Asking for a foundation’s money can be a mysterious process, but not because it has to be. Often, it begins with a simple two- or three-page letter of inquiry.

But what goes in that letter, and how can you be sure that you are putting your organization in the best position for funding? Here are a few pointers for crafting a killer LOI or evaluating what you’re already using:

1 . Introduce yourself. (one to two paragraphs)

Make it easy for the reader by including three things in the first couple of paragraphs: your name and title (a senior staff person or perhaps a board chairman in a younger organization); your organization’s mission (a brief sentence or even a clause, keeping in mind that your goal is to give the reader a sense for your organization’s broader significance); and, finally, your connection with the foundation. In the best case, you’d be able to call on a personal connection with the foundation, but mentioning a similar grantee from a recent 990 can be a fine way to personalize your letter. You might also note some aspect of your organizational history that gives you a close tie with the foundation.

2. State the problem your organization is addressing. (one to two paragraphs)

No matter what educational, social, or cultural area you work in, your nonprofit organization is responding to some kind of problem. The same is true of foundations, and the best way to identify common cause with a foundation is by expressing shared interest in solving a problem that matters.

The problem you’re addressing might be general, and your entire core program may be a response to it. Or you might be trying to ameliorate a more specific challenge through a one-time project. Whatever the case, concisely describe the problem to which your program is responding. One (or at most two) well-crafted paragraph(s) should be adequate. 

3. Describe your solution. (three to five paragraphs)

Every problem needs a solution, and any foundation officer wants to know that your organization has a shot at making an impact. After all, they need to know how you would use the funds and to what effect. Thus, you should sketch the major components of your program, the goals you intend to achieve, the constituents you will serve, and the simple timeline for the program’s execution. However, remember that a letter of inquiry is only a summary, so you shouldn’t get bogged down in details.

4. Explain a funding plan and other partners. (one paragraph)

Whether you’re asking for general operating or project-specific support, you should give some sense of the funding needed and, if appropriate, you should reference other project partners. Doing your homework may even allow you to safely ask permission to request a certain amount. Setting a specific amount, however, isn’t necessary, and would be better left out if you don’t have a clear sense of what’s reasonable.

5. Follow up. (one paragraph)

Every LOI worth sending is worth following up on. In fact, the follow up you do by phone or email is often what generates the next step with a foundation. So, go ahead, say in your conclusion that you look forward to talking more about opportunities to work together and that you’ll be in touch. And then follow up or assign someone to do so.

Of course, each of these elements can and should be modified for the recipient (and make sure to pay attention to any requirements posted by particular foundations too!), but following this general guidance should put you on the right track. And, the best part of all is that a well-crafted letter of inquiry is often the bones of a successful funding proposal.

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It’s my goal to help purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft clear and compelling communications, and achieve greater influence. Please let me know if and how I can be of help to you, feel free to shoot me an email at bshelton@americanphilanthropic.com, or check out our consulting services online at AmericanPhilanthropic.com and ongoing fundraising seminars and events throughout the year.