Top 10 Tips to Take Your LOI from Good to Great (Plus a Must-Read Bonus Tip)
Whether you’re a grant writing pro, a charity fundraising newbie, or somewhere in between, there’s always room to up your LOI writing game.
The letter of interest is often your charity’s first shot to inspire a funder’s interest in your organization and score some serious cash for your cause.
That’s why I’ve compiled a list of my top ten tips to take your LOIs from good to great – plus a MUST-READ bonus tip!
Once you’ve mastered the LOI Fundamentals, apply these advanced tips. Then sit back, relax, and watch the grant funding roll in.
Tip #1: Follow Up With Your Top Potential Charity Funders
Ditch the standard of leaving it up to the charity funder to respond to your letter of interest. Instead, wrap up your LOI with a promise to personally follow up with a phone call in two or three weeks. Then, make a note in your calendar and deliver on your promise.
The follow up is one of the best ways to level up your LOIs and take your charity fundraising strategy from good to great.
It’s the perfect excuse to reach out to potential charity funders and move the needle forward in your relationship building efforts. Since deeper relationships create loyal donors and lead to larger, more frequent gifts, take every opportunity you can to connect with charity funders. Phone calls and in-person meetings are the number one way to build these relationships.
Top of Mind, Top of the Pile
The more familiar you are to a donor, the more likely they are to fund you. Your charity will be top of the funder’s mind not once, but twice when you follow up on your LOI. First, when they open your letter of interest, and second, when they receive your follow up call.
The follow up call is the perfect opportunity to gather intel on the charity funder. The more you know about a charity funder, the more prepared you’ll be to ask for the right amount, for the right project, at the right time. And if you line up those factors correctly, a yes is almost guaranteed.
When you call, ask if your letter of interest arrived and if they have any questions or feedback. If possible, try to engage them in a deeper conversation about their foundation.
Start with Five
Ideally, you could personally follow up with every foundation who receives an LOI from your cause. Since this isn’t the case for most charities, your best bet is to select your top five potential funders and customize their LOIs to note you’ll be following up.
How to Select a Top Five
1. Start by sorting for capacity, or largest historical median grant size
2. Next, sort for strongest history of giving to charities in your sector
3. Of these, select the top five with a phone number
4. To narrow the list further, sort for funders located nearest you, as most foundations like to fund close to home
Tip #2: Ask for the Right Amount
Knowing how much funding to ask for is one of the most important tools in a charity fundraiser’s toolbox.
Foundations asked for an amount in line with what they’ve been historically comfortable giving are far more likely to donate than those asked for a gift outside of their past funding range.
Median Grant Size
One way to determine a funder’s grant comfort zone is to look at their giving history and use grade school math to calculate their median gift amount.
For a simpler solution, get help from an online grant search engine like Grant Advance who’ll do the math and offer up the median grant size of every grant making foundation in Canada in a just a few seconds.
Where to Make the Ask
Place your ask strategically throughout your letter of inquiry – in the summary statement, the ask, and the closing paragraph.
Specific Dollar Amount
Ask the grant maker for a specific dollar amount. Funders solicited for an exact figure are more likely to give than donors asked without value attached to the request.
Tip #3: Use Urgency to Motivate Giving
Urgency is a powerful motivator for charity funders. They’re more likely to give to an immediate crisis than a problem that can wait a little while for a solution.
Use this to your advantage by emphasizing the urgency of the problem your proposed project is addressing.
To help convey the immediacy of the need, see if your LOI answers the following questions:
- Why is this project needed now?
- What would happen if you waited another 6 to 12 months to implement your solution?
If not, incorporate the answers into your letter of interest.
Don’t Use Hard Deadlines
Providing deadlines is another way to create urgency and motivate support that works well in certain scenarios. Maybe you’ve noticed this technique in fundraising appeals from local charities in the mail. These letters always include a deadline by which you need to make your gift, and for good reason too. Donors are more likely to give when they’re given a deadline.
Using deadlines isn’t recommended when it comes to grant seeking, as charity funders usually have fixed timelines for when they review applications. You don’t want to back yourself into a corner by giving a hard deadline that doesn’t fit into the funder’s granting cycle.
Do Use Timelines
However, if your funding need is truly time sensitive, try presenting it as an ideal timeline rather than a hard deadline. Begin your LOI by explaining why timing is crucial for your project and outline what will happen if progress is delayed.
