How to Write an Effective Grant Proposal Cover Letter
Make It Brief but Inviting
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 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 for federal or state grant applications. Those funders only want what 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 only 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, the 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 you will send the grant proposal to the grantor. Using the same date makes all the documents in your proposal package consistent.
- For the inside address (goes at the top of the 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. Also, when you submit an electronic grant application, you may not know a particular name.
- In your salutation, use "Dear" plus the personal title (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr., Messrs., etc.), followed by the last name. It is critical that you address the letter to a particular person. Call the foundation or corporate office to make sure you have the right person and the correct personal title. These details may seem unimportant, but they do matter.
- 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 brief paragraph. State your project's purpose and how it fits with the funder's mission or funding priorities. Include the fact that your board of directors fully supports the project.
- End your letter with a summarizing paragraph. Add what this funding partnership can mean for your project's target audience. You might want to include an invitation for a site visit as well.
- 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 first name, middle initial, last name, and job title. Although the ED or board president should sign the letter, do include the contact information for the best person to answer questions 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 you limit your cover letter to one page with three or four paragraphs. 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 sending a Letter of Inquiry (LOI), or if this project is your organization's first approach to this particular foundation.
Sample Cover Letter
Mary Smith, PhD
4321 Common Lane
Some City, YZ 55555
Dear Dr. Smith:
The Some City Senior Center respectfully requests a grant of $50,000 for our Senior Latino Community Outreach Pilot Project.
As the largest senior center in Any County, serving over 450 seniors every day, we are aware of the changing demographics in our service area. And we are committed to growing and adapting our center to meet emerging needs. The Senior Latino Community Outreach Pilot Project will allow us to pilot a one-year effort to determine if our center can effectively:
- provide comprehensive access to health and social services to seniors in the Latino communities served by our center, and
- raise and fully integrate the cultural competency of the board, staff, and volunteers of the Some City Senior Center.
Our board of directors is enthusiastic about this program and eager to launch it so we can become the most inclusive and culturally competent center for seniors in all of our communities that need these services. Should we find at the end of our pilot year that this program is, in fact, successful, our board has committed to including a portion of the project's yearly expenses into our annual operating budget so that the program becomes an integral part of our core services.
Through this project, the Center will become the primary referral given by Health Access Latinos, Families of Any County, and three community clinics within a fifteen-mile radius of our center. We will also accept referrals of Spanish-speaking seniors from any other community agency in our immediate service area.
Thank you for your consideration of our request. I will follow up with you in the next week to answer any questions you might have, as well as to learn whether we might meet with you to discuss the merits of our proposal. Meanwhile, should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Connie Jones, our Director of Development, at (555) 555-5555, x555, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Letter reprinted (with modifications) with permission from Winning Grants, Step by Step, Second Edition, Tori O'Neal-McElrath, Jossey-Bass, 2009.
3 Ways to Mess Up Your Cover Letter
- Writing too much. A cover letter is not a dissertation, nor is it a full proposal. Keep it short and to the point Tip: Have someone else read it. Do they understand it?
- Using big words. If you've been to graduate school, you learned to write in a complicated way. Don't do that here. You're not trying to impress someone with your erudition. You only want to state your case as naturally as possible. If you don't know when you're overcomplicating your writing, use an app such as Hemingway. It will tell you when your sentences are hard to read and when you are too wordy.
- Making Grammatical Mistakes. If you're not sure of your grammar, don't take chances. Use the grammar check in WORD, and, also run your draft through an app such as Grammarly. There is a free version, but the paid version goes well beyond the typical necessary grammar check.
How Can You Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out?
Sad to say, but your grant proposal may be among hundreds or thousands that a typical foundation will see during an average year. Your cover letter can make the difference in making the cut to the next step towards funding. But how can you make it stand out?
Well, don't try anything "cute." Foundation officials will not be impressed. But you can include a paragraph about why your organization is the one that can best accomplish this mission. Survey your competition organizations and assess just how and where you excel. That may be in the strength of your staff and volunteers, your experience with this particular problem, or the community support you enjoy.
You don't need to mention the names of competitors or criticize them. Just highlight your strengths. This would be a good time to consult with others around the office. Pull a few people together and brainstorm how your nonprofit excels.
Storytelling for Grantseekers, Second Edition, Cheryl A. Clarke, Jossey-Bass, 2009, Buy from Amazon.
Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing and Writing Successful Proposals, 4th Edition, Tori O'Neal-McElrath, Jossey-Bass, 2008, Buy from Amazon
Grant Writing for Dummies, 5th Edition, Beverly A. Browning, Wiley, 2014. Buy from Amazon
Back to How to Write a Grant Proposal.
Proposal writing is an important part of doing business in the modern world, Whether you’re selling enterprise-level services, doing business with the government, or work for a nonprofit that’s seeking a grant from a foundation, the right kind of letter paired with a well-written, properly formatted business proposal is essential.
There are many types of businesses and nonprofits that are required to write out business proposals in order to acquire a contract or funding.
We have a downloadable template for you later on in this page, however, first we’ll take you through the in’s and out’s of polishing your final proposal so it’s fit to send. It’s important that your business proposal is written in a persuasive manner, and that you pair it with a professional cover letter. This article will take you through some of the easiest ways to come off looking like the consummate professional when it comes to your proposals.
Business Proposal Templates
What You Need to Know About Writing a Business Proposal
A business proposal is perhaps one of the most important documents a small business owner learns how to write, whether you own a business complete with sales staff or work as a freelancer on your own. The nature of today’s business-to-business climate is highly competitive, and a well-written proposal is much more than a template that you’ve filled in. When you’re not familiar with the world of business proposals, you may find that you’ve spent hours submitting and tailoring the same business proposal template and not gotten any responses. This can easily be the case if you’re rushing through the content of the proposal itself. Don’t rush ahead; learn the basics on what will make your proposal truly shine.
What Qualifies as a Business Proposal, Anyway?
A business proposal is typically defined as a persuasive document that is written to provide goods or services to a specific client. Proposals are either solicited or unsolicited. Unsolicited proposals are usually meant to fish for new business, while solicited proposals are direct responses to a request, either through a Request for Proposal notice, a letter or phone call. Most businesses that sell to other businesses have a business proposal template that they modify depending on the recipient. Sometimes a business will keep a template on hand for different niche industries as well. For example, you may use one template to pitch your graphic design services to a small retailer, and another to sell your graphic design service to the government in response to an RFP announcement.
Business Proposal Examples
How To Write A Winning Business Proposal
A winning business proposal is focused and persuasive, answering basic questions about the product or service you plan to provide, setting a price, and explaining why your proposal is the only solution that the recipient needs to consider. The business proposal template will be correctly formatted and easy to read. It should also be easy for you to edit and amend.
The focus of a successful business proposal must be one that lets your reader understand how you will provide a solution to their problem, in the easiest and clearest way possible. If you’re answering an RFP, this means that you’ll be providing a solution and a quote for the specification they require. You should be able to state the cost of goods, labor, and any other overhead that will be attributed to the pricing you’re setting out.
Make Sure to Include the Following in Your Business Proposal:
- A Clear Solution: A proposal is meant to solve a problem. For businesses, this is usually a tangible problem, such as need for new, mobile technology on the go or a new set of marketing materials designed. Nonprofits, however, answer to a higher calling when they submit a proposal; they need to convince their readers of the social/societal problems they solve, and that they are an organization with a proven track record of this.
- Accurate Pricing Information: If your proposal is accepted, it will be a binding contract; so don’t undercut the competition with a plan to “add hours in” later. Make sure to account for all expenses the project will incur and annotate these expenses on the price page.
- View Sample Business Proposals: Get a feel for what kind of proposals your industry expects. If you are applying for funding, or for a contact for the government, there will likely be online records of past winners, complete with their winning proposals. If not, don’t fear; usually companies or government organizations that puts out requests for proposals will offer a sample proposal. If you can’t find an example readily available on the website, call and ask politely if they have a preferred layout for their business proposal. The government will often offer you a business proposal sample template to help you meet their specifications.
- Become Familiar with Your Competitors: Research your potential client, but also research your competition. There may be other companies vying for the contract you’re trying to get, so it’s important that you compare your services and be able to explain, in simple terms, why your service or products are unique.
- Explain Features and Benefits: Make sure you spell out the features as well as the benefits clearly for your proposal. Features are specifications. For example, if you will be pitching a gluten-free catering service for a special event, “gluten free” would be considered one of the most important features of the food. However, the benefits of a gluten-free catering would be simple: If you are hosting a party and have food sensitivities, you can still plan a delicious and exciting menu.
