How to Write a Letter of Inquiry to a Foundation
What's a Letter Proposal and Why Do Foundations Like It?
Most foundations today prefer that you send a proposal letter (aka letter of inquiry - LOI) rather than a full grant proposal, especially when your nonprofit first approaches it for funding.
A letter of inquiry is a bit like auditioning for a part in a play. Why spend both your time and that of the funder if it turns out you're just not a good fit?
Even when you've done an excellent job of researching which foundations you should approach for funding, it's hard to be sure that your organization and that foundation is a good fit. The proposal letter can be another test of whether you and the funder are a good match.
From the foundation's viewpoint, It's just faster to make that first cut of possible funding ideas with a two to three-page letter rather than a full proposal package. Once the foundation decides that your project may be a good fit for its goals and funding priorities, it may ask you to send a full-blown proposal.
A letter of inquiry may be a lot easier for the nonprofit too. But, just as for an audition, you mustn't take an LOI for granted or just dash something off quickly. An LOI may be your best chance to make a good first impression.
What Should You Include in an LOI?
The proposal letter is very similar to a proposal except that it is short...a mini-proposal.
Proposal letters or LOIs are just one of several kinds of proposals a grant writer uses.
You might draw the elements of the LOI from a grant proposal that you have already written, even one that may be already partially funded. Or you could use the information you are in the process of putting together for a potential proposal.
Sending an LOI before you complete a proposal is a way to get valuable feedback that you can use to revise your proposal ideas.
Elements of a Typical Letter of Inquiry
The introduction should be a short executive summary. It includes the name of your organization, the amount of money requested, and a description of the project. You'll want to explain how the project fits with the funder's guidelines and funding interests.
- Organizational Description
Be concise and concentrate on your organization's ability to meet the need that you've stated. Give a brief history of your nonprofit and provide an overview of your programs. Make sure to connect directly what you currently do and what you want to accomplish with the requested funding.
- Statement of Need
Explain the need that can be met by your project. Describe the target population and geographic area. Provide a few significant statistical facts and several examples.
How will you solve the need? Describe the project succinctly and include the major activities, names, and titles of key project staff, and your project's objectives.
- Other Funding Sources
If you are approaching other agencies or nonprofits for support of this project, mention them in a brief paragraph. Include whatever funding you've already gotten and explain how you expect to support the project after the start-up period.
Restate the intent of your project, invite additional questions and thank the funder for his or her time and consideration. Include any attachments asked for in the funder's guidelines.
A budget may or may not be required for your letter of inquiry. Check the funder's guidelines. Some guidelines are precise, and it is important to follow them exactly.
But, also, Mimi Carlson, author of Winning Grants: Step by Step, suggests that you review your LOI with these questions in mind:
- Did I state the name of the project and the amount of money I'm seeking in the first paragraph?
- Does my second paragraph elaborate adequately about the project and any related projects?
- Did I include our mission statement?
- Did I lay out the need for the project?
- Have I been clear about the outcomes the project will achieve?
- Is the implementation of the project clear?
- Have I made a case for a good fit between this project and the foundation's priorities?
- Did I include information about any funding already committed?
- Have I included the contact details for a particular person who can answer questions?
Review the elements of a full proposal before attempting the letter of inquiry. You can see additional samples of letters of inquiry in the Foundation Center's excellent book, The Foundation Center's Guide to Winning Proposals.
A Sample LOI
Anywhere Community Foundation
625 Smith St.
Any City, XN 28905
Dear Mr. Hunter:
Thank you for reading this letter of inquiry to your Anywhere Community Foundation. We hope to determine your interest in receiving a full proposal for our Any City Senior Center's Women's Outreach Pilot Program. We are respectfully requesting your consideration of a grant of $35,000.
This project is our first outreach to senior women in their homes. We are finding more and more senior women stay in their homes when they cannot get out to visit facilities such as our Senior Center.
We plan to provide socialization opportunities, health and wellness information, and social services when needed to women who are isolated from the community.
Our pilot program fits squarely within your Foundation's areas of interest: health services for seniors; increasing outreach to the home-bound elderly; and helping providers of elder services to achieve greater reach within a community.
Any City Senior Center, established in 1985, is the largest senior center in our county, serving more than 400 seniors each day at our recently remodeled facility.
Our mission is to help seniors improve and maintain healthy, independent lifestyles through improvements in their quality of life.
Our satisfaction rate among the elders we serve is a very high 95 percent, according to our latest survey. We provide nutritious lunches, social opportunities, physical exercise opportunities, and educational events throughout the year.
The senior population of our county is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next two decades. Many of those seniors are at or below poverty income levels and physically challenged to some degree.
We can transport some of these seniors to our community center with our existing fleet of five vans that currently serve 25-35 clients each day.
However, expanding the transportation system is costly and will not allow us to expand enough to serve the increased number of home-bound seniors, some of whom cannot leave their homes at all.
Consequently, we are proposing the Any City Senior Center's Women's Outreach Pilot Program to test the feasibility of bringing services to individuals in their homes.
We think that by using volunteers, supervised by one professional staff member (a social worker), that we can expand the horizons of a significant number of home-bound senior women.
We have limited our pilot to women because of the preponderance of single women seniors in our community. If the pilot proves successful, we would, of course, want to expand our programs to include homebound men and couples.
Our one-year pilot program objectives include:
1) establishing once-weekly visits to 50 homebound women;
2) recruiting 100 volunteers to make those visits on a rotating basis (many of the volunteers can be recruited from our current elders who visit our facility); and
3) improving the health and activity levels of those seniors visited as measured by several available survey tools, used at pre-set intervals throughout the year.
Some of the activities that we plan to include in our home visits include:
- cooking lessons that incorporate easy-to-prepare and nutritious food;
- teaching simple exercise routines suitable to each elder's physical condition;
- the introduction of socialization through the playing of board and card games;
- simple tests of mental capacities,
- and standard methods of combating loneliness and depression, loss of memory, and lack of mental stimulation.
The total cost of our pilot program for one year is $70,000. Half of that has already been committed from both the county government and other funders.
Your investment of $35,000 will complete the funding we need to implement the pilot project fully. Our board of directors is enthusiastic about the project, and we already have many volunteers who have expressed interest.
We look forward to partnering with your foundation on this exciting project.
If you have any questions or would like to receive a full proposal, please feel free to contact me at 490-982-1157 (or by email at email@example.com).
We sincerely appreciate your consideration of our request and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Janet B. Feelgood
Any City Senior Center
P.S. I enclose our latest annual report and catalog of activities offered at our Senior Center.
(Based on samples of letters, with permission, from Winning Grants: Step by Step, Mim Carlson and Tori O'Neal-McElrath. (Jossey-Bass 2013)