Getting that grant: how to write letters that interest potential donors

If you are, or want to be, a grant writer sooner or later you will be called upon to write a letter of interest/introduction, or LOI as they are sometimes called.

Written by
Charlene Rocha
May 23, 2013
Your goal is to be invited to tell funders more about your organisation through a full proposal.

More and more, foundations are asking for LOIs from nonprofits as a way of deciding more quickly if their funding focus and your organisation are a good match. Letters of interest/introduction are typically one to two pages in length, in contrast to a full proposal that can easily average five to 10 pages. Imagine the influx of requests foundations must receive and you can surely appreciate them wanting to pare down the process.

As the term LOI states, your submission should express your organisation’s interest in partnering with a particular foundation and, or, serve as an introduction to a potential funder. Your goal is to be invited to tell funders more about your organisation through a full proposal. All you have to do is deliver a winning LOI that does two things:

  1. Explains the basic highlights of your project and organisation.
  2. Gets the funder excited about the possibility of partnering with you to have a real impact on a particular problem.

The grant writer’s challenge is that ‘all’ of this can be tough to put together. You have to cram a lot of information into only a few pages and shorter is not always easier. 

A funder’s guidelines always trump any format you may come up with on your own.

And so it begins…

The first rule is always this: a funder’s stated guidelines (inclusive of responding to specific questions, page limits, font size, etc.) always trump any format you may come up with on your own.

But, if you are given an open format, while there are no hard and fast rules, there are certain elements that are generally included in an LOI.

What to write

Tell the funder in just a sentence or two what you are working to accomplish.

Think of LOIs like mini-grants. You need all the elements of a full proposal, but with more brevity.

  • Need
    This includes human need, animal need, environmental need, etc that your organisation is working to improve. In describing your need, don’t make your letter (or your full proposal for that matter) strictly about your charity. A charity is simply an office with very well-meaning people working there. While this is all well and good, the reason you are there is what you want to emphasise. What is the problem in the world, country, city, school, neighbourhood (you get the idea) that you are working to have an impact on? When possible include data from the city, state, community, etc to back up your assertions.
  • Our charity’s response to that need
    Describe what your organisation is doing to address the stated need.

    What are the components of the project? How will you achieve your goals? Be specific in your description. For example, don’t just write, ‘we run a mental health programme to help children in need’, instead write, ‘we provide a free eight-week counselling programme for children aged seven to 10 who are experiencing violence’.

    Add other pertinent details about your work here too. Where is the programme held? Is it ongoing or time limited? Talk about past accomplishments, successes and other factors that highlight your ability to successfully meet your goals.
  • Target population
    Who will you help and why? What gender are they? What age? Do they live in a specific region? Do they all share a common challenge or problem? What income bracket are they from? How many people will your programme serve? Also, add any other detail that will make clear who you are working to help. Maybe it’s inner city kids, maybe it’s elderly women, or maybe it’s anyone with ‘x’ challenge or ‘z’ issue. No matter who they are or where they come from, the point is to simply make clear who or what your efforts are designed to help.
  • The mission of your organisation
    If you don’t have a formal mission, in just a sentence or two tell the funder what you are working to accomplish.
  • A brief history of your organisation
    Let the foundation know a little about your organisation’s background. How long has it been around? What geographic area do you serve? How did your organisation get its start? Why do you exist? What services do you provide? How many people, animals, etc do you serve? Why are you the right organisation to get the job done and earn the support of the foundation?
  • Outcomes
    Foundations want to know that their donation will indeed have an impact. Show them that it does by letting them know the result of their donation to your programme. How will you measure success of your project? Do you use surveys or evaluations? Do participants achieve a certain life target (for example, gaining employment, learning to read, finding good homes for dogs and cats, etc)? Is there a tangible item you will purchase (e.g. computers for children)?
  • Funding needs
    Let the foundation known how much you need for the full project and how much you are requesting from them. If you have other funds committed to the project also list them here.

    A brief budget can also be included. This only needs be a few items for salaries and wages, rent, or tangible items (e.g. computers to be used by children in your programme), or any other expense important to the project. 
You could also include a brief budget.

As in a full proposal, the LOI should be a mix of emotion, accomplishment and demonstration of your organisation’s ability to successfully meet its goals. Be professional, but show your human side too. Personal stories work well – even in short form. And, by all means, do thank funders for their time in reviewing your request.

If you learn to master the LOI, you will take a nice step forward in your grant writing and have a solid submission to send out to potential funders.

Good luck fellow grant writers.

About the author: Charlene Rocha

Charlene Rocha

For more than 17 years, Charlene Rocha has been writing grants for a human service organisation that provides mental health services and programmes that strengthen families. She’s written numerous successful government grants, family foundation proposals and corporate proposals. She believes that the world of grants is waiting for you, yes you. So, rally your inner grant writer and go forth and make a difference.

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