How to Write a Cover Letter for Your Grant Proposal

Author:

Amelie Heurteux

,

Customer Success Manager at Instrumentl

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Published:

October 27, 2021

Last Updated:

November 20, 2023

If you’re applying for a grant, the funder will often ask you to submit a cover letter with your grant proposal.

I know, this can be frustrating. You’re already dedicating time to writing a successful grant proposal. Why do you also have to write a cover letter? 

Although it may seem like extra work, it’s actually a critical step to get right. If you don’t nail it, the funder may pass over your application entirely.

To avoid this, we’re going deep into how to write effective cover letters for grants. In this article, we’ll unpack:

  • What cover letters for grant proposals are
  • Why it is an important piece of your grant application
  • And the six parts of a successful cover letter
  • Templates to get you started
  • Pitfalls to avoid

Let’s dive in!

Grant Proposal Template for Nonprofits (+5 Tips Included)

What are Cover Letters for Grant Proposals?

A cover letter for a grant proposal is a document that goes along with your completed proposal. It is your opportunity to demonstrate that you understand the priorities and interests of the funder and how your work aligns with their goals.

An effective cover letter will communicate why your organization and your program deserve to be funded. It should pique the funder’s interest, getting them to read your full proposal. 

Pro Tip: Cover letters are typically only requested by foundations and corporations. In the case of government grants, they don’t ask for cover letters because they have very specific proposal layouts and requirements.

Only submit a cover letter if the funder requests one. Many funders now utilize online application systems which do not require a cover letter, so make sure you understand the requirements of the specific funder.

Overall, the cover letter provides a taste of your organization and request. It should entice the funder and demonstrate why you are a good fit.

Good grant application letters reference the funder's requirements, is directed toward the funder and not generic, and includes a cover letter.


Why Are Cover Letters Important for Nonprofits?

If you see the cover letter as just a nother checkbox you need to complete before submittign your application, think again. Here are 4 reasons why you need to think hard about writing a grant proposal cover letter that captures the attention of funders.

What good grant cover letters include

First Impressions Matter: Setting the Tone for Your Proposal

The cover letter is the first point of contact that your nonprofit has with a potential funder, and you want to make a good impression

A professional, concise, well-written cover letter sets the tone with the funder for the rest of your proposal. It’s also a chance for you to capture the reader’s attention and get them excited about your proposal.

Building a Connection With Potential Funders

Your cover letter is your opportunity to get the funder engaged.

The cover letter gives you a chance to share your “elevator pitch” with the funder. If a funder walks away from your cover letter feeling excited about your project, you’re leagues ahead of the competition that submitted a dry, cookie cutter cover letter.

Highlighting Key Points From Your Grant Proposal

A grant proposal’s cover letter isn’t all that different from a potential job’s cover letter.

Highlight the key points that will help you stand out above other applicants. Don’t be afraid to brag a little bit! Tell the funder why your proposal or project is unique and impactful. 

But remember—a cover letter is not an executive summary.

Demonstrating Organizational Maturity and Professionalism

Your cover letter is an opportunity to demonstrate your organization’s maturity and professionalism. Make it known that you receive and manage a large grant portfolio of grants every year, and that you have experience in maintaining grant compliance.

In doing so, you are showing the funder that they can trust you with their award.

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6 Parts of a Successful Grant Proposal Cover Letter

Below are general formatting tips for your grant’s cover letter:

  • Your cover letter should be written on company letterhead.
  • The date on the cover letter should match the date of your proposal or application.
  • The letter should be contained to one page, consisting of 3-4 paragraphs.
  • Find the appropriate contact person at the funding organization so you can address your letter to a specific person.
  • The address of the funder should be placed at the top of the letter. Format the address as: contact name, title, funder name, address.
  • Use a formal introduction in the salutation, such as “Dear Mr/Mrs.”
  • The letter should be signed by an appropriate official from your organization, such as the Executive Director.
  • Include the word “ENCLOSURE” or “ATTACHMENT” at the bottom to indicate that the letter is part of a larger packet.

In addition to these basic formatting tips, there are 6 basic parts that you should be sure to include in your grant proposal cover letters.

Introduction: Who You Are

Be sure to introduce your organization at the beginning of your cover letter. 

This provides readers with a background understanding of your nonprofit and its purpose. You want to include things such as the name of your organization, your mission and values, and how long you have been in existence.  

About Your Organization: What You Do

In this section, you want to concisely explain what your organization does—include relevant programs and projects. 

This will show that your organization’s work aligns with their mission and giving priorities.

