Although your grant proposal cover letter isn't the most exciting part of the grant proposal, it's still vital to get funding. The cover letter is the first contact point a potential organization or funder will have with your nonprofit project.
It's like going out on a date. Sure, looks aren't everything. Nevertheless, if you utterly don't care about how you dress, you're making it harder for yourself.
And just like your looks, you want to make your grant application cover letter simple and focused on impressing a particular person. It's the first contact with the executive or organization you wish to request funding. If you want them to read your grant proposal request, they'll have to like the cover letter first.
More crucial steps will come later, presuming the funder reads your cover letter. Although you can search for sample cover letters, they are usually hard to find.
Research shows that about 35% of grant funders funded 50% or more of the received grant requests. So, your grant proposal cover letter needs to be a complete home run. Here's how.
How to Write a Grant Proposal Cover Letter
First of all, an average grant proposal letter shouldn't be more than one page long. Cover letters are the pitch of your detailed grant proposal. Think of it as a summary of your book.
Before writing the first paragraph, you should open the letter with the contact's name, title, address, and other related information. Although this might sound obvious, double-check that the contact information is correct. There are countless examples of rushed letters. You don't want your project to crumble due to a misspelled executive director name.
Do your research before starting the cover letter. You can quickly find the correct information via a single call, email, or simply by doing some Internet scavenging.
Similarly, address the person with "Dear" and add a personal title such as Mr. or Mrs. Again, it's cover letter 101, so it will feel even worse if you misspell the first step.
If this doesn't seem like a big deal, look at it like this. Executives have a keen eye for sloppiness. Since they will skim any cover letter first rather than reading it to the last paragraph, you don't want mistakes popping out.
The initial information tells the funder you didn't go in headfirst, and proper addressing tells them you're a potential candidate. If the letter lacks, you'll be mistaken for a novice instead of a candidate worthy of doing business.
If you're interested in learning more about the grant writing process, then take a look at our grant writing certification course.
Get Straight to the Point in Your Grant Proposal Cover Letter
Everybody knows why you're writing a grant proposal cover letter; it's in the name. Meaning, there's no reason to sugarcoat it.
After you nail the introduction, it's time to introduce yourself and your organization. In the first paragraph, format the content into two sentences maximum. Here, you'll write who you are and your job title. That's it.
Next, get right to the point. Describe why your organization or foundation needs the grant, what's your mission, and most importantly, the budget you're requesting. Maybe you're working on a community project, or it's a charity. Either way, make it brief.
While on the topic, you should create a proposal for grants of all sizes. Even if a smaller grant doesn't suffice, having it can attract larger grants. There are about 900 federal grant programs. Don't limit yourself.
Another great touch is to validate your project via research. If you have cold data that justifies your organization's existence, rarely will anyone find a way to object.
If you're not 100% sure how to format the paragraph, create a sample cover and share it with friends or co-workers. Write the section, read the grant request introduction, then ask two questions.
- Can you tell me what the project is about? - Although the mission is clear to you as a writer, it might read astrophysical development documents to a fresh pair of eyes.
- How did you feel when you read the requested funding? - This is to see how another person will react. Keep in mind that how your friend and the funder reacts can differ.
Methods, Strategies & Solutions
In the next paragraph, you should explain how you plan to use the grant to the grantor. By doing this, you're effectively telling the funder that you have a plan in motion. You can also include a graphical modal for visual representation, depending on the format.
Some writers like to use a numbered sample. The format can work both when you're explaining your goals and strategies:
- The organization's four main goals
- The project's five phases
Usually, you want to back up each number with further details. Although an excellent overview, simply including a couple of numbers in your letter won't suffice. Find the balance between simplicity and complexity. Numbering provides a clear summary, while further details should give the letter a more professional tone.
An additional touch is to offer a timeline where you explain significant milestone and their due dates. You can also do that by using a brief bullet-point format. The timestamps can be months or quarters, depending on the project's length.
Again, remember you'll go into full detail in the grant proposal. Although defining strategies and methods isn't crucial for the cover letter, add it if you can fit it on that one page.
Cover Letters & Necessary Data
After the mission details and budget proposals, it's time to quickly cover organization info and structure. It can be tedious, but every grant proposal needs it, especially if you grab their attention.
Again, keep it short. Explain your corporate structure and related information in just a couple of sentences, including the founding date. Grant proposals require the data, and although you're not writing a contract but a cover letter, you still need to present the essential information.
You should also explain how your project matches the funder's and why the funder should give you the support and funding priority.
As always, double-check the information in your proposal letter, especially if you're running a nonprofit organization. It's somewhat easier to get grants for a nonprofit project, but funders are more likely to check the details. Although many think that foundation funding is the primary source for nonprofits, about 80% of income comes from other sources.
If the grant funder likes your cover letter, you want to make it easy for them to contact you about the grant proposal.
Always end all your cover letters with a positive closing line such as "Looking forward to your response." The goal is for the letter to sound optimistic, grateful, but not needy.
Sign the letter and if your organization has an executive director, have them sign as well.
Cover Letter Tips & Mistakes to Avoid
For the final polish of your proposal, you can do things to give the letter a more personal and professional touch.
Ask for Feedback
Before pressing "send," have co-workers read the sample of the proposal one more time. Good feedback is hard to find, and once you make contact, the fabled typos become irreversible. Don't be gun shy to even reach out to your wider community for support.
Send the proposal sample page to anyone you can and collect their feedback. Naturally, you don't want to spend half of your waking life collecting feedback. Still, a cover letter is just words on a paper without the reader understanding what you want, especially when they're giving you money.
If still not convinced, it takes between 80 to 200 hours to write a grant proposal, and it can cost several thousand dollars if you're hiring a grant writer. You don't want a single page to ruin all the hard work.
Use Plain English
We all want to impress others. But using complex words can easily backfire and ruin your chance.
The point of a proposal letter isn't to show your vocabulary but to state your case as straightforward as possible. If you're unsure if you're overdoing it, some helpful apps and websites will tell you if a sentence is too long or too complex.
Ensure the dates match since you'll have a date both in the cover letter and the main grant proposal. You don't want to send a proposal where the grant proposal has April 5th while the cover letter has November 27th. This goes for other files you'll send as well.
The cover letter should use single-space and leave space between addresses in the heading. Double-space means less room to write the limited information you need. This doesn't mean you should delete the area between paragraphs. Give the letter room to breathe.
Although unnecessary, it can be a nice touch if you place your signature in live ink. Leave about three empty spaces the complimentary close and your name for the signature.
Send the Cover Letter in PDF
If you're emailing the grant proposal letter, email the document in PDF. There's a chance the foundation will offer to sign documents digitally. Additionally, unlike other text files, PDF is safe from malware. Meaning, a PDF will not only look competent but will also leave a good impression in the eyes of the more "tech-savvy" grant funders.
If you are new to grant writing and are looking to break-in, we recommend taking our Grant Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of being a grant writer, how to write proposals that win grants, and how to stand out as a grant writing candidate.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He had his first job in technical writing for a video editing software company in 2014. Since then, he has written several books on software documentation, personal branding, and computer hacking. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.