6 Ways to Make Your Letter of Inquiry Stand Out To Funders

Author:

Amelie Heurteux

,

Customer Success Manager at Instrumentl

Reviewed by:

Published:

February 13, 2024

Last Updated:

May 27, 2024

What is a Letter of Inquiry? - A letter of inquiry (LOI) is a brief, formal document that organizations send to potential funders to request grants. It succinctly outlines the main points of a full grant proposal, including the purpose of the project, the amount of funding needed, and the expected impact.

Typically,  2-3 pages long, an LOI is a preliminary step before submitting a detailed proposal.

Author of How to Write a Grant, Meredith Noble points out that,

“Funders are increasingly requiring [Letters of Inquiry] so you do not go to all the work preparing a full application if it is a poor fit.”

You break the ice with an LOI.

In this article, we highlight practical advice from two grant experts.

Arnisha Johnson, the Owner and Lead Strategist of Manifesting on More, and Margit Brazda Poirier, founded Grants4Good, share how to write compelling and effective LOIs.

Arnisha Johnson and Margit Brazda Poirier

P.S. - If you’re new to writing Letters of Inquiry, we have a separate article that outlines the different formats and steps to writing an LOI. We also have examples and a Letter of Inquiry sample you can use as a starting point. Come back to this article after for more advanced advice.

It’s Time to Elevate Your Letters of Inquiry

Funders screen applications with Letters of Inquiry. Your LOI needs to showcase your project’s significance, establish credibility, and align your work with their mission.

According to our expert Arnisha Johnson,

“[Your LOI is] a snapshot of your organization and the impact that you can make on the community.”


Margit Brazda Poirier
also clarifies that LOIs are a softer way of establishing contact with funders who don’t accept unsolicited proposals.

“I have used the Letter of Inquiry to reach out to funders that explicitly say they won't fund unsolicited proposals. You never know when they're going to change their mind. Better yet, if your board member knows someone on that board and the LOI comes from them, perfect.”


Now there’s something we need to get clear on: Letter of Inquiry, Intent, or Interest — Which is it?

Margit sets the record straight:

"[Funders] might call it a letter of interest. They might call it a letter of introduction or a Letter of Inquiry. It doesn't matter. The basic thing is they want to know a little bit about your program to see if they want to ask you for more information. That more information is your full grant application."

6 Tips To Make Your Your Next Letter Of Inquiry Stand Out

Let’s delve into some of the best LOI writing tips from our experts, Arnisha Johnson and Margit Brazda Poirier, to enhance your Letters of Inquiry and increase your chances of securing funding.

1. Determine What You Need and Ask For It

Be Bold & Explicit with Your Ask


Arnisha advises
grant professionals to be bold and explicit when stating the amount they’re asking for. The funders need to know how important their money is for you.

She suggests adding a section in your LOI that can emphasize the significance of the desired funding to the project and community. This section should detail exactly how and through what ways the funds will be utilized, and the impact they will achieve.

However, before clarifying your own funding needs, gauge the funder’s giving capacity. Apart from your own needs, does the funder even have the budget for your ask?

In Instrumentl, look at their funding history as well as their median award amount for similar projects.

Instrumentl’s Advanced Funder Insights shows ‘Trends in Giving Average and Median Amounts’
Instrumentl’s Advanced Funder Insights shows ‘Trends in Giving Average and Median Amounts’


2. Tie in The Grantor’s Language

You need to speak the language of your funders if you want to resonate with them. You can do this by mirroring the language they use in their LOIs. Doing so will make it easier for them to understand how your work fits into their mission. It also establishes rapport and will increase the likelihood of a favorable response.

Arnisha points out,

“Aligning your language and tone with the funder’s demonstrates your genuine interest in their priorities and goals.”


She continues,

“When you can tie in their language in your LOI, it shows that you've done your research.”


Create a sense of familiarity and trust. It will make your LOI more persuasive.

3. Send A Paper Copy As Well

“Paper mail is opened more often than email”


Margit
suggests sending a paper copy of your LOI in addition to an email submission. Interestingly, paper mail often garners more attention than emails.

She says,

“We get less paper mail, so there's less competition there. But, there's a lot of competition in your email inbox.”


Sending your Letter of Inquiry through both email and paper mail can increase the likelihood of your LOI being noticed and considered.

4. Use Numbers, But Not Too Many

“Adding numbers can make your LOIs easily skimmable.”


Margit
emphasizes the importance of using numbers strategically in your LOI. Using numbers and statistics in your Letter of Inquiry is great to attract attention and help the funder get a clear picture of the scope of what you're really doing.

However, while statistics and numbers can strengthen your case, you must also avoid overwhelming funders with an excessive amount of data. Keep it concise and impactful.

5. Don’t Forget to Focus On The Funder

While creating your Letter of Inquiry, make sure to focus on your funder. You can do this by aligning your project according to the funder’s priorities and preferences and by acknowledging their contributions.

Use their language and highlight how your project directly contributes to their goals, ensuring relevance and resonance.

By doing this in your LOI, you demonstrate a genuine understanding of their missions and goals. This not only increases the relevance of your LOI in the eyes of the funder but can also significantly enhance its effectiveness‍.

