Given that many government agencies and foundations now require preliminary Letters of Intent (LOI) to determine if they have any interest in a project before even accepting a full proposal requesting funds, it is important to understand the basics of how to write an effective LOI.
It is arguably more difficult to write the LOI than a full proposal. A Letter of Intent is brief, i.e., typically only one or two pages. The LOI must be succinct but comprehensive in explanation of the need or problem you have identified, the proposed solution, and your organization’s qualifications for implementing that solution. That said, let’s review the basic information you’ll need to craft a persuasive and interesting letter. See the end of this post for two sample LOIs.
So, what is a Letter of Intent, really?
A Letter of Intent (LOI) is a form of written communication used by an applicant to state an intent to submit an application to a grant maker (e.g., Foundation or Federal). Some foundations and other funding agencies often require a LOI as the first step in the application process. The Letter of Intent is also referred to as a Letter of Inquiry. Its acronym is LOI.
LOIs may be invited to be mailed, emailed, or submitted via an online application process. Read the grant maker’s guidelines in order to determine the preferred method and deadline for submission of any LOI.
Why is a Letter of Intent requested?
Keep in mind that any Letter of Intent should provide essential information for the grant maker to make a funding decision although, at this early stage in the grant making process, grant makers typically use the Letter of Intent to:
- screen applications to determine which applicants will be invited to submit full proposals and
- estimate the potential review workload and plan for receiving applications
What information should be included in a Letter of Intent?
Letters of Intent are often the first contact an applicant will have with a grant maker; consequently, leverage this opportunity to make the best impression possible with your potential funder. There is no quicker way to have your application returned without review and potentially negatively impact your professional reputation than to ignore a grant maker’s guidelines. Make sure you carefully read a grant maker’s website and/or written guidelines in response to any request for funding proposal (RFP) or program announcement (PA). Attachments should only be included at the direction of the potential funder and should be specific to its application guidelines.
FOR LOIs to NIH: Information about a letter of intent will be found on the Funding Opportunity Announcements (either Program Announcements or Requests for Applications). For those FOAs that request a LOI, the following general information should be included (additional requirements will be explicitly stated in the FOA):
- Descriptive title of proposed research,
- Name, address, and telephone number of the Principal Investigator(s),
- Names of other key personnel,
- Participating institutions,
- Number and title of the funding opportunity
FOR LOIs to Foundations: Similar to a grant proposal, the LOI should include the following sections:
Introduction: Executive summary including the name of your organization, the amount needed or requested, and a description of the project. The qualifications of project staff, a brief description of evaluative methodology, and a timetable may also included here.
Organization description: Be concise and focus on the ability of your organization to meet the stated need. Provide a very brief history and description of your current programs. Proved evidence that there is a connection between what is currently being done and what you wish to accomplish with the requested funding. You will flesh this section out in greater detail if you are invited to submit a full proposal.
Statement of need: Include a description of the target population and geographical area, appropriate statistical data. Use this section to convince the reader that there is an essential need that your project will meet.
Methodology: Present a clear and achievable solution to the stated need. Describe the project briefly, including major activities, names and titles of key project staff, and your objectives. You will expand upon methodology if you are invited to submit a full proposal.
Other funding sources being sought for support of the proposed project should be listed.
Final summary: Restate the intent of the project, affirm your readiness to answer further questions, and thank the potential funder for its consideration.
Tips to remember…
- Clearly and directly state that the organization is seeking funding for a project in the first sentence of the Letter of Intent. For example, “I am writing to state our intent to apply for a grant for $150,000 from the Generous Foundation to provide books for homeless children in Chicago, IL”.
- Know the total cost of the project and how much you intend to request from the foundation when preparing a Letter of Intent.
- A LOI is not binding. It is recommended, however, that the project and amount of the request to the grant maker remain the same and not change between submitting the Letter of Intent and later, upon invitation, a full grant proposal.
- A LOI should be sent by the date listed on the specific announcement and to the appropriate contact and address listed in the announcement. For more information contact the listed Program Officer.
- Be mindful that some online applications limit word or character counts. You may also be asked to provide the organization’s tax identification number and establish a password. Letters of Intent are screened and, if interested, an applicant will be invited to proceed with a full application online. Access to an online application form is often withheld until the Letter of Intent has been approved by the grant maker.
- Remember that advance permission is required for NIH applications that are at or exceed $500,000 annually in direct costs or those seeking support for scientific conferences or meetings. Call the listed Program Officer to discuss.
Sample Letters of Inquiry
Samples of actual letters of inquiry are usually difficult to find because the grant maker and applicant may be very protective of their documents. I was able to obtain a few samples from GrantSpace that were generously provided by Blue Ridge Foundation and Burton D. Morgan Foundation. Keep in mind that the samples below are specific to the project, organization, and funder. They should, however, give you a feel for the tone and level of detail included in a successful LOI.
Sample Blue Ridge Foundation LOI Comments from Matthew Klein, Executive Director, Blue Ridge Foundation, New York, from The Grantseeker’s Guide to Winning Proposals:
We limit our letters of inquiry to two pages because it’s usually possible within that length to tell whether a concept meets our basic criteria and is worth the time and trouble to the applicant to submit a full proposal. But Exalt’s letter was able to do more than simply demonstrate that it met our criteria. It also provided a cohesive outline of the challenge it aimed to take up, including a specific problem that it planned to address (a lack of quality work opportunities for high-risk youth); the general context of the problem (large numbers of disconnected youth); and a plausible theory of change (tailored work experiences can catalyze and enhance positive goal-setting of all types). The letter confirmed that it met our grant criteria and also demonstrated in concise terms that Exalt was both thoughtful and precise about its work.
Sample Morgan Foundation LOI Comments from Deborah D. Hoover, President, The Burton D. Morgan Foundation, from The Grantseeker’s Guide to Winning Proposals:
The foundation requires a letter of inquiry prior to the submission of a full proposal. We were immediately drawn into this letter of inquiry by the bold visions in the opening paragraph. Beyond this initial impression, the audacious goals were supported by strong board leadership, the solid track record of E CITY, and careful preparation for the launch. The foundation is keenly aware of the need to develop unique educational opportunities for Cleveland youth in order to encourage more aggressive educational attainment. We were also convinced of a genuine fit with the foundation’s specialized mission to promote the entrepreneurial spirit. While a letter of inquiry can only provide hints of a project’s potential, this letter prompted the foundation to want to learn more.