Last week, I shared my best party tricks on grant writing through two in-person workshops. The first one-day intensive was for community planners from Haines to Denali Borough to Nome as part of the Alaska Planning Association Conference. The second was a two-day course for Tribal Environmental Coordinators hosted by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. We had participation from Kassan on Prince of Wales Island to Bethel to Chickaloon. Between these two workshops, we had representation from almost every corner of the state!
One area I was not expecting so much discussion was on the topic of letters of support. Below is a recap of key takeaways for collecting genuine, inspirational letters of support that can nudge your application ahead of the rest.
Step 1: Develop a Contact List. We provide a spreadsheet template in our online Grant Writing Class, but it’s something you can easily reproduce. Before you host your kick-off meeting, list any and all organizations that benefit or would support your project. At minimum, your spreadsheet should include: organization, contact name, phone, email, and columns for tracking if the letter has been sent and received.
Stumped on who to request a letter from? Seek support from as many disciplines and perspectives as you can. When we seek letters of support for EPA brownfield grants for instance, we collect them from neighborhood groups, environmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy, housing authorities, development organizations, professional associations, and non-profits.
When casting a net that wide, we accomplish two things: 1) we demonstrate broad support among unlikely collaborators (i.e. environmental groups and land developers); and 2) we basically get 15 more pages of narrative content! Target a list of 15-20 organizations.
What if I’m a rural community and don’t have many options? Here’s what we have to say about that, it’s a self-limiting belief! No matter how small or isolated your community is, there are many organizations and neighboring communities that care about your project’s success. Consider these options when you feel stumped:
Step 2: Prep your request for letters of support. We also provide a template for this in the Grant Writing Class but here is the basics of what it includes:
Step 3: Decide during the Grant Kick-Off Meeting who will request which letters. Getting letters of support from people in senior roles requires some tact. In many instances, the best way to get the letter is if the person highest in your organization (or as appropriate), requests it. Generally, you want to match whoever has a personal or professional relationship within your organization with the other organization you seek a letter from. This helps pull letters through as its easier to agree to the chore of letter writing if you are doing it for someone you respect.
After deciding who is requesting which letter, provide your team with the information developed in step two. Our preference is to include the information above in a word document so the organization can use it as a quasi-template. People also tend to shy away from long emails. It’s less intimidating if we only write 2-3 sentences in an email when requesting a letter of support (often following a phone call first).
Step 4: Prepare to be amazed. When you ask for a letter of support and don’t provide a ghosted template, you receive far more compelling, heart-felt, free-form letters than you could possibly produce on your own. The authenticity of the letter shines through when you read it, and your grant reviewer will feel it as well. Pretty quick, you will have several more pages of content that essentially serve as extra narrative!
Step 5: Write a ghost letter if you must. Sometimes an organizational representative will ask that you ‘ghost’ or prepare for them a letter that only requires signature. This will happen, so be prepared to write a template letter. I still try to highlight specific areas where they can add personalized content like past collaborations. Generally though, this doesn’t happen with more than one or two letters.
Step 6: Save letters immediately in your project folder. As always, we recommend saving any attachments or emails related to your project immediately in your project folder. Nothing is worse than losing track of a letter (or worse – forgetting to include it!), because your inbox swallowed it. Track incoming letters in your spreadsheet.
Step 7: Assemble your letters as an attachment. Once all letters have been received, consider including an attachment cover sheet that lists all organizations that provided letters. This helps the reviewer locate a specific letter and gives them a general overview of what to expect.
If you want to learn more about letters of support, or any common attachment, we encourage you to take our Grant Writing class. Have any questions or feedback? Don’t hesitate to drop the Course Instructor a line at [email protected].
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