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What Is a Letter of Inquiry to a Foundation?
An LOI is a short document requested by funders to help them determine if you are a good fit for their funding opportunity.
In essence, a letter of inquiry 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.
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. Here’s why:
If your nonprofit is not a good fit, it saves you time from having to develop an entire proposal.
It also allows the funder to save time in reviewing and only inviting strong candidates aligned with their mission to apply.
So what does a letter of inquiry consist of?
An LOI typically includes a brief description of the proposed project, its goals, and the expected impact. It should help funders understand the alignment between your mission and theirs, laying the foundation for an effective partnership.
If you can show alignment in your letter of inquiry, the funding organization may ask you to submit a complete program proposal. And in some cases, they may even provide funding based on your LOI alone.
Although a letter of inquiry for grant funding is shorter than a complete application, it is equally important.
What Is the Typical Format of a Letter of Inquiry?
A letter of inquiry format outlines the specifics of your organization and the program 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. If that is the case, you should follow the funder’s prescriptions.
For example, the Anschutz Family Foundation clearly outlines its LOI expectations for grant seekers who might be interested in reaching out for support or collaboration.
In other cases, you may need to figure out how to write a letter of inquiry for seeking grants with no additional context provided.
We’ll provide several examples you can use as a framework later in this article, but for now, here’s a quick overview of the typical format of a letter of inquiry:
The Introduction: In a standard LOI, there should be an introductory paragraph with the basic information the funder needs to know:
Your organization’s name
The program you are requesting funding for
And how much you are requesting.
The Body Paragraphs: The body paragraphs are comprised of the in-depth ‘nitty-gritty’ of your organization and your programming. Within these body paragraphs, you should explain:
The need for your program
What problem you are addressing
And for whom (your target population).
You will also 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.
Conclusion: Lastly, the LOI will include a summary paragraph to close out. You should conclude your letter of inquiry by expressing your appreciation for their consideration and indicate your eagerness for further correspondence. Make sure to end the letter with where and when they can reach you.
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How to Write a Letter of Inquiry That Stands Out: 3 Steps
A letter of inquiry is your first impression with a funder—figuring out how to catch their attention is key.
You can create a letter of inquiry that stands out from the competition with these three steps:
Plan Ahead to Make a Lasting Impression
Planning is the backbone of a well-structured and impactful LOI.
By dedicating sufficient time to research and understand your potential funder’s purpose, you can tailor your letter to convey your alignment with their goals.
Also, adequate planning allows you to organize your thoughts to ensure clarity and coherence in the letter's content. It is a good idea to put together a logic model of your program so that you can outline all of the elements succinctly and effectively.
Planning ahead allows you to create a letter of inquiry that stands out and makes a lasting impression on the funder.
Customize Your LOIs to Win Over Funders
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’ll have other opportunities to do a deep dive into your nonprofit in your subsequent proposal. However, you only get one shot to articulate your understanding of their mission and how you can help them achieve their goals.
Pro Tip: Instrumentl’s foundation profiles can give you insight into a funder’s giving priorities, areas of focus, and more!
Quantify Your Impact With Data and Compelling Narratives
At the end of the day, funders are most interested in how your project will make a tangible difference in the real world.
An effective letter of inquiry is not just a request for financial support—it should demonstrate how the funder’s investment will lead to meaningful and lasting change.
By focusing on impact in your LOI, you encourage funders to think critically about the outcomes and difference their funding would make.
Make sure to quantify your impact with data and paint a vivid picture of the positive change your project can achieve. Moreover, emphasizing impact showcases your organization's accountability and commitment to making a difference.
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 are professional and appropriate so any formatting or syntax errors do not detract from your message.
Examples of a Letter of Inquiry Introduction
Starting off strong in your letter of inquiry is key to capturing the attention of the funder. Below, we have included examples of both bad and good LOI introductions for you to learn from.
Bad Example of a Letter of Inquiry Intro:
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.”
Why this is a poor example:
It doesn’t address the funder/reviewer by name
The author doesn’t include their name (feels impersonal)
It focuses too much on the nonprofit and not on the funding opportunity/ the ask
It doesn't explain the specific proposed project/program the funding would be used for
Good Example of a Letter of Inquiry Intro:
“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].”
Why this is a good example:
The reader is addressed by name
The author includes their name and role
The nonprofit’s specific program is described immediately and briefly
The “ask” is clear and explicit
Sample Letters of Inquiry
Finally, we are going to share 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.
Inquiry About a Funding Request for Community Program
“[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.
[Name] [Title] [Organization] [Email]”
Inquiry About STEM Program Funding
“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.
Mistakes to Avoid Making in Your Letter of Inquiry
Now that you know how to write a letter of inquiry that stands out to funders, avoid these common mistakes.
Avoid Assumptions: Firstly, don't assume the funder's priorities or requirements. Research each funding organization's guidelines and interests (you can leverage their publicly available 990 forms for this.). Secondly, don't assume the funder knows about your organization; introduce it.
Customize Your LOI: Don't send generic or cookie-cutter LOIs to multiple funders. Customize each LOI to align with the funder's values and mission. Show how your programming syncs with their goals.
Be Concise: Don't include every detail, achievement, or idea in your LOI. Focus on essential messages; save detailed information for the full grant proposal.
Don’t Make Assumptions
One of the biggest pitfalls to avoid when writing a letter of inquiry is making assumptions about the funder’s priorities, preferences, or requirements.
Each funding organization is unique, with different guidelines, interests, and evaluation criteria. Making assumptions about what the funder wants without thorough research can lead to a mismatch between your LOI and the funder's expectations.
Another 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 an expert in the subject matter of your programs.
Don’t Send Cookie Cutter LOIs
One of the common mistakes that applicants often make is sending generic or cookie-cutter LOIs to multiple funders without customization.
Seeking funding can feel repetitive and weighty, and the need to add a personal touch to the process can exacerbate that feeling. However, you don’t want to send the same generic LOI to different funders, and here is why: funders want to connect with their grantees and ensure that the program they give money to reinforces their mission.
Finally, don’t make the mistake of including every detail, achievement, or idea related to your organization or project in your letter of inquiry.
While it's natural to want to showcase the breadth of your work, an overwhelming amount of information can dilute your key messages and distract the reader from the most important aspects of your proposal.
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.