Although the guts of your grant proposal will take up most of your time and energy, don't short change your cover letter. Attention to the finer points of putting the proposal package together can make or break a funding request. Don't turn off your funder with a sloppy cover letter.
Mim Carlson and Tori O'Neal-McElrath, authors of Winning Grants, Step by Step, point out that the cover letter should introduce your organization to the correct person; assure the funder that this project has the support of your board of directors; and specifically state what you are asking for...how much and for what.
When Do You Include a Cover Letter?
Use a cover letter for proposals to corporations and foundations, but not on federal or state grant applications. Those funders only want the things they ask for. They rarely ask for a cover letter.
Attributes of a Good Cover Letter
Your cover letter should be:
- get to the point quickly
- should not simply repeat the information that is in the proposal
- should tell the reader how well you understand the funder and how your grant fulfills the funder's requirements
Beverly A. Browning, author of Grant Writing for Dummies, suggests that you write the cover letter after you've completed the entire proposal, and when you are in a reflective mood. Browning says:
"As you consider your great achievement (the finished funding request), let the creative, right side of your brain kick in and connect your feelings of accomplishment to the person who will help make your plans come true."
Formatting Your Cover Letter
Follow these basics and you can't go wrong:
- Use your organization's letterhead. Put the same date on the cover letter that is on the completed grant application. That is the date the application will be sent to the grantor. This will make all the documents in your proposal package consistent.
- For the inside address (goes at top of letter) use the foundation or corporate contact person's name and title, followed by the funding source's name, address, city, state, and zip code. Double check this information with a telephone call or an email. Such information changes frequently, so make sure you have the current name and address.
- In your salutation, use "Dear" plus the personal title (Mr., Ms., Mrs.,Dr., Messrs., etc), followed by the last name. It is very important that the letter be to a particular person. Call the foundation or corporate office to make sure you have the right person and the right personal title. These things may seem like minutiae, but success can turn on attention to such details.
- Your first paragraph should be short and focused. Introduce your organization (its legal name) and tell the funder how much money you are requesting and why. Include a sentence or two about what your organization does, and then include one research-based point that shows there is a need for what your organization does.
- Write one or two more paragraphs that are very brief and succinct. State your organization's purpose and how it fits with the funder's mission or funding priorities. Include the fact that your board of directors is in full support of the project.
- End your letter with a final, summarizing paragraph. Include a thought about what this funding partnership can mean for your project's target audience.
- Use a closing such as "Sincerely."
- The letter should be signed by the executive director or the board president, or both. Below the signature, type the signer's fist name, middle initial, last name, and job title. Although the ED or board president should sign the letter, the contact person's name and contact information can be included at the end of the last paragraph.
- At the bottom of the letter, include the word, "ENCLOSURE" (in all caps).
How Long Should the Cover Letter Be?Most experts suggest that your cover letter be limited to one page with three or four paragraphs maximum. Since the reader has an entire proposal to plow through, you don't want to make him or her impatient by having to read a long cover letter.
The tone and specifics of your cover letter may vary depending on whether you've been invited to submit a full proposal after submitting a Letter of Inquiry (LOI), or if this proposal is your organization's first approach to this particular foundation.
See a sample cover letter on page 2 - -