Six-Step Guide to Writing a Winning LOI for Your Charity
How to Write a Letter of Inquiry to Raise Grant Funding for Your Cause
If You’re Here, You’re Already Winning
Congratulations! If you’ve landed here searching for tips on how to write a letter of inquiry to charity funders, you’re already a charity fundraising rockstar. For starters, you’re one of the few people that knows what LOI stands for and that you’ll likely need to write one to secure grant funding for your cause.
Now, if you can rattle off your charity’s mission statement and its fund worthy project in your sleep, and you’ve already come up with a list of charity funders well aligned with your amazing mission, then I tip my hat to you and offer this encouraging news. Most of the heavy lifting is done!
All that’s left now is to craft your winning letter of inquiry, and you’ll soon be on your way to grant funding success. This is where the rubber meets the road – or the pen hits the paper.
Read on for a simple six-step guide to writing a winning LOI for your charity. And here’s the truth. This is the template I’ve been using for the past twelve years, and still use, whenever I write a LOI.
Step 1: The Summary Statement
In a great big sea of LOIs, your summary statement may be all the foundation director reads before deciding whether to continue or move on to the next letter. So, make sure your first few sentences capture their interest and help you stand out.
The opening is where you give the foundation director a snapshot of your organization, the need you’re addressing, and your totally awesome solution. You’ll also include the reasons why your charity and the foundation would make a fabulous partnership, how much money you require, and your sweet-as-pie ask that they review a grant application.
To summarize, your goal is to create a compelling four to six sentence opener that answers the following questions:
- Who is writing and why?
- What is the need and what is your proposed project?
- Why is the charity funder a good fit for the project?
- How much is the total project cost and how much are you asking from the funder?
- What or who will benefit if the foundation provides the funding you’re asking for?
To test if you’ve included everything you need in your letter of inquiry, see if the paragraph makes sense as a stand-alone piece. Try reading it to someone who knows nothing about your organization and ask if they understand. Better yet, ask if it makes them want to support your cause. If they answered yes to both questions, you nailed it!
Step 2: The Need Statement
The need statement is where you share the problem your charity seeks to solve. Here, you want to balance two essential ingredients: emotion and fact.
This section is where you have the greatest opportunity to help your reader feel deep emotions like sadness, grief, despair, anger, and frustration in response to the problem or need you describe. While it may seem strange to want to evoke these difficult emotions from your reader, keep in mind that strong emotions are what motivate people to give.
Show the pain and hurt your charity is addressing through emotional storytelling, personal anecdotes, and pictures – always used with permission, of course. Help the reader understand the dire need your target population is facing so they feel compelled to alleviate the suffering and see the hope and inspiration offered by your brilliant solution.
And while emotion is important, facts, data and statistics are also key to establishing context and building your case. Aim for a few well-placed statistics to highlight the plight of the population and emphasize the need for a solution.
When it comes to the right balance of emotion vs. fact, there’s no perfect formula. It depends on your charity, your need, who is reading, and many other factors. Since I don’t have an answer, I’ll leave you with this: behind the door of every foundation is a person with a heart.
Step 3: Your Charity
This next section builds on the need statement by introducing your charity and its people as enthusiastic advocates on a mission to address the problem and establishes you’re the right ones for the job.
Here are five key points to include in this short and sweet summary of your organization:
- Your mission, vision, and goals as they relate to solving the need.
- Your charity’s activities, the demographics and size of population(s) served, and geographic area(s) where you work.
- Your charity’s creation story – who founded it, why, and when? Or how and why you personally got involved.
- Your current or past programs that have led to measurable change. When possible, include statistics to show your charity has a history of implementing projects that lead to lasting improvements in the population(s) you serve.
- Highlight awards, rankings, or accolades that your charity has received.
If the funder knows you’ve achieved great things, they’ll have greater confidence in supporting you. And if you’re a newer charity, you can still inspire confidence by sharing your grand vision for what you plan to achieve…all with a little funding, of course!
Step 4: The Project Description
By now, you’ve drawn the potential funder in with your captivating summary, created an emotional response with your need statement, and established your charity as the right organization to address the problem.
Now it’s time to present your awe-inspiring solution. This is where you dish the details on what you plan to do and how you plan to do it. An LOI doesn’t need to provide as much detail as a grant proposal, but you do need to share enough information to show the charity funder your project is carefully planned from start to finish and isn’t just a rough idea floating around in someone’s head.
To give your LOI the best chance of success, make sure this section answers the following questions:
- How does the project serve your charity’s mission and goals?
- How does the project address the need statement?
- If there are other solutions available, why have you chosen this one? If your approach is unique, explain how and why that is the case.
- Who will the project serve? Include demographics and geographic region(s) served.
- What are the anticipated project outcomes? Who will benefit and how? What will be achieved and how will it be measured?
- What is the timeline? Include your anticipated start and end dates for the project.
- How will the project be sustained financially once grant funding runs out?
Just like the need statement, the project description is a wonderful opportunity to make your reader feel powerful emotions. Except this time, you’ll want them to feel things like hope, joy, gratitude, and excitement…all with the goal of inspiring them to support your worthy cause.
Step 5: The Ask
Great news! You’re nearing the finish line of writing your letter of inquiry. You’ve outlined the dire need and shared your brilliant solution. All you need now is a foundation to award a grant so you can turn your vision into reality. And if the charity funder is still reading your LOI, you’ve definitely caught their attention!
Now’s the time to share your total project budget, mention any other funding partners or revenue sources, and ask the funder for a specific amount.
To break it down further, this section needs to address the following:
- What is the total budget for the proposed project?
- How will the funds be spent? A high-level overview at the letter of inquiry stage is all you need.
- Are there any other funding partners for the project? For example, other donors, fundraising events, or government funding. If so, share how much funding you’ve already raised and how much you anticipate raising.
- How much money do you need from the funder? Make sure to ask for a specific dollar amount clearly and directly.
- How will the world become a better place if the foundation decides to award you the grant?
It’s always a good idea to leave them thinking about the lasting difference they can make in the world if they partner with you in support of your project.
Step 6: The Next Steps
In the final section of your letter of inquiry, thank the funder for taking the time to read your letter and for considering your request to submit a grant application. Be sure to include your email address and phone number along with an offer for them to get in touch, should they have any questions or wish to speak with you about your charity or project.
Finally, end with one line about what support from their foundation would allow you to accomplish, always relating it back to how their grant funding will help meet the need your charity seeks to address.
Your Next Step
You did it! Pat yourself on the back because that was a lot of information to take in all at once.
When you’re feeling rejuvenated, pick up your favorite pen, laptop, or heck, even a typewriter will do.
You’re officially ready to start writing your winning LOI. If there is anything that you are still unsure of and need a little extra help, get in touch with us! We love to talk about the amazing work that charities do and what we can do to make your charity fundraising more effective.
By Laura Ralph, Fund Development Advisor
Laura is a writing wizard with more than a decade of experience in higher education and medical fundraising.