Tips for Grant Seekers
This page is intended to help you think through your letter of inquiry. The strongest letters we receive address the items mentioned below.
If you are ready to draft your letter of inquiry, be sure you also review our grant FAQ’s page.
Consider the timing of requests within the context of several years.
As the number of requests to the Foundation grows, there is an effort to increase the time period between consecutive grants. If your organization has a major project coming up in a year or two that you believe would be of interest to the Foundation, you may want to refrain from making other grant requests until that time.
The Foundation generally wants to see two years between the time a grant is made and the submission of another letter of inquiry. This time-frame applies to all grants, whether awarded through the small grant program or through a formal board meeting.
Letters of inquiry should summarize fully developed proposals.
Funders usually have more requests than they can possibly fund. Your letter must be compelling. The most compelling letters are those that summarize fully developed proposals. Such letters convey a sense of depth and knowledge about the opportunity or need you hope to address.
If a letter of inquiry raises key questions, the funder may call you. If your letter is based upon a fully developed proposal, you will be prepared to answer those questions.
Focus on what the project will accomplish.
Accomplishments impact people and communities. Building a new building is not an accomplishment in itself. The building is only a tool for accomplishing some bigger goal for the community – helping homeless people leave the street or reducing juvenile crime by providing a safe environment for young people after school.
Being clear about what you expect to accomplish with a project can help a funder understand how your effort aligns with their mission and goals.
Submit your letter of inquiry as soon as possible, but not before the project is ready.
The Foundation hopes to assist as many grant seekers as possible. Yet the number of deserving projects makes this a challenge. Grant requests may be turned down or deferred if it appears that it is too early in the project to pursue a grant.
Grant seekers can improve their chances if they follow three guidelines:
- If the project hinges upon a key commitment, be reasonably sure that commitment is in place before writing a letter of inquiry. Commitments from your top level donors are critical, especially for a major capital campaign.
- Fully develop the vision for what the project will accomplish. Building a building is not an accomplishment itself. The building is only a tool for accomplishing a larger community good.
- While it helps the Foundation to hear about your major campaign early, understand that a formal application generally will not be taken to the board of directors until you have raised (gifts in hand and formal pledges) at least 50-60% of the fundraising goal.
Remember that your budget is only a plan.
While budgets are important, they are only tools for understanding bigger issues. Your letter of inquiry should outline the opportunity/problem your organization wants to deal with and how it plans to approach the situation.
That also raises the questions:
- What resources do you need to complete this?
- Where do you plan to get those resources?
A budget document should begin to answer those questions. Yet, since the letter of inquiry is projecting into the future, it is still a plan, not an accounting of past actions or expenditures.
A good budget is based upon solid assumptions, experience (often the experience of other organizations that may serve as a model for your project), and the track record of the organization’s ability to raise support.
Letters of inquiry must provide timely contact information.
Your hope is that your letter sparks a positive response. Be sure your proposal letter clearly identifies a contact person to answer follow-up questions and schedule a visit.
Letters of inquiry should be signed by the executive director or a key board member.
Letters of inquiry represent requests from the organization. While a large organization has many programs and needs, a letter from a program director fails to convey the organization’s commitment to the project. Letters should be signed by the executive director or key board member.
Proof read, and double check your foundation information.
Please do not use one template letter to address multiple foundations. Letters of inquiry should be tailored and addressed to the Ben B. Cheney Foundation.