After spending a week reading proposals and letters of inquiry, I thought it might be a good time to offer a refresher course on a properly designed letter of inquiry, sometimes also called letters of introduction.
A letter of inquiry (LOI) is basically a way of introducing your organization to a prospective funding partner and requesting their monetary support. LOIs are meant to elicit an invitation to submit a fully fleshed out proposal, not as the final funding request.
It should be formatted as a formal business letter, with attention to proper business formatting and language. It should contain the date, inside address and the appropriate salutation. Closing signatures should be properly formatted as well. If you aren't sure of the formatting there are innumerable examples online.
The tone should be respectful and business-friendly, even if you know someone at the prospective funder's office quite well. This is the place for "Dear Sir" not "Hey, dude".
If it is done in hard copy, letterhead stationery is recommended for the first page and corresponding paper with a footer showing your address and name for subsequent pages.
As to length, if there are no guidelines offered by the funder, two pages is a good rule of thumb. By no means should it exceed three pages. Some funding organizations are now limiting LOI's to a certain page, word or character count. Always try to check the requirements with your target organization either via their online profile or by actually contacting someone at their offices for guidance.
A modified Executive Summary.
Who are you and what do you want? Since this may well be the only part that is ever read, it is important. If you were referred to the funder by someone, this is a good place to mention it, as follows:
"Joe Black indicated to us that you are accepting letters of inquiry" or words to that effect. Just mention the person briefly.
Introduce your agency. Include a short thumbnail version of your organizational biography (1-2 paragraphs); a short but complete outline of your mission goals; a statement of mission alignment (seeks to show grantor that you recognize their priorities and shows why you think your request for funding fits within their mission).
The amount you are requesting (unless funder guidelines prohibit this).
Your qualifications to accomplish your mission (previous successes, advantageous partnerships, community involvement etc)
Statement of Need
Briefly outlines the problem you are seeking to solve, the impact the problem is having on your target population and why your program is needed (no one else is addressing it or other agencies are overwhelmed, etc).
Present the macro details of your program. Be sure to include specific outcome goals that prove impact, and mention how you will verify outcome data. Briefly introduce key program staff and synopsize their qualifications relative to the program. Include a total projected figure for the program, but this is not the place for a line item budget.
Other support (if any)
List any other funding sources or pledges of support including dollar amounts (If your other funders agree. Otherwise, use percentages, such as "XYZ has pledged to underwrite 20% of the program costs for the first year). Remember that no funder wants to be the sole source of support for your organization and your programs.
If matching funds are required, mention where and how you plan to obtain those funds.
Thank the funder for the opportunity to present your organization/programs to them and restate the ask. Sample closing:
"Thank you for the opportunity to present our organization and our mission to (name of funder). We are looking forward to an invitation to present a full proposal further explaining our request for $35,000 for the (name of program)"
The LOI is your only chance to make a first impression. Do your best to make it a good one.