Letters of Commitment: The Secrets of Making Your Grant Proposal Stronger to Be Approved
Grants are great because they provide cities, states, nonprofits, law enforcement agencies and other types of organizations to get the funding they need to implement programs and initiatives, without having to pay that money back. In its most simple terms, grant proposals are written documents that communicate with the funding source why your project, initiative or organization is deserving of the financial infusion.
While the odds of writing a funded grant proposal are not stacked in your favor (on average, just about 3% to 8% of all proposals submitted are awarded funding), including well-written letters of commitment can make your grant proposal stronger and increase your chances of writing a winning grant proposal.
Why Even the Best Written Proposals Sometimes Don’t Get Funded
There is no magic shortcut to writing a grant proposal that gets funded. Sometimes, everything comes together and you know that you have written a solid funding proposal that should get funded. But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, despite a great grant proposal, the answer is still no. Here are some examples of how and why this can happen:
- Geographic: If the program is national and for the last several funding cycles the majority of winners have been from the same state (or group of states), then the funder is likely to want to disburse winners to areas that have not been funded in the past. And if your proposal is from one of those areas that has been targeted to receive ‘less funding,’ no matter how well your proposal is written, you may not get funded.
- Political: BTW, this is a completely non-partisan post because I know for a fact that this practice crosses party lines. I once got a personal phone call from the head of a very large, very well-known funding agency. He said to me, “Ron, out of hundreds of proposals received, the proposal you wrote for the XYX program, was the only one to receive a perfect score. Congratulations! Unfortunately, your proposal will not get funded during the first round. That round is almost entirely political. I do promise you though, that it will get funded during the second wave, later this year.”
- Number of awards: Some federal funding competitions only make 1 award nationally. In many cases like this, no matter how well written your proposal is, chances are you will be going head-to-head with nationally recognized research institutions or similarly well-known organizations that will receive all the attention.
When looking at state or federal funding opportunities, situations like the ones I’ve mentioned above, do not happen very often. But when it comes to private foundations though (they operate under different rules), it becomes far more complicated because they have more leeway in the decision-making process than government funders.
Writing a Winning Grant Proposal
In a nutshell, grant proposals are written documents that communicate with the funding source why your organization, project, or initiative is deserving of the financial infusion. As one of the most successful funding proposal writers in the country, my entrepreneurial approach is what I feel, sets me apart from most everyone else in my field.
You see, I am not a trained writer. I did not study journalism or writing but instead, have been a successful entrepreneur almost my entire adult life. This gives me a unique perspective of every project I take on. I always think to myself, “Is this a project that I would invest in myself as an Angel Investor?”
Letters of Support Versus Letters of Commitment
State, federal, local and private grant-making agencies, just like venture capitalists and angel investors, want to invest in programs, projects, initiatives, agencies, etc. that are going to be around for a long-term. As a frequent grant and funding program reviewer (one of the people who helps make the funding decisions), in an attempt to sway reviews’s minds, I often see the inclusion of letters of support for a project.
But seriously, unless the letter is written by a parent, child or other stakeholder documenting the personal need for the program (or its impact if you’re seeking funding for a returning program), letters of support or basically meaningless.
Letters from others supporting your proposed program or initiative (even if they’re from politicians) are essentially worthless. Basically, they are saying “Yes, we support the program or initiative but we are not going to actually provide any supportive resources or contributions to make sure it happens or to sustain it after the grant funding ends.”
In contrast, a letter of commitment not only says that the program/initiative is needed, but it also outlines those things the letter writer is willing to do to make sure the project/program/initiatives happens, is a success and is sustained beyond the grant-funded project period.
What to Include in a Letter of Commitment
A letter of commitment outlines the involvement of your project partners and the particular contributions they give for the success of the undertaking. These inputs include their collaborations with you, their roles moving forward, the type of monetary or in-kind support they will give in order to help the project, program or initiative achieve success.
Here a few tips for writing a strong letter of commitment to help you write a stronger grant proposal:
- Open with: On behalf of XYZ Organization, I am pleased to provide this letter expressing our organization’s commitment to helping your organization carry out its ABC project.
To support successful outcome of the proposed goals, objectives and outcomes, our organization will contribute the following resources (Some examples of contributions that I might typically include are below but be sure to change them to suit your particular situation):
- Contribution 1: Provide a representative to serve on the Project ABC Advisory Council, attending at least for meeting per year to service in an advisory capacity, guiding program deployment and periodically reviewing performance feedback, providing suggestions for refining, strengthening and improving the project approach as appropriate.
- Contribution 2: Promote the program throughout the community, engaging those resources as appropriate.
- Contribution 3: Advise our employees (members, constituents, stakeholders, whatever) of opportunities to serve as volunteers for that ABC program as mentors, reading to students, speak to students, etc.).
- Contribution 4: Provide job shadowing, mentorships and other workforce skill-enhancing opportunities for students participating in
- Contribution 5: Provide space in which to host meetings or events. The space is fully ADA-Accessible, secure and is approximately 1,500 square feet.
- Contribution 6: Continue to provide the same contributions beyond the grant-funded project period to support sustainability.
- You can of course change those contributions based on your own needs.
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)
Instead of a letter of commitment, instead you could include a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) both of which can take the place of an LOC. Like a letter of commitment, both MOUs or MUAs (they are essentially interchangeable) show credibility by demonstrating that community partners or stakeholders have committed to supply resources to ensure the success and sustainment of the proposed project. That is because, like the letter of commitment, MOUs and MOAs outline specific roles, responsibilities and contributions of each project partner.
Show, Don’t Tell, That Stakeholders Support Your Project
Grant applications can be somewhat tedious and difficult to write. But if you want to write a winning grant proposal, then have to show that community stakeholders believe in your organization and your proposed strategies so much, that they are willing to commit resources to help it succeed. And for reviewers, it’s just not enough to say that the community supports your project and that you have partners lined up to support its implementation.
Instead, provide will-written letters of commitment to show that relevant community stakeholders are ready to contribute resources to help ensure the long-term success of your project, program, or initiative.