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Every Winning Nonprofit Letter of Intent Does These Five Things



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A nonprofit letter of intent—also known as a letter of inquiry and commonly referred to as an LOI—is a pared down version of a grant application. An LOI states your desire as a nonprofit organization to partner with a foundation for funding and support of your work. 

LOIs are most common in two scenarios:

  1. A foundation requires the submission of an LOI before formally inviting your organization to fill out a full application for grant funding.
  2. A foundation does not have a formal grant application process, so your organization decides to submit an LOI as a means of inquiry. 

Whether as the first step toward a full grant application or a way to introduce your organization to a new foundation, LOIs are shorter than a standard grant application—they usually come in somewhere between one and three pages. 

A nonprofit letter of intent can introduce your organization to a new funding partner. In this image, a faded blue postal box stands against a plain grayish-white wall. "U.S. Mail" is stamped into its metal side.

How to Write a Letter of Intent—So It Stands Out!

Most LOIs follow the same basic structure and include similar information… So how can you stand out amongst the crowd? How can you communicate the genuine value of your organization and make the kind of impression that actually gets you funded??

Great question! 

Here are some tips and tricks to make your LOI truly shine.

Make it interesting.

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a little more difficult than it sounds. We tend to speak and write formally in the nonprofit sector. Our communications can sound borderline academic if we’re not careful. When speaking to each other, this might be okay—but it doesn’t do a great job of communicating urgency, hope, or excitement. These are crucial to getting our work funded. 

If you’re struggling to figure out if your LOI is compelling, ask someone outside the sector to read it over. Is it interesting? Did it stir up any emotions for them? What was it missing? Use this feedback to your advantage.

Keep it brief.

It’s not always easy to describe something well, make it interesting, and keep it brief. If you can strike that balance, you’ll have found the special sauce! 

LOIs are not full grant proposals, and they often won’t have a stated length. Generally, you won’t want to surpass three pages. Outside of that, the appropriate length will depend on your organization and project. As you review your draft, keep asking yourself if there’s a more concise way of communicating your idea.

Tailor your LOI to the foundation you’re sending it to.

Much like applying for a job, you’ll want to tailor your LOI to the recipient. Read through the foundation’s website, and take note of their priorities. If you need funding for that after-school program but the foundation’s focus is on families, present the value of your work through its impact on the family unit. Include relevant statistics.

Follow the instructions.

This should go without saying, but if there are guidelines provided by the foundation, follow them. Length, content, font, formatting—it’s all important if it’s in the instruction!

Highlight what makes you unique.

Nonprofits shouldn’t feel compelled to compete against each other as such... But every community is different, and what works in one may not be effective for another. 

With this in mind, highlight what makes your organization and your program unique. Address how your organization meets the specific needs of your community and why it’s so important that it continues to do so.

Nonprofit Letters of Intent Are Opportunities to Outline New Ideas

LOIs give you a chance to write something shorter than a full application while both you and a foundation figure out if you’re a good fit for partnership. And writing an LOI gives you an opportunity to draft your idea and test its weight. 

And if you’re invited to submit a longer proposal, you’ll have a solid foundation to build on!

For more information and resources for nonprofit professionals, join NPO Centric’s membership program. >>