Writing that Business Proposal Letter
Now that you understand the basics, it’s time to dig in and write your proposal. Most business proposals, when you look at the business proposal samples, present the same information and have the same layout. It’s fine if you use a template to craft your proposal, but the details and persuasive elements should be chosen from scratch for each potential client. Take the time to understand their unique needs, their industry, and their requirements for the project.
How to Write a Proposal Letter
It’s easy to overlook the importance of a good cover letter when you’re focusing on your proposal, but don’t take the easy way out. When you spend just a few minutes on your cover letter, it often shows. A cover letter is something that introduces you and your business to the reader, and a properly written proposal letter helps make your first impression a good one.
You typically do not need a cover letter for a proposal that you’re submitting to a state, city or federal government, unless it specifically asks for one. Usually, such proposals will require a cover sheet formatted in a specific way.
Make Sure Your Proposal Letter Looks Polished
Your letter is a first impression for your letter and proposal recipient, so don’t skimp on the fine details. When writing the letter, use your organization’s professionally printed letterhead. In order to keep your paperwork consistent, the letter should be dated the same as your proposal. Make sure you are addressing your proposal letter to the proper person and department – this will help your recipient know that you took the time to get the details right. (It’s also good to do this because contact information and names can change.) Call the company if you’re unsure of a person’s title or department; when it comes to professionalism, the details count.
What to Put In Your Proposal Cover Letter
Your letter serves as an introduction to the organization, and as such, should fit on one page easily. Your first paragraph should introduce your organization by name, tell the recipients at your business or nonprofit does, and what your proposal is about.
The middle of the letter should focus on the purpose of your proposal. For example, if you are asking for funding, you should explain the project and how it benefits the world. If you’re sending a proposal in response to a request, explain what the proposal is in response to and what problem it solves. Sometimes it’s easiest if you sum up your purpose in one sentence, similar to an elevator pitch. If you had only 30 seconds to pitch this potential client or donor, what would you want then to know most? With this in mind, you’ll be able to focus on the purpose of your proposal, as well as your passion for the project or solution you have in mind.
Make sure to close your letter strongly, using the last paragraph to drive your purpose home to the reader. A good way to do this is to point to past work and accomplishments or case studies to illustrate why you are the best organization/business to get the job done. You can also mention specific expertise of staff members who will participate in the proposed work, award your business or organization has received, or impressive credentials from your board of directors.
Make sure you thank the reader for their time, and sign your letter with “Sincerely.” Have an Executive Director, CEO or the President of the Board sign the cover letter personally.
At the bottom of the letter, make sure that you type the word “ENCLOSURE” to indicate that a proposal is attached.
Business Proposal Samples
How to Make Your Business Proposal Letter Persuasive
Without persuasion, or passion, a business proposal cover letter can fall flat. Once you’ve written a first draft, it’s time to make your letter sound more urgent and persuasive. Here’s how to achieve this:
- Make the letter “you centered”. Focus on what your business can do for the reader, and what problems could be solved for them.
- Use action words. Instead of saying that your company has created databases, explain that you “build database solutions”. Keep your words focused on the present tense.
- Use questions to draw intrigue. Instead of simply stating that you provide a solution, ask your reader a question about their problem. Here’s an example of how to do that: “Have you ever wished you could send signature files real-time to your clients? Well, now you can,” a document signing company may ask a client in a proposal. Or, if you provide customer service software, you might ask, “Are you looking for a streamline customer service solution that incorporates social media as well as traditional channels? ”
- Back up your claims with data or statistics. Did your company increase a client’s sales by 60% over three months? Is there a new study out in your industry that supports your business solutions? Back your letter with facts and figures, and you’ll find it’s relatively easy to pique interest.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the business proposal template and writing proposal cover letters, it’s time to create a final draft. Make sure you read your letter out loud and ask a colleague to help with proofreading. A second set of eyes can always help catch mistakes that your typical grammar and spelling check will ignore.
When mailing your proposal letter and cover sheet, make sure to use an appropriately sized envelope and proper postage. Don’t try to put a 20-page letter into a legal sized envelope. Buy yourself a catalog mailer, make sure everything is in the correct letter, and use a typed mailing label on the front.
Writing a business proposal isn’t necessarily always fund, but the end result will be a contract or business partnership, which will make it all worth it in the end.