Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Letter of Inquiry or Letter of Introduction - Often the Initial Grant Application Step

I had a reader write this week and ask what a LOI, or letter of inquiry (also sometimes called a letter of introduction) is - and I realized that I've never written a post on the topic! So...

A letter of inquiry (LOI) (like the grant proposal or entire grant raising process) is an opportunity. Yes, you are applying for grants to raise money, first and foremost, but any and all submissions are read by someone. That person works for a foundation (or the government, a corporation, etc.) who donates grants. This means that all submissions (while not always funded) are always marketing tools. Each time someone...anyone (!) reads one of your proposals or a LOI - it is, at a minimum, a marketing opportunity; and at the best - it raises (or helps raise) a grant! If, for instance, you apply once to a foundation; and your first contact with the foundation is a LOI (which is standard practice); and they respond to your LOI submission by requesting a full proposal (or grant application) from your organization - they've read about your organization, understood your mission and proposed project/program/or item. Now, if they do not fund your proposal this time; you should ask them how you could step up the likelihood to receive a grant for the next time you apply; and then apply again (and when you can apply next is stated, usually, in the foundation's giving guidelines). The thing about having applied once, before, is that the next time they read about your organization; they will already know about it (but learn more, as this is the second time they're reading about it). Repeatedly placing your nonprofit in front of program managers at a foundation who (according to your prospecting research) is likely to give to your organization - works in your agency's favor! So, even the declined LOI or grant proposal isn't "all bad".

The Letter of Inquiry is the first step of the entire grant application process. The LOI is sent to the foundation you are applying to, before you send a full proposal, because some foundations would rather determine if your request is a good fit (likely to be funded by them) before your organization takes the time/resources to submit a full grant proposal package. LOI's are typically one to two page, informative, clear, succinct, condensed, mini-proposals that are sent to both introduce (in short form) your organization; and to introduce your proposed program, project, or item, to the potential grant donor. You will want to include your organization's LOI: its mission, history, accomplishments/successes, its track record, a description of whatever you will request the grant for, how much you will request, contact information, and thanks. As with the full grant proposal, always use the specific foundation's giving guidelines to determine: do they require an LOI (or rather that you just go ahead and send a full proposal), what they want to be told from your LOI, what they don't want to hear about or receive, any deadlines, format requirements, etc. Always follow a giving guidelines specific directions to the letter.

The LOI, once received by the foundation, allows the foundation to determine if your organization, its mission, and what you are requesting the grant for falls within their current giving interests and goals (indicated in any foundation's giving guidelines). LOI's are submitted prior to the proposal due date, with enough turn-around time for the foundation to process your LOI, make their decision as to whether they want to get a full grant proposal (grant request) from your organization, and respond to your LOI. Assume it may take a month for them to respond to your LOI (this time needed is an average, and will be indicated in the foundation's giving guidelines). So, leave enough time for you to pull together and submit a proposal on time, if they should request one - after hearing back from the foundation, in response to your LOI.

LOI's are not where you tell a foundation EVERYTHING that you would in a full grant proposal (which, in comparison, are often 3 - 8 pages, for example). You whittle entire paragraphs' points, in your main grant proposal, down to a sentence or a phrase in a sentence in your organization's LOI.

The LOI is an opportunity, a step in the entire grant application process, and something that foundations have come to expect and request pretty often now. Not all foundations require them, but it's a nice way to 'ask' a foundation if they'd be interested in receiving a full proposal from your nonprofit to fund your important work. Remember, foundations exist to meet needs in our community - so they look to partner with good nonprofits doing needed/excellent work. Submitting an LOI is a great way to begin to introduce your organization's importance, needed programs, successes, and basically let them know, succinctly, why the foundation should partner with your organization through the donation of a grant.

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