Learning to write a solid grant proposal cover letter

Published 8:37am Monday, August 15, 2011

In the last article we shared the steps for identifying a grantmaker or foundation. In this article we will talk about the steps for writing a successful grant, starting with the cover letter.

When writing the cover letter for a grant application, make sure and pay close attention to the details. In many cases the cover letter can make or break the entire grant proposal.

Remember this is the first document to be seen or read by the funder, foundation or grantmaker.

How do you know when to write a cover letter?

With state and federal grants they specifically ask that you not submit a cover letter.

They have specific requirements of what they do and do not want.

Always thoroughly read every foundation’s guidelines for what is accepted and what is not. You will usually submit a cover letter for foundation’s and corporations.

In formatting the cover letter, again attention to detail always ensures success.

Step one: make sure the cover letter is on the organization’s letterhead. Fancy or scented paper is unnecessary for grant proposals.

Step two: ensure the funders address is located at the top left of the cover letter. Include a person’s name in the address that you will then use for the salutation; it must be the same name.

Step three: for the salutation always use “Dear” followed by the correct title and last name of the contact person. Also make sure the person’s name in the address is the same name you use here.

Again the contact person changes often enough that I would not trust the website. A simple phone call to the funder to ensure you have the correct name and title will eliminate embarrassment later.

Again, these things may seem like minutiae, but success can turn on attention to such details.

Step four: the first paragraph should be short and sweet. In this paragraph it is your opportunity to introduce your nonprofit. When writing cover letters, always assume the funder has never heard of your nonprofit, even if you have received funding in the past from this funder.

Keep in mind that their committees and boards turn over just as a normal nonprofit, so the likelihood of a member being on the committee or board that does not know about your organization is high.

Also, in the first paragraph state how much money you will be requesting from the funder and why.

Finalize the first paragraph with a brief summary of what your nonprofit does, current programs etc.

It is also a nice touch to include a research-based quote that shows the need for your nonprofit and its services and/or programs.

Step five: the second paragraph of the cover letter should be very concise.

State your nonprofit’s purpose and how it fits with the funder’s mission or funding priorities/guidelines.

In this paragraph you also want to include who is supporting this project, such as your board of directors, other nonprofits or corporations who have already given funding for the project.

Step six: the final paragraph, once again, needs to be short. A summary of why you think this funding partnership would benefit your nonprofit and the proposed project, program or service.

Also in this paragraph, if multiple people are signing the letter include their contact information, especially if it is different from the contact information listed on the nonprofit’s letterhead.

Step seven: end the cover letter with “Sincerely” and have the executive director and/or chair of the board of directors sign the cover letter.

The rule of thumb is if you have mentioned in the cover letter that the board is in support of this grant have the chair of the board of directors of your nonprofit sign the cover letter to show the support of the entire board.

After the signature(s) of the responsible parties, include ENCLOSURE on the bottom of the cover letter.  I know another simple, yet often forgotten formatting technique.

A quick checklist to ensure a good quality cover letter:
- One page in length.
- Concise and gets to the point quickly.
- Does not repeat the information in the grant proposal.
- Should demonstrate to the reader that the nonprofit organization understands the funder’s giving policies and guidelines and how it fulfills those requirements.

The next article will continue the steps for writing the grant, focusing on the executive summary.

Nonprofit Leadership column, written by Melissa Le Roy, a nonprofit consultant is aimed at providing guidance from Melissa’s perspective as a leader in both the nonprofit and for profit businessworld. For questions or comments related to this series, please feel free to contact me at melissaleroy@gmail.com.

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