HOW TO...Write a Letter of Intent to Funders

Sometimes the scale of the project might suggest a small-scale letter format proposal, or the type of request might not require all of the proposal components or the components in the sequence recommended here.  The guidelines and policies of individual funders will be your ultimate guide.  

What are the elements of a letter request?  For the most part, they should follow the format of a full proposal, except with regard to length.  The letter should be no more than three pages, unless specified.  You will need to call upon your writing skills because it can be very hard to get all of the necessary details into a concise, well-articulated letter.

As to the flow of information, follow these steps while keeping in mind that you are writing a letter to someone.  It should not be as formal in style as a longer proposal would be.  It may be necessary to change the sequence of the text to achieve the correct tone and the right flow of information.

Here are the components of a good letter proposal:

•   Follow the guidelines:  Sometimes a funder may ask for only a one or two page letter of intent.  Be sure to know what they are looking for so you can have a strong initial approach to the funder.
•   Ask for the gift:  The letter should begin with a reference to your prior contact with the funder, if any.  State why you are writing and how much funding is required from the particular foundation.
•   Describe the need:  In a very abbreviated manner, tell the funder why there is a need for this project, piece of equipment, etc.
•   Explain what you will do:  Just as you would in a fuller proposal, provide enough detail to pique the funder’s interest.  Describe briefly what will take place as a result of the grant.
•   Provide agency data:  Help the funder know a bit more about your organization by including your mission statement, brief description of programs offered, number of people served, and staff, volunteer, and board data, if appropriate.
•   Include appropriate budget data:  Even a letter request may have a budget that is a half page long.  Decide if this information should be incorporated into the letter or in a separate attachment.
•   Close:  As with the longer proposal, a letter proposal needs a strong concluding statement.
•   Attach any additional information required:
  The funder may need much of the same information to back up a small request as a large one: a board list, a copy of your determination letter, financial documentation, and brief resumes of key staff.

It may take as much thought and data gathering to write a good letter request as it does to prepare a full proposal (and sometimes even more).  Don’t assume that because it is only a letter, it isn’t a time consuming and challenging task.  Every document you put in front of a funder says something about your agency.  Each step you take with a funder should build a relationship for the future.