How to Write a Letter of Inquiry

A letter of inquiry--also known as a letter of interest or concept paper--is a concise grant proposal, usually two to four pages long. Written in letterform, it is primarily targeted to foundations and corporations and can either be used as the sole decision mechanism or as a screening tool for full proposals. In either case, the writer faces the challenge of clear, concise writing.

Sample Letter of Inquiry

A compelling letter of inquiry will consist of seven parts. These are listed below with sample text for each section. Grant writers should reorganize and modify these sections depending on the funder’s guidelines.

1. Summary

Example:

ABC, the largest nonprofit in the District of Columbia providing transitional housing and support services for homeless families, invites your participation in a $500,000 capital project to expand the organization’s residential program.

2. Sponsor Appeal

Example:

You provide important work for the good of others. Your investment would not only contribute significantly to our efforts to provide a safe home environment, but would also serve as a standard of committed civic responsibilities inspiring others to support this important fund-raising effort. Your generous support of $2.5 million in 2011 to social service programs that serve vulnerable families encourages us to request your partnership in this important investment.

3. Problem

Example:

There is a spiraling gap between the number of affordable homes in the District and the number of people who can provide homes for their families. These circumstances add an additional burden to a region where the homeless rate is already among the highest in the country. In 2008, the local homeless population was estimated at 17,800 individuals, 30.4 percent of whom are families according to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. Washington, DC has the seventh highest poverty rate in the country-- 16.4% as of 2007, and has the highest proportion of people in the U.S. with the lowest income levels. Given the state of the economy, we have sadly watched our waiting list more than quadruple over the past year.

4. Solution

Example:

Our objective deals with developing expertise in the area of transitional housing. The project approach will close the gap by taking families off the streets in placing them in a safe environment where they can learn money management, employment skills, and other assets for self-sufficiency. We anticipate an improvement in the number of families who can break the vicious cycle of poverty. Our Time and Task Chart describes in detail how the need will be solved.

5. Capabilities

Example:

ABC has been helping the local homeless population since 1970. Our transitional housing program is in a unique position to conduct this project for two reasons. First, as a private program not dependent upon public funding, we can provide a detached perspective without constraints that public facilities experience. Second, the management team represents more than 100 years of expertise in trauma and crisis management.

6. Budget

Example:

Purchasing, upgrading and maintaining properties that surpass local health and safety standards for the escalating number of homeless families is quickly becoming cost-prohibitive. We must now reach out for assistance in what is surely a vital service to our entire community. Over a 10-year period, the funds you provide will touch the lives of more than 150 families. Such a gift will assure the quality and regularity of the programs to be provided and will enrich the lives of all whom those programs reach.

7. Closing

Example:

In closing, your support will contribute to the only business worth pursuing, as Albert Schweitzer noted, “The business of doing purposeful good.” I hope we will have the privilege of offering you a full proposal outlining the means by which we can work together in our shared mission to help those who cannot currently help themselves.

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