For any Brits reading this list or Anglophiles - hope you have a good Bonfire Night - it was always my favorite holiday as a kid and I LOVE treacle toffee.
Now, back to more practical matters. You will often see these four types of letters bandied about in grants-land. They are not synonymous or inter-changeable so I wanted to define them for you so that you know what is needed next time you come across them.
Letters of Interest
These are usually requested by foundations that accept applications. Their theory is that they don’t want you to go to trouble of writing a whole grant proposal when they aren’t even vaguely interested in your idea. Therefore, they ask for a short letter of interest so they can assess the idea and then let you know if they would like to learn more about it. In some cases, like the Ford Foundation, this is a short online form with a couple of paragraphs. It’s a bit like Tinder where they can just strike right or left on an idea.
Other foundations may ask for a 2-4 page letter of interest. My experience is that it’s hard to write these from scratch and I often find it works better when I flesh out the idea and then distill it down to its essence for these letters. This kind of defeats their purpose of making it simpler for the applicant but I find that it creates a more compelling product.
Letters of Intent
These are usually requested by State and Federal agencies so they can gauge how many applications they will receive and therefore how many reviewers they need to recruit. They usually just need to know the name of the Principal Investigator and host institution as well as title and brief overview. Then they can recruit reviewers who have the required expertise and are from a different region so most likely not to have a conflict of interest. Very occasionally, they will use Letters of Intent to cull down the applications but I have only seen this done once.
Letters of Support
These are required components in some grant applications. They indicate that someone supports your project and thinks it is a good idea that will contribute to the field. These are becoming increasingly less common and being replaced by Letters of Commitment.
Letters of Commitment
These are letters that you get from people who support your project. They usually express support for the project and, more importantly, delineate how they commit to the project’s success. This might include by donating time, space or other resources. It is important that their commitment is explicit and also, if possible, the dollar value of that commitment is included.
So, there you go. Next time you see a Letter of xxx included in an RFP or foundation instructions you’ll know how to respond.