How to Write a Letter of Inquiry for Grant Funding

First impressions are important, and how you introduce your nonprofit to a funder for the first time is critical. If you are in the throes of seeking funding for your programs, you have likely come across the requirements for putting together a letter of inquiry, also known as an LOI. 

This article will review what a letter of inquiry is and will outline tips for you to draft a successful letter. We will also provide letter of inquiry examples for you to use as a framework.

Let’s dig in.

What is a Letter of Inquiry to a Foundation?

The letter of inquiry to a foundation is the first impression a funder will get of your organization. It gives them a personalized inside look at your programming, your causes, and your mission. It also helps them to determine if, on the surface, you are a good fit for their funding.  

Just as your nonprofit is beholden to your Board and is operating for the sake of your target populations, the funders also answer to donors and their Boards and are required to fund organizations only within their prescribed scope of service.  

Many foundations and funders require a two-page LOI before accepting a full application so they can save time for everyone. Even though it may seem like an extra step in an already cumbersome process, the LOI is actually something to be grateful for. If your nonprofit is not a good fit, it saves you time you could have otherwise been spending on worthwhile grant leads. It also allows the funder to save time in reviewing and only inviting strong candidates aligned with their mission.

If your LOI is deemed in alignment, the foundation may ask you to send in a full program application. In some cases, they may provide funding just based on your LOI. Although the letter of inquiry for grant funding is shorter and less intensive than the full application, it is equally as important. As a nonprofit leader, you should become familiar with how to write a letter of inquiry for grant funding.

What is the Typical Format of a Letter of Inquiry?

The letter of inquiry format outlines the specifics of your organization and programming that you are seeking funding for. In some instances, the funder may tell you exactly what they want to see in your letter, section-by-section. You should follow exactly what the funder prescribes if that is the case. In other instances, you may be asked to supply an LOI with no additional context provided. We’ll provide letter of inquiry examples that you can use as a framework later in this article.  

In a standard LOI, there should be an introductory paragraph with the basic information the funder needs to know: your name, your role, the organization’s name, the program you are requesting funding for, and how much you are requesting.  

The body paragraphs are comprised of the in-depth ‘nitty-gritty’ of your organization and your programming. Within these body paragraphs, you should also explain the need for your program, what problem you are addressing, and for whom (your target population).  

You will need to explain how your program will solve or address the problem you have identified, including your proposed measurable objectives and the activities you will undertake to achieve those objectives. It would also be worthwhile to give a brief overview of why you need this funding and an explanation of whether or not the program is being funded from other sources. 

Lastly, the LOI will include a summary paragraph to close out. You can see how all of these pieces come together in the letter of inquiry examples at the end of this article.

How to Write a Letter of Inquiry that Stands Out: 3 Steps

The letter of inquiry is your first impression for a funder. It’s possible that your letter of inquiry could be so compelling that the funder decides to write you a check without additional documentation. Here we outline three steps to take to write a letter of inquiry that stands out. 

1. Plan Ahead

You should brainstorm a plan for your funding request before reaching out to anyone. It is a good idea to put together a logic model of your program to outline all of the elements involved. You’ll need to be succinct but impactful, so spend some time thinking about what that will look like.  

Research the funder before reaching out. Make sure that you understand the mission and initiatives that the funding organization operates by and whether your work aligns with theirs.  

You also want to research who at the organization you will be addressing the letter to. You may find the Key People section of that funder profile helpful on Instrumentl

2. Write for the Funder, Not for Yourself

You have a project that meets all of the grant criteria. You know your organization inside and out and are proud and excited about the work you are doing. All of that is important, but the funder wants to know how you fit their needs and goals. 

When writing your letter of inquiry, keep the funder at the front of your mind. You are making your first impression and trying to build a connection with them. You’ll have an opportunity to dive deeper to your own nonprofit mission in subsequent documents; however, you only have this one shot to really articulate that you know what they need and you plan to be the nonprofit to do it!

3. Focus on Impact

Details and operations frameworks will be necessary to articulate later in your grant writing process. For the letter of inquiry, focus on the stories or examples of your work that will leave the funder wanting to know more about you. 

Do you have compelling data that is possibly a bit shocking? Do you have a story that speaks to human emotion in some way? Craft your letter to include these points of impact in a way that is succinct and leaves the funder with additional questions and the desire to reach out and learn more about the work you have done. 

Bonus Tip: 

Be certain your letter is written well and that you are following any of the posted guidelines for reaching out to the funder. You want to ensure that your letter structure and presentation is professional and appropriate so any formatting or syntax errors do not detract from your message. 

