Getting rejected by a funder can be a pretty harsh burn. Especially when the funder responds with something like, “Sorry, but you didn’t meet our giving preferences.” Don’t let this scenario happen to you. Get a higher return on the hours you’re investing in proposal writing by submitting short letters of intent (LOIs) before you begin writing that 10-page proposal.
Our team at Instrumentl has put together information on the top three most effective ways of getting the “green light” on your next proposal. Read on to learn about the three most common types of LOIs and how and when to use them.
Generally speaking, an LOI is your first request for information from a grantmaker. Where some grantmakers explicitly require an LOI before you submit a formal, full-length grant proposal, you can submit an LOI to any grantmaker to see if you’re a good match.
LOIs are awesome because they can save you a lot of time. LOIs are short, 1–3 page letters that allow you to communicate your core ideas to a foundation without spending dozens of hours on a full-length proposal.
If you’re reaching out cold to a foundation that you don’t have an established relationship with, LOIs can be an easy way to introduce yourself. Just make sure you do it in a clear, concise, and captivating way and never forget your goal: to get invited to submit a full grant proposal.
Example 1—The Brief Letter LOI
Some foundations, such as the Ittleson Foundation, ask for “a brief letter describing the organization and the work for which funds are being sought, along with a budget and evidence of tax-exempt status.”
In this case, you’ll need to draft your own letter from scratch. Not to fear, I’ve included a sample letter of intent below. Use it and tweak it for your organization or project.
Don’t forget to include the attachments that the foundation requested, or you’ll risk being immediately disqualified.
Example 2—The Fill-in-the Blank LOI
Other foundations provide more specific guidelines about what must be included in the LOI along with a firm deadline. Take the Armstrong McDonald Foundation, for example.
The Armstrong McDonald Foundation calls its LOI a “pre-proposal,” but it’s the same thing as an LOI. I downloaded the 5-page template. Here's the first page:
In addition to the questions on the first page, the Armstrong McDonald Foundation also asks for:
- the charitable purpose of your organization (aka your mission)
- the amount of funding requested
- the period for which funds are requested
- a description of the project for which grant funds are requested
- a copy of IRS letter of determination
- a line item project budget for the dollar amount requested
- a copy of your most recent balance sheet (aka your statement of financial position) and income statement
Example 3—The Email LOI
Even if a foundation doesn’t require submitting an LOI, you can still send one to quickly introduce yourself and determine if you should invest the hours in a formal application to that foundation. I suggest writing a relatively short email with a single question as the last line. This will make the email easier to read and answer, improving your chances that the foundation will reply.
The Dominion Foundation doesn’t ask for an LOI, so here’s an email I drafted introducing my organization.
As you start to develop your LOI, whether it’s an email, a 1-page letter, or a downloaded application, keep these three last tips in mind:
- Follow any and all directions EXACTLY.
- Budgets and other attachments may be required with your LOI, so read the requirements ahead of time. BUT
- Only include attachments if the foundation asks for them.
- When putting together your budget, determine how much you should ask for from the foundation’s past IRS Forms 990-PF. The 990s can help you identify which organizations received awards in the past, whether awardees are similar to your organization, and the average amount previously granted. Use this data as a starting point and adjust your budget accordingly.
- Check your grammar and spelling. Don’t come off as unprofessional with grammatical and/or spelling errors.
Angela Braren is cofounder of Instrumentl, an automated grant assistant for nonprofits and researchers. Before Instrumentl, Angela worked in development at the Global Fund for Women and has written and won numerous grants for her work as a fisheries researcher.