Instrumentl 990 Report snapshot
Instrumentl reviews all 990 Reports and provides a quick snapshot


Instrumentl’s foundation profiles
provide valuable insights into funders' preferences, giving priorities, areas of focus, requirements, and more to help you tailor your LOI accordingly.

6. Create Your Own LOI Template

Grant applications often demand significant time and effort. However, as you gain experience, the process becomes more streamlined. Margit points out that by developing template LOIs, you can save time and effort by reusing successful structures and language.

This approach allows you to efficiently adapt and modify your LOIs to align with the priorities and requirements of different funders, increasing your chances of success while minimizing duplication of work.

Bonus Tip: Instrumentl has created and compiled simple LOI templates for you to use as a starting point!

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4 Tips On How to Structure Your LOI

Crafting a well-structured Letter of Inquiry (LOI) is essential for capturing the attention of funders and effectively conveying the significance of your project.

Here are some expert tips to help you structure your LOI for maximum impact:

1. Hook Your Readers From the Start

For any reading material to be interesting, it is important to attract your readers’ interest and hook them from the start. For your Letter of Inquiry also, it is important to start strong to captivate the readers’ interest and encourage them to continue reading.

Instrumentl expert Margit advises against using generic mission statements that fail to engage readers. She elaborates, “You look at your organization's mission, and you say, oh, you start yawning. You're like, ‘This mission is so boring. I don't even know what it means.’ If that's the case, don't use it.”

“If your organization's mission statement lacks excitement, consider alternative approaches.”


Instead, grant writing expert Meredith Noble suggests employing a "Tangible Transformation Sentence" to succinctly convey your organization's impact and mission.

For example, “Our program helps low-income families gain access to affordable housing, enabling them to live in safety and dignity.”

This brief sentence clearly defines who your target group is, what you do, and the specific problem you solve. It should be precise and directly reflect your mission, without the use of generic terms.

2. Put “The Ask” In The Middle

According to Margit, placing your funding request in the middle of your LOI ensures that it receives maximum attention. She says,

“By this point, you already have your reader’s attention and have engaged them with compelling content, making them more receptive to your ask.”


When it comes to your ask, you can either be direct or be a little indirect since it is the first time you’re initiating contact with the funder. Take a look at these examples:

  • Direct Ask: “We would like to have you consider a $20,000 grant for X, Y, Z, maybe to support and to double the number of veterans we serve in 2023”.
  • Indirect/Implied Ask: "Through our programs, we have been able to make significant strides in addressing issues faced by our community. With your support, we can continue to expand our impact and reach even more individuals in need. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss potential collaboration further and explore how we can work together to create positive change."

Margit suggests that in this section, you should also tell the funders where your existing funding comes from and how important it is to get their support and the partnership.

PRO TIP: According to advice from the University of Massachusetts, your LOI should appear to be a well-thought-out project and “not just a vague exploration of an idea.” Include important elements like a budget in the LOI to demonstrate preparedness and professionalism.

3. Pull-On The Heartstrings in the Final Paragraph

Funders want to know the difference their money is going to make in the community.

Conclude your LOI with a powerful paragraph that highlights your program’s positive impact on the target population. Margit says that this can pull on the heartstrings of your funder due to the emotional aspect of that impact.

She explains,

“Funders are interested in the impact and difference their money is going to make in the community. They're not necessarily interested to know that they are buying a van for your organization or that they are funding 35% of the program at the coordinators' salary for 12 months.”


Emphasizing this, Arnisha also mentions that describing your impact in the Letter of Inquiry shows that you are organized and are connected to the community the grant will serve.

Showcasing impact by narrowing down how exactly the grantor’s funds will help the targeted community also demonstrates that what you’re doing and what you're striving for is unique.

4. Be Mindful of the Length

Keep it concise!


Mark Twain famously said, "I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.", The lesson? Get to the point in your LOIs.

Rather than meandering, a concise letter of inquiry is more likely to capture and maintain the funder’s attention.

Therefore, keep your Letter of Inquiry concise. Respect the funder's time and attention span.

Technically, according to Margit, an LOI should be as long as it needs to be to cover all the important elements of your project. However, she suggests keeping it within 2 pages or less. Any longer than that, and you might lose the funder’s attention.

Arnisha also suggests keeping your LOIs concise. She says,

“Since you're writing an LOI to give a quick snapshot of your organization and mission to a potential funder, stick to one page.”


So use your discretion. Whether one page or two, are you being verbose or concise? Consider handing it to a busy colleague. They’ll let you know pretty quickly if they got the gist, or were frustrated by how much time you took from them.

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Ready to Write Your Next LOI?

We've explored the essential strategies and tips that can help enhance your Letters of Inquiry (LOIs) and maximize your chances of securing funding.

By implementing these tips, you’ll craft more compelling LOIs that will effectively convey the significance of your project, engage funders, and ultimately secure funding.

You can check out Instrumentl’s free grant classes portal to explore more recorded events with grant professionals. They’ll unpack what you need to know to continue writing impactful grant applications.

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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