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Pleased to Meet You: The Letter of Intent and The Letter of Introduction

The LOI: a bit of jargon added to the grant seeker’s lexicon over the past decade that refers to “letter of intent.”  For many grant makers, this is the first step in their process of vetting prospective grantees.  For many grant seekers, this is the first step along the way to winning a grant.  And how we take that step is crucial to the review process.

However, there is another LOI that has also made its way into our arsenal of grant seeking documents: the letter of introduction.  This helps us in the instances where we may have a grant maker that does not accept applications, choosing to self-generate grants to charities chosen by their staff and board.   In some cases, the funder allows us to send some information about our organization so that they can get to know us without a promise that such an introduction will lead to a request for a proposal.

Thus, the LOI has a different purpose, approach and meaning depending on the case.  And how we approach each may well help us establish a toe-hold which could potentially lead to a grant.  So, how do our approaches differ?

The letter of intent:

1.      The focus of the letter should be on your planned request to the foundation and address the following – how much might you request, what will you use the grant to accomplish, who will benefit and why is your agency particularly well positioned to get positive results. 

2.      The letter should be two-pages or less – remember, you are sending this into a document-intensive environment.  And you really should be able to get across your value proposition powerfully and in a few words.  This is essential to all fund-raising communications.

3.      Yes, include the grant level you plan to request.  The funder wants to know this right off the bat and it shows you are making a planful request of the grant maker.

4.      It the LOI is an online form, be fully prepared to take your brief and powerful pitch and condense it further.  Recently, I submitted an online LOI for a client where I had to condense the request outline into 300 words or less.  This is not an easy task.  Notes French mathematician Blaise Pascal in a letter dated 165,  “I have made this [letter]longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

5.      You should be fully prepared to follow this LOI with a proposal in short order.  Making a prospective grantor wait for weeks or even longer may suggest that you did a great job in selling the sizzle but there is little steak to go with it.  Have the elements of your proposal “on deck” and ready to submit.

 The letter of introduction:

1.      The focus of the letter is to introduce your agency. Now comes the hard part: how do you do this without making your letter sound like a rewrite of your website or annual report and engaging the reader.  Says Martin Teitel, author of The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Winning Foundation Grants “Avoid MEGO (My Eyes are Glazing Over).”

2.      Focus your letter on the here and now:

a.      What is your mission?  In no more than two sentences.

b.      Why is that mission relevant to your community now you are writing the letter?  How does your mission relate to challenges or opportunities that the grantor may have read about in this morning’s newspaper?  One of my clients is raising funds for a program that introduces high school juniors and seniors to careers and college pathways in digital technology.  Its is relevant right now because last year, the newest jobs in New York City were created in that sector alone. 

3.      Answer the following question in a short paragraph: how might your work fit with the mission or agenda of the foundation?  Say this without repeating a single word of what the foundation says about this on their own website or print publications.  This will demonstrate that you have learned about the Grantmaker and can synthesize their work in your own voice.  In short: demonstrate that you have done your homework.

4.      Do not – repeat, do not – ask for a grant.  The purpose of your letter is to develop a collegial relationship with the grant maker, respecting their approach to self-generate gifts.  Offer to exchange data, white papers, invite them to conferences, host for a tour to learn more. 

5.      Provide the grant maker with every reasonable and possible means of contacting you with questions or, very hopefully, to arrange a meeting .

Whether your purpose is intent or introduction, a focused, short, powerful and purposeful letter can help you capture the attention of the reader and bring them back for more.