Grant writing is a process of sending a lot of inquiries and only hearing back from a few. Because of this, an important timesaving measure you can take as a nonprofit looking for grants is to develop flexible templates that can be used for many purposes. The most important template is a letter of inquiry (LOI). This section covers how to write an LOI template and then adapt it for use with multiple funders.
The best letters of inquiry are concise and direct. The funder does not have much time to review your inquiry and will be more likely to want to work with your nonprofit if they can clearly identify what problem you are trying to solve and how it fits with their funding mission. For this reason, Grants Ink always starts its LOIs with a diagnosis of the problem. It helps to have a reliable statistic to hook the reader, such as “a recent study from the Colorado Department of Education found that only 53.6% of homeless youth in the state graduated from high school in 2021.” This statistic is specific, comes from a reliable source, and paints a clear picture of a social problem that needs to be addressed. If you were a nonprofit that provided tutoring to homeless youth in Colorado, you could follow this statistic up by saying “We seek to address this issue through our programming focused on tutoring and community outreach.” Most of the time, simply stating your organization’s mission is the easiest way to identify your solution to the problem.
After the diagnosis of the program, the remainder of the LOI should focus on the specifics of your program. Effective nonprofits have narrow missions and clear program strategies to fulfill these missions. Explain in two to three paragraphs what you do, how you do it, and how you measure success. The final paragraph should state again why your work is so important and reference the funder’s specific fit with your mission. We usually close our LOI templates with a sentence like “We became interested in your foundation because of your commitment to [ISSUE] and would appreciate the opportunity to share more about how our work fits in with your funding priorities.” When a specific funder is identified, we fill in the issue based on what the funder’s focus area is.
When customizing this template to a specific funder, you may want to focus on a specific program you believe the funder will be more interested in. This can mean deleting and replacing parts of the template, but it is always easier to work from a template than write a new LOI for every funder. Some funders will ask that you submit the LOI as a formal letter with organizational letterhead and address, while others will simply provide an online text box to put your inquiry in and submit. The LOI template can be trimmed down as needed to fit the parameters of the funding request, but it should always contain three key parts: diagnosis of a problem, your solution to the problem, and how your organization fits with the funder’s mission.