Tips on Writing a Strong Letter of Intent
Updated: May 2
Grantseekers have a difficult job to do. While their work is surely rewarding, I can certainly appreciate that it must be incredibly challenging to address funders' criteria in a brief application, especially a 3-page letter of intent. While we at RTNF have reasons for designing our process the way that we have, we certainly know that there are trade-offs associated with requesting such a brief and potent document as the first stage in our application process.
With such a brief assessment tool, it's critical that we are as clear as possible about what we look for in those 3 short pages. We are astonished by the overall quality of our applicant pool and are downright inspired by our grantees, but I hate to think that each year there are probably several strong organizations who slip through our process--not because they are not well-aligned with our goals nor because they are not able to demonstrate potential for strong impact--but because we could have been clearer about how we evaluate applications.
So, without further adieu, I'm sharing updated descriptions of our grantmaking criteria (also updated here), in the hopes that this new information provides more clarity to prospective applicants.
Ability to demonstrate impact through rigorous data. We seek to fund programs that are evidence-based, so we look for specific, clear, and rigorous evidence of program impact in LOIs. We believe that organizations should be both consuming and contributing to peer-reviewed field research whenever possible. We've found that the most compelling LOIs therefore include:
Specific references to peer-reviewed research that informs the program model and the specific outcomes suggested in referenced studies;
Outcomes/KPIs and basic information about internal evaluation methods used (e.g., type of evaluation design, benchmark/counterfactual data, validity issues that are considered, etc.); and/or
Information about external evaluations of the program or model (including methods used and specific results seen)
Information about the "cost per impact". While it is not possible to conclusively pinpoint the cost per outcome, we at least like to see that organizations are thinking critically about the principal behind this criteria and can even engage in meaningful discussion about what the estimated cost per impact or social return on investment might be. We recognize that across some populations, geographies, and interventions, profound, positive outcomes may be expensive to achieve and we are sensitive to that, but we still feel it is important that organizations can discuss this issue critically while seeking to identify the program elements that are really driving impact.
Short- and long-term vision. Proposals should be thoroughly planned. Organization should know where they want to be in 3-5 years and should have the key steps planned to get there, as well as enough momentum to get there. We are particularly drawn to proposals that have great scaling potential or aim to improve the way systems function in audacious, game-changing ways. Proposals should always align with the applicant's long-term strategic plan and goals, rather than being overly influenced by funders. We also look for organizations who cite improvement, and not simply growth, as top strategic priorities.
Professional and skilled leadership and staff. We look for leaders who are not only passionate, but who are also capable and motivated to accomplish their goals. Leaders should be experts in their respective fields, and should surround themselves with talented and qualified staff. We also deeply value leaders and LOIs that communicate clearly, concisely, and openly. We strive to be open and direct, and we look for grantees who share that value.
Sustainability. Organizations should demonstrate financial and environmental sustainability.
Applicants should demonstrate that they will not become reliant on RTNF funding in the future and provide summary information that provides a high level picture of the financial situation and outlook. Grantees should not expect to be awarded grants outside of the current grant period.
Environmental sustainability means that achievement of organizational objectives is not at odds with the long-term health of the environment. Organizations should incorporate and value sustainable practices.
Note: International applicants and research applicants can still find information on special criteria by clicking here.