Then, present your ideal timing for the charity funder’s contribution, along with an acknowledgement that it’s outside their usual schedule and a sincere thank you for considering your request. This is also the perfect occasion to implement Tip #1 and use the follow up call to explain your situation.
Tip #4: Be You-niquely You
There’ll always be more LOIs than there are grant funds and other organizations competing for the same donations. Show charity funders what’s unique about YOU to stand out amongst the competition.
In your LOI, clearly explain how your organization is uniquely positioned to solve the problem. Explain how your approach is different, why it’s different, and why you’ve chosen your solution over other options available. If your approach is evidence-based, cite the research.
Without tearing others down, help the funder understand why they should invest in your charity over someone else doing similar work. Focus on how and why you are you-niquely awesome, and the rest will fall into place.
Tip #5: Use a Matching Gift as Leverage
Offering a lead gift as a matching donation is one of the most powerful ways to motivate giving. Who wouldn’t want to have their gift matched 2:1 and the impact of their donation doubled?
How a Matching Gift Works
The main ingredient of any successful matching opportunity is the lead donor and their gift. The lead funder is almost always an existing donor with a well-established connection to your charity.
The lead gift can be a recent contribution to your organization or a new donation you solicit with the match in mind. Either way, you’ll have a conversation with your donor to explain how offering their gift as a 2:1 match will motivate other donors to give more generously and help you raise the funds you need. Most donors love the idea of a match gift.
Assuming they say yes, offer the match in your LOIs, making sure to highlight the campaign in the introduction, the ask, and the closing. Your potential funders will love the chance to have their donations doubled, and your lead donor will feel good seeing the impact of their gift multiplied. It also provides a recognition opportunity for your lead donor if that’s important to them.
Sometimes for capital projects, government funding is secured contingent upon charities raising a portion of funding from private donors. If you receive government approval to offer their support as a match, share the opportunity with your donors and let them know their philanthropic support is urgently needed to unlock the government funds.
Tip #6: Assume Your Reader is a Scanner
Most grant making foundations receive hundreds of LOIs every year so chances are whoever reads your letter will be skimming the text rather than hanging on your every word.
The goal is to capture your reader’s interest and get your message across, even if they only read 25% of the letter.
Here are some tips to help you achieve it:
Focus on the First Paragraph
Even the most dedicated scanners read the first paragraph, so make your opener a six sentence or less airtight case for your cause including your ask for a specific amount.
Pack your opening sentences with content and ensure they summarize the key points to come. MBA students are taught to read the first sentence of each paragraph to save time without sacrificing content. This is how skim-readers do it too.
Front Load Sentences
Put important information at the beginning of your sentences. When people scan text, they’ll start a sentence without finishing. Get your point across by front loading the information.
Use Stylization (Sparingly)
Use bold, italicized, and underlined text to highlight key words and phrases. Apply these tools sparingly, as stylization text loses its effectiveness when overused.
Headings and Sub-Headings
Draw your reviewer’s eyes to each section of your LOI using headings and sub-headings. This helps them navigate and find what they’re looking for quickly.
Tip #7: Fact Check like a Journalist
Take the time to fact check all data and statistics in your letter of inquiry to ensure the information is current, accurate, and taken from reliable sources.
Foundations with a strong history of funding your sector are generally knowledgeable about the community your charity’s serves and its needs. They’ll take special note if you seem to know (or not know) your stuff.
The LOI is your chance to show potential funders your charity is well-informed about the population you serve and establish your organization as a credible, trust-worthy advocate for your cause.
Consistency Across Communications
Before submitting your letter of interest, double check all information in your letter is consistent with data or figures shared on your charity’s social media and/or website. Make it a habit to refresh your data and statistics at least annually and update your materials as needed.
How to Find Credible Sources
If you’re looking for free, reliable sources for your LOI, check out the University of the People’s Ultimate Guide to Finding Credible Sources.i
Tip #8: Share Your Success the Right Way
Sharing your charity’s history of success is essential to show funders you’re capable of delivering projects that address the problem facing your target population. Still, sharing success can be a delicate balance.
Too Much or Not Enough?
If you make yourself sound too successful, certain funders may question why you need their grant money. On the other hand, if you don’t mention any of your accomplishments, the funder may wonder whether you have what it takes to make good use of their funds.
Success Attracts Success
Generally, the more successful a charity, the more funding it will attract, though there are funders wholly dedicated to supporting smaller, newer charities. So, share your wins honestly while emphasizing how much more could be achieved with the charity funder’s support.
