Do you have a project you are passionate about?
Chances are you will need other people to fall in love with what you are doing to make your project a success. You will need a bigger pool of supporters and fans to rally and believe in your work.
How do you convey what you know so well to a prospective patron or supporter? With so many people competing for funding for their projects, do you ever wonder if your letter of inquiry has a chance?
According to a recent grant panel I participated in, the funder awarded 20 grants out of a pool of 1700 applicants. Pretty competitive.
Foundations, philanthropies, and government funders are overwhelmed with requests . You probably are just as frustrated by the process.
So how can you make your next letter of inquiry jump out of the slush pile into the yes pile? Where do you start and is it worth the effort?
You bet it is. And it’s easier than you think.
Chances are, your letter is one of many similar letters that land on the desk of a grant officer slowly drowning in a sea of paper. Now, if you were that person, what would be the first thing you would want to do to make your life easier?
Here’s a hint: Hunting for a reason to keep a letter in the slush pile is not the answer.
The truth is, that first thing that reader wants to do is whittle down the pile of letters to consider by eliminating the weak ones. You don’t want to give them any reason to toss your letter out of the pile.
You work hard for what you love and now you need to that love to come back to you.
I sat on a panel with three very smart people from a foundation, a politician’s office and from the artist community. After spending time reading drafts of letters of inquiry from attendees seeking financial support, we came away with a handful of advice.
Eight tips, to be precise. I paired them with some images in this quick little video. They are also here with some of my thoughts.
The following are eight ways to get Eight Days A Week worth of love for that project you love. They are easy to use and can double your letter’s appeal and chances for getting to yes:
1. Be Clear
Be simple and clear about what you need. The clarity of your request will be greatly appreciated by people who do not have to go digging through pages of text to find out exactly who you are, what you want and most important of all, how they can be helpful.
“I respectfully request $10,000 (WHAT) to support three productions of original plays about seeking identity as second generation immigrants (WHY and WHY THIS MATTERS) by emerging Bengali playwrights (WHO) to take place in September (WHEN) at the XYZ Theatre (WHERE).”
2. Be Short & Sweet
Use short sentences. Choose simple words, not jargon.
- children under 5, not constituent
- make friends, not outreach
- work with people, not implement a program
- understand, not seek common ground
- see if it works, not assess the metrics
Your writing should follow The Mini Skirt Rule and be:
Long enough to cover the basics and short enough to be enticing.
3. Do Your Homework
Nothing is worse than a letter requesting apples from someone that has oranges.
Take the time to find out what projects your local legislator has funded in your district to see if your project is something they would be interested in.
“Your support of the ABC reading series for seniors at local library branches is a greatly needed and appreciated community program. Our intergenerational open mic workshop has been carefully designed to build upon this success and to give local seniors more ways to become involved with the rapidly growing literary community in your district.”
You have shown your knowledge of a project that has been recently funded. Rather than duplicate efforts, you are enhancing this program’s success by collaborating with other local resources. This shows you understand how to build working partnerships and how to leverage support in a deeper way.
4. Update Your Website
The first place people will go to find out more about you is your website.
Make sure there is fresh content on your homepage and that your contact information is up to date and easy to find. Add images to make your pages more attractive.
A ghost town website will undermine your credibility.
5. Love Your Layout
Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone
Most people skim before they read. A wall of text is sure to make someone’s eyes glaze over.
Why not break up your text into two or three short paragraphs and add white space to “let your words breathe”?
Use bulleted lists to make it easy for your eyes to focus on important points.
6. Get Another Set of Eyes
Not your mom. She will love you no matter what you write.
Get someone unfamiliar with your field to review your letter and see if your message is clear to them. Ask a colleague to proofread your work.
Then ask your mom.
7. Make it Easy
If you are sending work samples such as a video or an audio recording, make sure everything is clearly marked and cued up ready to go. This is actual proof that you are an expert in what you love to do and promise of your potential. A little attention to the technical details will prevent glitches from preventing people from seeing you in action.
Send your letter out as a PDF and as an attachment.
Having your document in both formats makes it easier for people to access no matter how old or temperamental their computer is. People will appreciate having options.
8. Follow up
Now that your letter has been sent, you have an opportunity to check in. If you are successful, say thank you. A lot. You can never express your appreciation enough.
If you are not successful, you can call and say thank you for their consideration. You can also develop a relationship by asking for panel comments and where you fell short so that you can do a better job the next time.
No is not no. It is not yet waiting to become a yes.
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