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Grant Writers Tip 6

Letter of Inquiry

Most grant foundations begin the grant seeking process with a request to submit a letter of inquiry. The most common components of this letter are as follows:

  • The purpose of the project for which funds are being requested.

  • Problems and issues the proposed project will address.

  • Information about the organization conducting the project.

  • Estimated overall budget for the project.

  • Period of time for which funds are requested.

  • Qualifications of those who will be engaged in the project.

  • A brief explanation of the nonprofit, charitable, or tax-exempt status of the organization.

  • Some letters may additionally request:

  • A listing of representative or possible participants.

What happens to this letter?

In most cases, the foundation staff, in consultation with its advisory committees, review the letter of inquiry for:

  • it’s relevance to the foundation's program interests,

  • the significance and importance of the activity, and

  • the likelihood that the foundation could provide the necessary funding for the proposed duration of the project.

In short, the letter of inquiry enables the foundation program staff to determine the relevance of the proposed project to the foundation's programs and to provide advice on whether to submit a full proposal.

In a sense, it is nearly impossible to write a highly effective letter of inquiry without engaging in significant project planning and research activities, including “word smithing”.

Project Focus

Initially, the applicant needs to locate foundations and then research each foundation’s program priorities. This is vital to ensure that your letter is framed in a way that supports a foundation’s priority grant areas.

With respect to your project, you will need to engage in background research to be able to describe the significance of your project. You will want to be familiar with the research already conducted in your project area.

You will also want to identify two-three issues derived from the research, which your project will address.

Throughout this entire process you will want to continually cross check your project focus and issues with the research findings and the foundation priorities. This will ensure that all three basic components – foundation priority, your project focus, research – are aligned and supportive.

Capacity

Your next pre-letter planning activity will be to “sell” and “market” in succinct language your organizational capacity.

  • What strengths and skills does your organization possess for conducting the proposed project?

  • What constituencies do you serve?

  • What are your flagship programs?

  • What is your track record in terms of special recognitions?

Funding

You will need to plan your project carefully in order to answer two other critical questions:

  • What level of funding are you seeking?

  • What is the duration of your project?

While you will not need to include a detailed budget or action plan, you will have to think through all the associated costs of your project and the length of time it will require to implement and show results.

Staff and Structure

You’ll need to gather some information on the qualifications of your key project staff and required documents pertaining to your organization’s structure and tax status.

The Art of The Letter

Most foundations require that the letter not exceed two pages. The breadth of information required for this very short letter means that you must convey the information in concise language.

  • Edit. You will need to carefully edit the letter and subject it to a type of self-imposed evaluation by checking off from a tick list you have included for all required letter components.

  • Proof. When your draft letter conforms to the page limit and you have included all necessary items of required information, you will need to carefully proofread the letter and correct errors in punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure.

  • Style. You will also need to analyze your letter for style: variation in style means that you vary sentence structure and word choice. This creates a more interesting and motivational letter.

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