And if you’re a newer charity without a lot of wins under your belt, it doesn’t mean you won’t attract grants. Your goal is to inspire funders with your vision of what success will look like with their support. Remember, there are foundations committed to funding organizations just like you.
Tip #9: Beware of the Morphing Project
Ideally, everything in your letter of interest will be 100% consistent with what ends up in your grant application – assuming you’re invited to submit a full proposal. This may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be amazed how easily the concept in an LOI can morph into something quite different by the time it reaches the grant writing stage.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
The only way to achieve consistency is to make sure your ducks are in a row before writing your letter of interest. So do everything you can to nail down all the project details, including the start date, end date, and budget, before you begin drafting your winning LOI.
There may be a few specifics you’re not able to confirm like your list of other funding sources. In this case, make note of why you’re not able to provide the information and share an approximate date of when you’ll update the funder.
How to Manage a Morphing Project
If you run into the unfortunate scenario of having a project shift from its original plan between the LOI and proposal stage, your best course of action is to contact the charity funder to share how and why the project’s changed. Don’t worry, it happens to every fundraiser at least once – myself included!
The funder will likely still want to see your proposal. In the unlikely case they don’t, you’ll have saved yourself the time and energy of writing a grant application that wasn’t going to succeed anyway.
Tip #10: Don’t Forget About Donor Recognition
If your charity is planning to offer recognition to funders, you may wish to briefly cover the opportunities in the ask section of your LOI. Donor recognition can be a motivating factor for some charity funders, especially if their gift is in honor or in memory of a loved one or if they like public acknowledgement for their giving.
Recognition has come a long since the days of naming buildings and plaques on walls. The ways to acknowledge donors for their generosity are only as limited as your imagination!
Creative Ways to Recognize Donors
Your charity might consider offering social media shout outs, inclusion in giving clubs, or feature stories on a website or in newsletters. Names on plaques or walls still count too, although you’ll want to reserve these for six- and seven-figure donations.
Don’t Create Work
The idea here isn’t to create more work for your charity. Reserve these offerings for charity funders you believe will care about this form of recognition and only present what’s manageable for your charity to deliver.
It’s Not Mandatory
If you’re new to the whole grant funding thing, leave donor recognition off the table for now. Focus on crafting a compelling LOI, and you can learn about donor recognition down the road.
Bonus Tip: Customize Your Letters
Charity funders love to receive communication written especially for them. And while the majority of your LOI content will be repurposed and sent to multiple funders, you’ll increase your odds of success dramatically if you customize every letter of interest you submit.
How to Customize an LOI
You’ve already learned one way to personalize a letter in tip #2. Asking for a specific gift amount based on a funder’s giving history is a great way to show you’ve got them in mind.
To truly personalized a letter, though, it goes deeper than asking for a specific amount. Your goal is to leave the reader with zero doubt the letter was written just for them. And since you don’t have a relationship with the charity funder – yet – customizing calls for a little creativity!
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
How Old are They?
Is the charity funder new or have they been around forever? If they’re new, welcome them to the philanthropic community. And if they’ve been on the scene for years, acknowledge this too. Try congratulating a foundation on an anniversary year since the date of its founding.
Do you and the donor share common interests outside the scope of your proposed project? If so, draw attention to the alignment and express delight over your many mutual passions.
You’ll definitely want to acknowledge a charity funder’s generosity and loyal support if they have a strong history of donating to other charities in your sector.
Have you seen the funder in the news recently? Maybe there’s been a gift announcement from the donor to another cause or one of the foundation directors received a prestigious award. As long the news is both positive and public, add a few lines to offer your gratitude or congratulations.
Maybe you went to a school named in honor of the foundation’s father or the funder’s family owned a chain of grocery stores in your town. If you find any positive affiliations between yourself, your family, your employees, volunteers, or board members, and the charity funder, include a sentence or two to share the connection.
While personalizing your LOIs will take more time, it’ll make your charity stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression on the funders who receive your letters of inquiry. So, take those few extra minutes and create letters they’ll know were written especially for them.
So there you have it! These tips to supercharge your letter of inquiry or letter of interest will definitely help you become an all-star LOI writer that will help your charity secure more funding. If you’re looking for more tips and tricks to improve your charity fundraising processes, be sure to check out our other articles, and if you’re looking for other ways to make your grant writing and fundraising more effective, schedule a complimentary research and strategy session with us today and learn how Grant Advance’s simple funding solution can help your charity!
By Laura Ralph, Fund Development Advisor
Laura is a writing wizard with more than a decade of experience in higher education and medical fundraising.