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Letter of Inquiry

What is a letter of inquiry?

Foundations typically indicate what type of materials they prefer to receive when you have a project that you think may interest them. Often, the first contact is via a brief, one- to three-page letter of inquiry (LOI), which many foundations accept on a rolling basis. Alternatively, some funders will ask that you submit an initial letter of intent to apply for a program for which they have a formal proposal request process (a Request for Proposal, or RFP).

Writing tips

Letters of inquiry should be clear, concise and engaging. Initial research about the mission and program areas at the foundation is essential, and each letter should be tailored to the individual foundation.

Please contact our office if you are planning to submit a letter of inquiry. We can help with framing the LOI for the particular foundation, providing content feedback and editing before it goes to the prospective funder. 

What is the format?

Individual funders may specify the content and length of this initial letter, though others may not. In general, the purpose of the letter of inquiry is to generate interest and a desire to hear more in a full proposal.  At the same time, the LOI should provide enough detail about the problem and your project to allow readers to understand your general approach, methods, data, and analysis plans.

Below you can find guidance for writing each section of the LOI.

The first paragraph should begin with a "hook" or problem statement to engage the reader's interest in the issue or problem you are addressing. This should be about the actual underlying problem, not a statement about the lack of research on the problem. The following should also be included in the opening paragraph:
  • The significance of the problem
  • Your general approach to the project
  • How your project will contribute to solving the problem
  • How your project relates to the foundation’s mission, interests and defined program areas
  • An estimate of the budget that you will be requesting from the foundation and the timeline to complete the project

The body of the letter will explain the project in more detail, including:

  • A brief introduction to the literature that you will draw on in designing your study. This should not be exhaustive but should rather demonstrate that you are sufficiently well-read in the area to identify a meaningful question or issue to address.
  • Research questions/hypotheses that the study will focus on. The reviewer should be able to understand how these were derived from your understanding of the literature just presented.
  • Overview of the conceptual framework, study design and data to be collected/analyzed
  • Brief description of analysis plans. As in a full proposal, the reviewer should be able to understand how the methodology relates to the research questions.
  • The principal investigator’s expertise in this field
Close your LOI with a brief restatement of the significance of the project to the research field, population served or other areas that tie to the foundation’s interests.