The Best Tips for Writing an Effective Letter of Inquiry for Foundations

There are a few other actions you can actively take to ensure that your letter sets you apart from the dozens or hundreds of others that cross the desk of the funder.  

Below are tips for how to write an effective letter of inquiry, specifically within the introduction, body, and conclusion sections along with some tips on what to avoid.

Tips for the Introduction Sections of Your LOI

  • Address the correct person. First and foremost, you should make sure that the individual you are addressing the letter to is the individual who should be getting the letter.
  • Be careful with salutations. Sometimes it can be unknown what the recipient’s gender identification is. If it is not readily available, skip the title and just use their name.  
  • Align your mission. You want the introduction to keep the reader interested and wanting to read more – show them how well aligned your organizations are and what will make you a good partner in funding, not just a good recipient.
  • Be succinct. Include the basics of your organization and who you are. Use this short space to explain, but do not provide the deep dive just yet.

Bad Example of a Letter of Inquiry: 

Hi,
I am the founder of [XYZ Nonprofit Organization] and would like to submit my interest in your funding opportunity. [XYZ Nonprofit Organization] is dedicated to [mission and vision]. Our projects have included [list of projects] resulting in [outcomes]. We would like to apply for your funding to continue our good work.”

Good Example of a Letter of Inquiry:

Dear [Name of Individual at foundation in charge of grants]:

My name is Jane Doe and I am the Job Title of the XYZ Nonprofit Organization. We are a 501(c)3 organization located in This City, This State. I am writing to request funding from [Foundation Name] for our proposal to [brief program description] in the amount of $[X].”

Tips for the Body Paragraphs of Your Letter of Intent

Provide in-depth information. This is where you will describe your mission and vision and other identifying details of your nonprofit. When explaining your organization, give specifics about your target populations and your geographic scope of services.  

The body paragraphs should also explain the need or problem you are addressing with your programming. Be sure to explain how you know this need exists and what you see as your solution for this need.  

Give real-life examples. When you explain the impact your organization makes in its programming, give examples with actual numbers. Let the funders see the measurable impact you can make. 

An example of showcasing the impact of potential funding support can be framing some of your overall outcomes. Take these statistics from Partners in Health as an example:

These statistics tell a compelling story of the impact of funding support for their programs. 

Show your growth potential. Let the funders know how you can expand on the above impact with additional funding and what that means for your target population. Be specific in what activities or outcomes the funding will directly support. Consider the following example:

With our current revenue levels, we have been able to supply 1,200 weekend meal backpacks. Our community data show that there are an additional 2,400 children that could benefit from this program. The additional funds provided by Foundation would allow us to close that gap and double our existing impact by providing 1,200 additional weekend meal backpacks.  

Tips to Use in Your Conclusion Paragraph

Show appreciation. Of course, you will want to give thanks to the funder for the opportunity to propose your program in the letter of inquiry for grant funding. 

Provide your availability. The most important element you should include in the conclusion paragraph is an open invitation for the funder to contact you for more information, as needed. Include your contact information and the hours you may be available.  

Mistakes to Avoid Making in Your Letter of Inquiry

There are several mistakes you want to avoid making in the LOI, as well.  

Don’t make assumptions. One fatal mistake would be to assume the funder already knows about your organization. That could certainly be the case, but when you are introducing your organization and programming in a solicitation for funding, you should consider that whoever is reading your letter knows nothing about your organization and is not a subject matter expert in the area of your programming. 
It is your responsibility via this LOI to fill them in on what they need to know.

Don’t send cookie cutter LOIs. Seeking funding can feel repetitive and weighty, and adding tailoring to the process exacerbates that feeling. However, you don’t want to send the same generic LOI to different funders, and here is why: funder’s want to connect with their grantees and ensure that the program they give money to reinforces their mission.  

That’s why it is important to reflect the funder’s values in your LOI and showcase just how well your programming is in sync with their dollars. We write more about matching grant applications to funder interests here.

Resist the urge to include everything you have. Depending on what the funder is asking for, don’t attempt to send everything about your organization that you have with the letter. In general, this means no flyers, no brochures, and no media mentions. Chances are if you include them, they won’t be looked at and will end up in the back of a filing cabinet or worse, the trash. Save your material for when you need it and for the LOI, trust in the power of your words.

Sample Letters of Inquiry

Here is a sample letter of inquiry template you can use as a starting ground for your own organization. Sample Letter of Inquiry 1 is the overall letter of inquiry template, and Sample Letter of Inquiry 2 shows you how you might use it. 

