How to Write a Letter of Inquiry to Find Grant Opportunities

By Beverly A. Browning

Many foundations state in their published guidelines that they prefer the initial approach to be a letter of inquiry, which is a one- to three-page letter in which you ask about their interest in receiving a full grant proposal from your organization. This letter allows the funder to make sure that what you’re requesting is within its area of interest and funding award range.

Nowadays, practically all foundation funders require a brief letter of inquiry because they’re overwhelmed with requests for funding and the letter is a way to weed out applicants.

The Foundation Center is one source for linking to foundation websites to view their funding guidelines. Another way is to use your favorite Internet search engine to locate the funder’s website. Checking a funder’s website provides you with the most current guidelines.

You may also find that some foundation funders have online inquiry forms; others request a letter of inquiry. However, not all foundations, particularly smaller local foundations, have websites. If the foundation doesn’t have a website, be sure to get in touch with the contact person identified in the Foundation Center’s foundation profile.

Here are some tips for crafting a successful letter of inquiry:

  • All requests for funding must be on grant applicant letterhead. This presentation gives the funder agency a clear visual affirmation of the applicant organization, its location, and how to contact the applicant in writing, by telephone, or by e-mail.

  • Call the funder to verify the gender, name, title, and address of the contact person. After all, to make a professional impression with the letter of inquiry, the contact person’s information must be correct.

    Verifying contact information is especially important when you’re contacting a funder whose first name is gender ambiguous, such as Terry, Pat, or Kim. Find out whether that person is a Ms., Mrs., Mr., or Dr. Respect titles and use them to reach the right person the first time.

  • In the first two sentences, introduce your organization. Tell the funding agency who’s sending the letter, your nonprofit status, and why. For example:

    The Grant Writing Training Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation located in Arizona. As director, I am writing to invite your organization to be a financial stakeholder in the foundation’s mission to provide affordable training programs.

  • In the next two to four sentences, plant the seeds for your needs. Share startling facts and statistics about the problem your organization seeks to address with grant funds:

    Annually, the foundation is approached by approximately 40 small- to mid-size nonprofit organizations that want to host a Grant Writing Boot Camp at their location. The typical potential site host is an intermediary agency like the United Way or the state-level association of nonprofits. Given this discouraging economy, board members, volunteers, and inexperienced staff members at many organizations are all given the task of grant writing.

  • In one sentence, note how you want the recipient to be involved. Ask for the funding agency’s investment or partnership in your efforts to provide specific programs and services to the target population:

    Our board realizes that the foundation cannot financially afford to accept all invitations for training partnerships; however, with your assistance, we can at least develop a productive training schedule to meet the demand for our programs.

  • In no more than three sentences, show the funder your plans by writing futuristic global goals. For the example here, you should write something like “The foundation’s goals are to” and then add the goals.

  • In no more than seven sentences, sell, tell, and ask directly for help. For instance, sell the funder on the problem or need that the grant funds will address, tell the story in plain language, and ask for grant-funding support, including the amount of funding needed:

    Other nationally accredited grant-seeking and proposal-writing training programs are often three to five days in length and charge $1,000+ per registrant. Feedback from previous attendees at these types of workshops (survey conducted annually for past five years by the Foundation) shows that the trainer is reading from a script and unable to answer critical questions on the spot.

    In addition, the elongated training time frame is not appealing for anyone who has to take a full week off from work at his or her employer’s expense. The Grant Writing Training Foundation’s two-day Grant Writing Boot Camp is comprehensive, compressed, and internationally accredited by Certified Fund Raising Executives International.

    Registrants receive 14 continuing education units and a notebook full of writing exercises and resources. Our board is asking you to consider underwriting at least 10 Boot Camps next year at a cost of $10,000 each (20 registrants will attend free of charge).

  • In one sentence, ask for technical assistance if the funder can’t fund your project. Some needs your organization identifies may be instructional rather than monetary. For example, you may ask the funder to show you how to do a specific task, and then you can combine that knowledge with the resources that you have:

    If you cannot consider awarding grant funds at this time, the board is asking for technical assistance in connecting with state-level nonprofit associations, councils, and foundations that may be potential site hosts.

  • In one sentence, show hope in your closing. Sign off with “Waiting to hear from you,” “Hopefully,” or some other impactful closing.

  • In one line of type, make sure the CEO signs the letter of inquiry. This step shows that the top administrator for your organization is aware of your request for grant funding.