Are you getting ready to submit a grant application to a foundation? Before you start, be sure to read through the foundation’s website for guidelines about the application process. Most foundations require the first contact to be in the form of a Letter of Inquiry or Letter of Intent (LOI). Some invite a phone call first to talk with a consultant about whether or not your project or program is a good fit with the grant maker’s philanthropic philosophies. Some agencies and foundations publish Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) on their websites and may require a Brief Proposal similar to an LOI before accepting a full proposal.
Purpose for Sending an LOI
Your LOI should demonstrate that your nonprofit’s goals and objectives closely match those of the grant maker. This will increase the likelihood that you will be invited to submit a full proposal. When you visit a grant maker’s website, you’ll notice that submission deadlines are separate for LOI’s and full proposals. If your LOI is accepted and you are invited to submit a full proposal, the entire process can take 6 – 8 months.
An LOI gives a funder an overview of what you are proposing. Your letter must create a connection between your business goals and the supporter’s priorities. The grant maker’s website will provide guidelines for your LOI, usually no longer than 2 – 3 pages and sometimes as short as one page. Due to space constraints, write clearly and concisely, touching briefly on each required component, but with sufficient detail to capture the reader’s interest.
Components of an LOI
Cover Sheet: This is a separate part of the application and includes your organization’s name, tax exempt status, address, City, County, State, zip code, Country, contact name and title, telephone, fax and email address.
Narrative: This critical section includes several of the same elements found in a proposal and gives an overview of who you are and what you want to do. It is crucial that you follow all the guidelines in the grant maker’s application. They know what they want to see in an LOI and where they want to see it. Some information may apply to more than one section of the narrative. Space constraints may require you to decide the most appropriate place to mention a specific item or issue.
Introduction: State the reason or purpose for your request and the amount of funding you are requesting. Most foundations require this information in the first paragraph of the LOI.
Organizational Background: Include your purpose, mission and vision statements. Highlight the date your organization was formed, by whom and why. This is a good place to mention a few of your successes. Feel free to brag a bit!
Statement of Need: Describe the problem(s) and target population. Who do you serve and what is the need? Include statistics and give examples to show how you will address these needs. It’s a good idea to substitute the words ‘challenge’ or ‘opportunity’ for ‘problems.’
Description of the Project or Program: Capture the essence of your request for funding here!
Goals and Objectives: Be sure to describe how your request complies with the foundation’s goals, objectives and purpose. Wherever possible, use the same language and/or terminology found on the grant maker’s website or in the guidelines to tie together your goals and theirs. You may be asked for both short term and long term goals. Remember, objectives support your goals and must be measurable.
Solutions: Discuss the problems to be solved and the projected outcomes of your program or project, what you plan to accomplish and for whom. If applicable, mention your association with other groups and show how successful completion of your program will affect the target population as well as the general community. Many foundations place a high priority on or even require that your organization be affiliated with or work closely with other groups.
Proposed Time Frame: Give beginning and ending dates of the grant period and list the activities that will help accomplish the purpose(s) of your grant request. Keep in mind the length of the foundation’s review process and when grants awarded when stating the starting date of your project or program.
Evaluation: Describe how you will measure the success of your program or project. Will you ask for feedback from the participants or ask them to complete a survey? Will you hold an event at the conclusion of your program or project that will show how effective you were in meeting your goals? Will you be creating a CD or a video to demonstrate how your goals were met? How and with whom will you share the results of your program? Be creative!
Budget and Financial Information
For project or program funding requests, you will need to submit both a project/program budget and a general operating budget. However, for general support requests, you will usually only need to submit a general operating budget that includes how your request fits the grant maker’s funding priorities (one sentence), total annual general operating budget, dates of your fiscal year, amount being requested from this particular grant maker, total grant amount needed from all sources of funding, and matching funds from other sources – committed and prospective
Remember – an LOI can open the door to an invitation to submit a full proposal. Be imaginative and persuasive. Use vivid imagery to paint a picture of what you plan to accomplish with the support of the organization. Demonstrate the urgency and the need. Convince your audience of the importance of your goals. Keep in mind that your letter needs to catch the reviewer’s attention and stand out from other applicants!Competition for funding is fierce. Make sure that the words and phrases you choose to use in your application make a strong, lasting impression on the individual who will be reviewing your application.