How to Write a Truly Persuasive Letter of Inquiry

Henry VIII Letter

Henry VIII Letter

This is the third in a series of five articles on how to write a letter of inquiry. Before reading on, you may want to check out the series Introduction. The featured image for each post is of a letter that changed the world. Today’s letter is from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, who would soon become the second of his six wives. This letter is of particular interest to me because I am reading Wolf Hall, a novel by Hilary Mantel.

The letter of inquiry (LOI) is an increasingly common way for grantseekers and grantmakers to introduce themselves to each other. In yesterday’s post, we defined what a letter of inquiry is (and what it’s not). We also looked at a few of the reasons why writing an LOI can have far-reaching benefits for your organization and the community you serve.

Today we’re getting into the practical side of writing a great letter of inquiry.

Sometimes the grantmaker will tell you exactly what information to include in an LOI, the order of the sections, and how to format the letter. When a funder gives you such guidelines, follow them in every respect. I’ve seen well-meaning grant writers decide that they have a better chance of making a great first impression if they fudge on the rules of the LOI! This never works in their favor.

For all those times a grant funder doesn’t give specific guidance, you can’t go wrong with the structure below. It includes the nine essential elements of a truly compelling letter of inquiry. I’ve included text from a sample LOI so you can see this design in action.

The full sample letter of inquiry is available at the bottom of the post in two downloadable formats: PDF and Microsoft Word. 

The fifth post in this series will include a template with questions to help you brainstorm content for your own LOI.

A few quick reminders before we get started:

  • The purpose of an LOI is to demonstrate an authentic fit between your organization and the grantmaker.

  • The goal of an LOI is to get invited to submit a full proposal.

  • Length: One to three pages.

1. Business Letter Format

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Business Letter Format

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Business Letter Format

Letters of inquiry should be written in business letter format, though I do sometimes use subheadings to break up the text and make it more readable. If possible, put the LOI on your agency’s letterhead. If you’re not submitting on letterhead, start with the sender’s address, then add the date, recipient’s address, and salutation.

2. Introduction (1 Paragraph)

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Introduction Paragraph

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Introduction Paragraph

The first paragraph provides a summary of your request. Mention the name of your organization and the title of your project. Give the briefest of overviews — no more than one or two sentences, since you will be able to go into more detail in the next section. Describe how the project fits with the grant funder’s own stated priorities. If applicable, mention any previous relationship your agency has with the grantmaker. If you were invited to apply by someone in the organization, mention that here, too.

3. Organization Overview (1 Paragraph)

Introduce the grantmaker to your organization by including the following:

  • The year your organization was founded

  • Your mission statement

  • A one- or two-sentence overview of your major programs

  • A description of the communities you serve

  • A summary of some recent accomplishments

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Organization Overview

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Organization Overview

4. Significance (1-2 Paragraphs)

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Significance

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Significance

This section describes the need your project or program is trying to address, or the timely opportunity your agency is trying to take advantage of, or both. Who, specifically, will you be serving? What is your service area? Why is this program significant? What evidence can you briefly cite to demonstrate that this is a program your target audience wants or needs?

5. Program or Project Description (1-2 Paragraphs)

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Project Description

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Project Description

Now describe how you plan to tackle the need described above – or how you plan to take advantage of the timely opportunity. Give a broad-strokes outline of your approach, including major activities, the length of the project, who will be doing the work, and the number of people served. If you have collaborators, mention them here too.

6. Objectives (Bullet Points or a Few Sentences)

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Objectives

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Objectives

Objectives are the clearly-defined results you expect to achieve as a result of your project or program. They should flow out of the need you described in Section 3 above, and be addressed by the activities you described in Section 4. To write a great objective, follow the acronym S.M.A.R.T. Make them Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. (Note: I usually don’t put in a sub-heading for the Objectives.)

7. Cost of the Project (1-2 Paragraphs)

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Cost of the Project

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Cost of the Project

In this section, give the overall cost of the program and how much you would like to request from the funder. If the grantmaker’s financial support is going to be used for a certain component of the project, mention that here too. For example, I recently wrote a letter of inquiry for a capital campaign. I knew from previous experience that the funder would be less interested the brick-and-more aspect of the campaign — a remodeled space that was going to be used for art workshops, gallery exhibits, and community meetings — and more interested in funding the furnishings and technology that would make the space “work.” They gave generously. Also, if the support you are requesting is going to match a gift from someone else, doubling the impact of the grant award, this is the place to give that important piece of information.

In addition, briefly describe the other sources of support for the project – major gifts and the sum total of smaller donations, other grants, money from the organization itself, fundraisers, in-kind support, and even pledged volunteer hours if they are relevant. Specify which funds are in-hand, pending decision, or planned.

8. Conclusion (1 Paragraph)

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Conclusion

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Conclusion

I use the Conclusion to end on a personal touch. I invite the grantmaker to get in touch if they have questions. Though the organization’s contact information is located elsewhere on the letter, I include a personal email address and a phone number with a direct extension. I am explicit, without being pushy, in asking for an opportunity to submit a full application.  Lastly, I thank them for their time.

9. Signature

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Signature

Write a Letter of Inquiry: LOI Sample Signature

Who should sign the letter of inquiry? The best advice I’ve ever received is that an LOI should be signed by the person in your organization with the ultimate responsibility for project — the executive director, board president, school principal, superintendent, etc. If that is not possible, get the signature of the most senior person associated with the project.If the grantmaker asks you to include another document — which is rare at this early stage — mention the “enclosure” at the bottom of the letter.

***Okay, I admit: That was an epic post. But the whole point of this series — and for this entire site, really — is for me to give you whatever advantage I can in identifying and securing the resources of community flourishing. I hope this is helpful. As always, please do leave any questions or comments below.

Finally, if you found this article helpful, would you consider sharing it with friends and colleagues who care as much about their communities as you do yours? Thanks!

To download the full sample LOI, right-click on either of the links below.