Developing Proposals and Letters of Inquiry

The Office of Foundation Relations focuses on building and strengthening relationships with private professional foundations and using our expertise in the field to help Northwestern faculty submit the strongest proposals to the most appropriate foundations. We are not a compliance office, though we work closely with other grantseeking offices at Northwestern, including departmental research administrators and the Office for Research.

The key to success in winning foundation funding is to put the right project in front of the right funder and to individualize the approach for that particular audience (donor, staff, and board). Often, the first contact with a foundation is through a brief, one to three page letter of inquiry (LOI). In general, the letter aims to attract the funder's interest in your project or proposal so that its staff will request a more detailed proposal. Please note that individual funders may specify the content and length of this initial letter. Read some general LOI guidelines to get started.

Full foundation proposal guidelines vary widely by sponsor, and foundation proposals typically differ from federal ones in content and tone. Some proposals will be focused more on overall impact and significance, have a couple weeks turn-around time, and must be lay-reader friendly as they will be evaluated by non-specialists in the field. Others may be more technical, since they will be reviewed by a set of expert external reviewers and/or a highly knowledgeable board over a period of months. Each proposal can be any mix of the above, and more!

In all cases, OFR can advise and assist. Our team of skilled, specialized writers can provide guidance and feedback from a "foundation-centric" point of view. Whether you need one piece of information to complete an application or would like input from the ground up, contact our office for help with any aspect of foundation proposal development.