Sample Letter of Inquiry 1:

“[Foundation Name]
[Address]
[City, State Zip]

Attn: [Name of Individual at foundation in charge of grants]
Re: [Grant Program Name]

Dear [Name of Individual at foundation in charge of grants]:

My name is [name] and I am the [Job Title] of the [XYZ Nonprofit Organization]. We are a 501(c)3 organization located in [City, State]. I am writing to request funding from [Foundation Name] for our proposal to [brief program description] in the amount of $[X]. 

The mission of [XYZ Nonprofit Organization] is to provide [this, this, and that]. Our target populations include [this group, this group, and that group of individuals, aged x-x]. Our programming is focused on the [ABC geographic area]. Currently, we run [X number programs] with [X number of individuals] served annually. Through our services, we have provided [state outcomes met by existing programming].

Currently, in [ABC geographic area] and among [target population], there is an evident need for [explain the existing need here]. We know this need exists from [explain how you know the need exists: data, conversations, etc.]. If this need goes unmet, [explain repercussions and consequences of the problem if it is not addressed].

Our program [program title] proposes to provide the following services: [list your program services here]. These services will assist [X number] of [target population] with the [problem or need] by [explain the activities you will undertake to provide services]. With the implementation of our services through [program title], we expect to see [list your program outcomes here]. 

The total program costs for year one are $____, of which $ _____ will be provided by other funders. We are requesting $____ from [Foundation Name] through this letter of inquiry. [Explain the general use of requested funds here].

Thank you very much for the opportunity to introduce [XYZ Nonprofit Organization] and [program title] to you for funding consideration. We appreciate the support you provide to the [ABC geographic area] community. If you would like to discuss further details, I can be reached on [days available] at [times available] by phone at [phone number] or email at [email address]. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, 

[Name]
[Title]
[Organization]
[Email]”

Sample Letter of Inquiry 2:

“John Doe
Community Foundation of Newtown
123 Oak Street
This City, TS 12345

Attn: John Doe
Re: Education Grant Program

Dear John Doe:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit this letter of inquiry to the Community Foundation of Newtown. My name is Jane Doe and I am the Executive Director of Hope Nonprofit. We are a 501(c)3 organization located in Newtown, CT. I am writing to request funding from the Community Foundation of Newtown for our proposal to increase at-risk young women’s interest in STEM programs and careers in the amount of $15,000.

The mission of Hope Nonprofit is to provide opportunities for young women and girls to achieve their dreams. Our target populations include women from underserved communities, particularly from minority and low-English literacy populations, aged 5-18. Our programming is focused on the Newtown area. Currently, we run three programs with 350 young women and girls served annually. Through our services, we have provided young women with scholarship opportunities; job training and interview skills for young high school women; opportunities to attend summer camps for elementary and middle school girls; and provided supplies and basic needs to young women and girls in our programs.

Currently, in the Newtown area and across the country among young women, there is a lack of interest and representation in the STEM focuses of study and career fields. There is an evident need for resources provided to young women and girls to assist in accessing opportunities to explore their interests in STEM. We know this need exists from the lack of representation of young women and girls in existing STEM programming and in available data which shows lower numbers of women and girls in positions of power in STEM careers. If this need goes unmet, young women and girls will continue to face access barriers to opportunities in their careers of interest, and representation of women in STEM careers will continue to falter.

Our program, STEM for Girls, proposes to provide the following services: introduce young women and girls to available STEM opportunities and provide services to grow their interest in these fields. These services will assist 50 young women and girls aged 10-15 by providing a summer camp focused on STEM experiences and an introduction of involvement opportunities in STEM activities throughout the year. With the implementation of our services through STEM for Girls, we expect to see increased interest in STEM among attendees; increased numbers of representation of young women and girls in STEM programming; and increased knowledge of available STEM careers.

We estimate the cost of this project the first year at $15,000, of which $10,000 will be provided by other funders. We are requesting $5,000 from the Community Foundation of Newtown through this letter of inquiry. These funds will be spent on transportation costs to ensure access to programming is not a barrier for our target population.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to introduce Hope Nonprofit and STEM for Girls to you for funding consideration. We appreciate the support you provide to the Newtown community. If you would like to discuss further details, I can be reached Monday through Friday at 8 am-5 pm by phone at 555-123-4567 or email at [email protected] We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe
Executive Director
Hope Nonprofit
[email protected]

Wrapping Things Up: How to Write a Letter of Inquiry

In this article, we covered how to write a letter of inquiry for grant funding. When you write and send a letter of inquiry, you have an opportunity to make your nonprofit stand out in a pool of potential grant applicants. 

Use the information and tips we have provided as you write your letter of inquiry. You learned what a LOI is, how it is typically laid out, tips for writing a LOI, and examples of completed letters of inquiry to use as a framework. 

If you’re looking for more grant writing training, check out our free grant writing workshops here.

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