Need Statement: The Problem You're Addressing

Clearly state the problem that your program or project intends to address. 

This demonstrates to the reader that you are filling a gap that exists in your community. You should include data to support your statements when possible so that the funder knows the need is real.

Project Overview: Your Plan

While space is limited in a cover letter, it is important to share outline a well-thought-out project plan. Showing funders how you plan to utilize their funds will help your proposal stand out.

Core parts of a grant cover letter

Funding Request: What You Need

The whole purpose of submitting a grant proposal is to secure funds for a program or project. 

Don’t dance around it. Call out exactly how much money you need for your initiative so that the funder knows up front whether or not your request is in alignment with their giving priorities. 

Pro tip: Often, nonprofits don’t ask for enough funding. To not leave anything on the table, Instrumentl users can quickly uncover how much to ask for in a grant by using our insights on funders.

Closing: Why They Should Support You

You want to end your cover letter by telling the funder why they should support you. Whether it is because your missions are aligned, your project is super unique (ideally, both!), you want to clearly state these reasons in your cover letter. 

Consider closing the letter with an invitation for a site visit or program observation, if appropriate. Be sure to include the contact information for whoever can answer application questions. And end with a confident statement such as “I look forward to speaking with you more about this program.”

 Arguments Why They Should Support You


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3 Sample Cover Letters for Grant Proposals

In this section, we have written original sample grant proposal cover letters. Following each example, we break down the good and bad parts of each letter.

1. Following Up After Meeting With The Funder

“September 1st, 2021

Ms. Rhonda Zinner, President
The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation
399 Boylston St.
Boston, MA 02116

Dear Ms. Zinner,

The Reading Zone would like to present our proposal for your review. We hope that you will partner with us to help encourage families to read together. The Reading Zone focuses on providing reading tools for families in Grant County. We appreciate the opportunity to be a part of your initiative to increase reading comprehension for Grant County students. Support from the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation will help us provide family reading sessions to 100 families over the next year. 

Our Reading Together program is designed to help encourage reading at home which in turn encourages students to enjoy reading. The program helps us continue to reach our overall goal of improved reading scores for Grant County students. We are requesting $35,000 which will help cover costs for staff time and the purchase of books for the families that participate in the program.

It was wonderful speaking with you a couple of weeks ago about this program. We are excited for the opportunity to partner and hope to build a long-lasting relationship.

We look forward to speaking with you more about this application and would love for you or any representatives from the Foundation to join us for a reading program.

Sincerely,

Jane Smith
Executive Director
The Reading Zone
jsmith@readingzone.org
555-546-7000

ENCLOSURE”

Grant Proposal Cover Letter Example One Breakdown

Here’s why we like this cover letter:

  • Referencing those prior conversations will remind the funder that you’ve already done some leg work in terms of outreach and research into the foundation.
  • This letter includes erveral of the key parts of a successful cover letter, such as the introduction, information about the organization, funding request, project information, and a confident closing. 

The letter is also signed by the executive director and provides her contact information. However, there could be a bit more emotion incorporated into this letter to help the funder form a connection with the organization and the project.

2. Breaking The Ice With A New Funder

“October 1st, 2021

Ms. Jenny Belknap Kees
President
EQUUS Foundation, Inc.
168 Long Lots Rd.
Westport, CT 06880

Dear Ms. Kees,

We appreciate the opportunity to provide the enclosed proposal for review by the EQUUS Foundation. Here at Horses for Heroes, we understand the important roles that horses play in our lives. We enjoy helping heroes of varying backgrounds increase their confidence and other life skills through working with horses.

We are glad to see that the EQUUS Foundation understands the many ways horses can improve our lives.

Our request is for the amount of $75,000 over two years. The funds will help support our Horses Inspire program which has a goal of improving the lives of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Your support will help us provide empowering experiences for soldiers and others who suffer from PTSD.

We take pride in the work that we do and would be glad to show you around our facility when your schedule allows. For questions about the enclosed proposal, please contact Jim Green, Program Director at 555-345-7335 or via email at jgreen@hforh.org.
Thank you for your consideration of this application.

Sincerely,

Jessica Brown
Board Chairman
Heroes for Horses

ENCLOSURE"

Grant Proposal Cover Letter Example Two Breakdown

Our second grant proposal cover letter example also covers many of the key components: organizational info, funding request, project information, and a closing. 

We really like how the closing in this letter includes an invitation for the funder to tour the facility and see the work in action—this is such a good idea!

