Basic Components of a Letter of Inquiry

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Consider how concise, yet engaging, you must be to keep someone's attention in conversation when there are many other people around also wanting that person's attention. And so it is with the Letter of Inquiry. Use your words smartly. Avoid jargon, boosterism, and flowery subjective statements that can't be supported by facts or others' statements. Write as if you are making a logical, persuasive argument based on need and the capacity to meet that need rather than selling something. Important! A Letter of Inquiry is not a vague exploration of an idea. It is assumed that you have already thought through your proposed project - including a budget! - and are presenting an abbreviated description.

Contents of a Letter of Inquiry

Please review the Tip Sheet entitled Basic Components of a Proposal because a Letter of Inquiry is a condensed version of a proposal. You are giving the highlights of the same information in much the same order. For example, where you might use a page to cover an executive summary, in a Letter of Inquiry you do it in a paragraph. Letters of Inquiry generally are 2-3 pages; oftentimes, the foundation will indicate a page limit. Do not go over that limit! Unless otherwise indicated by the foundation, the contents should generally follow the following format:

  1. Opening Paragraph
    1. This serves as your summary statement.
    2. It should be able to stand alone. If the reviewer reads nothing else they should know what you want to do from reading this paragraph. Make it clear what you want the reader to do.
    3. Answer the following: Who wants to do what? How much is being requested? Is this a portion of a larger project cost? Over what period of time is money being requested?
    4. You also may want to say if you are responding to an RFP (Request for Proposals) or make the connection between the foundation's interest and your project.
    5. I know this seems like a lot to address, but keep this paragraph short! You will have time later for explaining the rationale for why you want to do the project, your methodology, or for establishing your credibility.
  2. Statement of Need (1-2 paragraphs)
    1. This section answers the why of the project.
    2. Explain what issue you are addressing.
    3. Explain why you have chosen to respond to this set of issues in the way that you have.
    4. State briefly why this matters in the area in which you will be working.
    5. Note who benefits. Make sure you can indicate the public good achieved.
  3. Project Activity (this will be the bulk of your letter)
    1. This section answers the what and how of the project.
    2. Give a general overview of the activities involved. Give more detailed information to the degree that space allows.
    3. Highlight why your approach is novel and deserving of the special attention that funding connotes.
    4. Indicate if there will be collaboration with other organizations and what their roles will be. Be specific about who does what.
  4. Outcomes (1-2 paragraphs; you can put this before or after the discussion of activities)
    1. State what will be the specific outcomes achieved.
    2. Indicate how evaluation is part of the project - how will you know you've achieved these outcomes?
  5. Credentials (1-2 paragraphs)
    1. Demonstrate why your institution or your staff is best equipped to carry out this activity.
    2. Put any relevant historic background about the institution here.
    3. Brag with substance. Indicate awards, rankings, and tangible measures that set you apart from your peers.
  6. Budget (1-2 paragraphs)
    1. State what the total project cost will be and how much of that you would be requesting from the foundation. Indicate broad categories of activities to be funded.
    2. Include other sources of funding, both cash and in-kind. Especially indicate what your institution will contribute. Do not overlook the value of all in-kind contributions, including those of your collaborators.
  7. Closing (1 paragraph)
    1. Offer to give any additional information the foundation might need.
    2. Give a contact name and contact information for foundation follow-up. Indicate if one person is the administrative contact and another is the program contact.
    3. Express appreciation for the reader's attention or the opportunity to submit if it is in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP).
    4. Ask, May we submit a full proposal?
    5. Generally it is best to have the highest ranking person available sign the letter. This indicates institutional support.