What Makes a Good Letter of Intent?

What Makes a Good Letter of Intent?

Many foundations use a pre-proposal system called a Letter of Intent, Letter of Inquiry, or simply LOI. They do this to save themselves – and you – the time preparing and reviewing complex proposals that are going nowhere.

It’s a good system, but it places a heavy emphasis on the LOI – if you are successful, the foundation will invite the full proposal.

But hey – no pressure, right?

The LOI should be written to communicate at least three things:

  • That you have researched the foundation and know the project fits their guidelines;
  • That this is a real project with real outcomes that serve real community needs; and
  • That the organization is capable of completing the job.

As a general rule, the LOI is not speculative, meaning that it is not used to develop a project or explore options. In writing an LOI, here are some steps that may prove helpful:

  1. Thoroughly research the foundation and its grant guidelines, including similar grants the foundation may have made in past years. Write a paragraph about why you think the project is a good fit and use their language wherever possible.
  2. Write a paragraph about the problem that the project is designed to address.
  3. Write a paragraph about how the project addresses the problem, paying particular attention to how the public interest is being served.
  4. Write another paragraph about how long the project will take and how success will be measured.
  5. You will need an abbreviated budget; save the detail for the more complete proposal. Instead, spend a few sentences addressing other funding you have received or plans to raise the rest. And how the program will be sustained after the project is complete. Try to imagine the questions the reviewer will ask.
  6. Finally write a paragraph or two on the mission and bona fides of the organization. Include the names and titles of key personnel to be involved. Why are you so well suited to making this happen?
  7. Now put all the paragraphs together in the order requested by the foundation and polish the transitions. It will not hurt you to put subtitles in the letter to make it easier for a scanner to find relevant pieces of information.
  8. Next, write an opening paragraph that summarizes each of the above points. If someone ONLY reads the first paragraph, you want to them to “get it.”
  9. And write a conclusion – Thank the reader for reviewing the letter, and invite any questions and/or comments.
  10. The final form of the LOI is as a Business Letter. Make sure to use board stationary for the first page and that it is addressed and dated properly. I recommend doing the legwork to find a real person to whom it should be addressed instead of the generic “Dear Sirs,” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
  11. Sign the letter personally with “Sincerely,” or “Respectfully.” Explicitly include your email and telephone contact information.
  12. Review the guidelines one more time to make sure you haven’t left anything out. Also, consider that you will need to write a full proposal if they accept your LOI. Make sure you have something left!
  13. Use common sense in formatting. 12 pt type, extra space between paragraphs, 8th-grade readability. Remember that the reviewer will be reading quickly – help her! Short, declarative sentences work best. “The XYZ Land Conservancy seeks support for native prairie restoration…..
  14. Now scan the LOI yourself for jargon and unnecessarily flowery, not to mention frivolously superfluous, adjectives and adverbs. Remove or replace every instance of the words “really” and “meaningful.”
  15. Finally review the three communications purposes of the LOI with which I started this post. Is it clear that you researched the foundation? Does the presented project seem well thought-out and do-able? Are you convincing in presenting the organization as one who can get it done?

I’ve written LOIs that are one-page and three pagers plus an attached map. It all depends on the circumstances.

Got other tips on writing LOIs that you can share? Please use the comments section below or send me an email.

Good Luck, and Cheers,



Photo by Karol Dach courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

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