How to Be an LOI Hero

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Securing funds for your non-profit’s crucial mission is challenging and rewarding.  The work of a grant-writer is behind the scenes, making you one of the unsung heroes of the non-profit world. If winning a grant for your agency is a hero’s journey, then the first step of the journey is often an LOI (letter of inquiry or letter of intent). Of course, the first step is the most important one, so this post will guide you to write great letters.

As you begin crafting your letter, think first about your reader. Grantmakers are generous philanthropic folks with a lot of reading to do, often in their own free time.  They probably share your vision and want to make the world a better place. And yet, they probably know next-to-nothing about your specific agency. A few keys:

  • Pretend the reader has never heard of your group, your work, or why it matters.
  • Explain exactly what need in the world you’re addressing and how.
  • Write in plain English, avoiding jargon. Instead of writing a brief history of your agency, take a page from the advertising professionals and attempt to keep to a single minded proposition (SMP).   
  • Focus on how the funder’s stated goals will be met through your work.
  • Tell a story! Target your story to your audience (know what they care about).

To review the basics, your letter will be two pages (or fewer), and will answer these questions:

  • How will this project change the world?
  • Why is this important and urgent now?
  • Who will benefit directly, and what will be the long-term outcomes?
  • What is the budget, and how will the funds be spent?

Now that you’ve put yourself in the mind of the reader, it’s time to start from the ground up. The ground, in this case, should be your project budget. Before you begin writing any narrative, you need to  have a good grasp of the “what” of your request. Make sure your project budget is final and clearly illustrates where the grant funds will be spent.

With the budget in hand,  you’re ready to make your outline. Here’s a place to begin:

Sample LOI Outline:

  1. BRIEF Introduction (first sentence includes the ask including a $ amount)
  2. Case Statement
  3. $ Request
  4. Project Details
  5. Outcomes (Impact), not outputs (actions)
  6. Summary, Gratitude and Next Steps

To succeed in your hero’s journey, your letter should be attuned to the funder and focus on the outcomes of your work. It should have one very short story or testimonial from a constituent (or another funder). You won’t have space in this letter to provide your organization’s entire history or the details of the way you deliver your program. Stay at the high elevation: explain the problem you’re solving, the way you make the world a better place. Better yet, practice the “show don’t tell” style of writing by using a specific quotation or example to illustrate the power of your work.

Once you’ve written your letter, use this checklist to give it a review:

Now go out and get some grants! Remember that, just as in fundraising from individuals, the most common response to an LOI ask is “no.” Keep at it: identify funders who care about your mission, and hone your letters and grants. Use a trusted system like this one to keep track. Thank your funders, and follow through with reporting requirements.

Happy grant writing,
Michelle & Heather

P.S.  Read more about using the hero’s journey in your grantwriting.

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