This letter is lacking a statement of need, however. Although it clearly shows alignment between the nonprofit’s work and the funder’s mission, there’s no information about why there is a need in this community for support for people suffering from PTSD. Again, some data points would go a long way here in making this a more compelling case for support.

Also note that this letter does not reference any prior conversations with the funder. This is a good template to use if you are applying to a funder for the first time.

3. Renewing Funding From A Previous Funder

“October 15th, 2021

Ms. Jennifer Liversedge
Program Officer
Charles Stewart Mott Foundation
Mott Foundation Building
503 S. Saginaw St., Suite 1200
Flint, MI 48502

Dear Ms. Liversedge,

First of all, we would like to thank the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for their previous support of our organization. Your support of our Woodland Foods program in 2011 helped hundreds of students learn important outdoor survival information and skills. It is very important to provide youth with opportunities for positive outdoor experiences and that is one of our main goals here at The Mountain School. 

We appreciate that the Foundation understands the importance of providing outdoor experiences for youth and look forward to working with you on our Days Away program. We are requesting $35,000 for a one-year program to help provide youth camping opportunities in our region. You helped to make our Woodland Foods program a huge success and our organization has been growing ever since.

We have a passion for inspiring youth to love nature and connect with the environment. Through these experiences, participants learn their role in protecting our planet and the ways that their actions can make a difference. We hope to have another successful partnership with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and welcome the opportunity to speak with you more about this proposal.

Thank you for your consideration of support and we would love to have you join us for an outdoor experience when your schedule allows.

Sincerely,
Marcus Deerin
Executive Director
The Mountain School
555-009-8917
director@mountainschool.org

ENCLOSURE”

Grant Proposal Cover Letter Example Three Breakdown

Our final example demonstrates how you would write to a funder that has previously funded your organization.

The nonprofit explains how a prior grant from this foundation helped their program; we LOVE that they included data about how many youth were served from the prior grant. This helps the funder really understand the impact of their donation, which will give them confidence in choosing to fund this organization again. 

This letter also does a great job of showing the nonprofit’s alignment with the funder’s mission and work. Again, this instills confidence in the funder that they’re making a good investment with their money.

Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Grant Proposal Cover Letter

So, we’ve reviewed what a grant proposal cover letter is, why it is important, and what the key parts are that should be included in the letter. 

You’re probably feeling like you’re almost ready to start writing your own cover letters—but hold on. Before you dive in, let’s review some common pitfalls in cover letter writing and how you can avoid making these mistakes.  

Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Grant Proposal Cover Letter

Overloading the Cover Letter with Jargon

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when you’re writing a grant proposal cover letter is filling it with industry-specific jargon.  

Don’t try to impress the funder with all the fancy terminology of your industry. Not all funders will understand this lingo, and it could end up confusing them instead of helping to make the case for your project.  

Ignoring Specific Funder Guidelines and Requests

This is a critical mistake that many grant applicants make. Don’t ignore the funder’s guidelines!

Every funder will have different requests—whether they want you to hand-deliver 10 copies of your single-sided application or request a signature from your Board Chair, it’s imperative that you follow these guidelines.  

This relates to the cover letter as well! If a funder specifically says to not include a cover letter, listen to them!

Being Vague or Generic in Your Statements

Another common pitfall that nonprofits fall into is being overly generic and vague in their cover letters

To demonstrate why your nonprofit is a good fit for the funding opportunity, share specifics about your organization, background, mission, and goals.  

Another piece of advice—don’t use the generic “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Human Resources” salutation. Find a specific contact to direct your proposal to so that you can personalize the letter.

Instrumentl is a great resource for finding funder details, providing clear insights into who some of the key people within a foundation are.

Overlooking the Importance of Follow-Up Information

All of the examples that we showed you included details on who the funder should contact if they have any questions. This is so important! 

You don’t want a potential funder to be stuck Google-searching information on your nonprofit if they need to contact you. That’s a sure fire way to get your application declined.

Wrapping Things Up: Cover Letters for Grant Proposals

To conclude, make sure you understand funder requirements, obtain information for a direct contact at the funder, and write the cover letter after you complete the grant proposal application. 

If you follow these steps, you will be well on your way to writing a good grant application letter.

For more tips on enhancing your grant proposals, check out these 21 grant writing examples for nonprofits!



Amelie Heurteux

Amelie Heurteux

Amelie Heurteux, a Customer Success Manager at Instrumentl, works day in and day out training nonprofits and grant writers how to efficiently prospect new funders and streamline their grant tracking and management processes.

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