problem, who will be served, and a description of the organization.
Since the core of a letter of inquiry is similar to a case statement for a fundraising campaign, answering the following questions can help your organization create both compelling letters of inquiry for grantmakers as well as hone an effective message for donors.
1. What is the need? State the problem or challenge you are addressing succinctly and precisely.
2. How will you address the need? Describe what your project, program or organization is and how it specifically addresses this need.
3. Why you? Explain why your organization is uniquely qualified to do this project and serve need.
4. What is the impact? Describe the expected results and benefits of this project.
Once you have a short summary “case statement” that answers those four questions, test it out in a few ways.
Go back to your prospective funder’s priorities. Do your stated need, strategies, and/or outcomes match what they want to fund? Make sure your LOI reflects this alignment with the funder’s interests.
Ask someone who is not directly involved with your project to read your summary. Does it pique their interest? Does it make sense to them? While you do need to make sure to include any other requested information, such as a budget and time frame, you need to make sure the program officer screening your LOI makes it past the first paragraph without glazing over.
If the funder has an online LOI with a maximum word and character count, keep the summary in mind when answering their questions within the space required. Never exceed the maximum!
This case statement can then have a number of uses – it can become part of your fundraising campaign justification, an “elevator speech” for your board members, and the basis for letters of inquiry and full proposals. — Linda Machida
This was the first blog by our new grantwriter Linda Machida. For more info on her experience with grants visit our About Us page.