Assessing letters of inquiry

Nate PetersenApplication Process

The month of May is Stronger Philanthropy’s dedicated time to receive letters of inquiry (LOI) for the Stronger Together program. We hear from Canadian, Christian charities who are ready to launch any new initiative that is ground-breaking and impactful. This year, we received nearly 50 LOIs for projects that ranged across multiple sectors and around the world, including the arts, healthcare, education, refugee settlement, inner city youth care, and media. These LOIs represent lots of people pouring their hearts into incredible projects. The enthusiasm of some grant writers is absolutely palpable and while we would love to work with most projects that are proposed to us in the LOI stage, Stronger Together has to make tough decisions as to where to allocate its resources for this year. As the month went on, we spent time organizing and discussing the vastly different projects, trying to determine which would make it through to the next round of applications.

Our process asks charities to introduce their project with their Measurable Outcomes, an Executive Summary, an explanation of how they see their project as innovative, and a concluding statement. From these fields, we hope to get a complete picture of what the charity hopes to accomplish in their new initiative, and we hope to understand how each project is a new approach to an existing problem. Some of our clients volunteer to help us evaluate the LOI stage, giving each project a score based on its impact, innovation, and the organization itself. Our criteria allow well established charities to apply for funding that would help them break out of the status quo and embark on a new and exciting journey for both the charity and the donor.

The greatest strength of the Stronger Together program is also its biggest challenge, which is the variety of projects that we consider, met by the diverse perspectives of our clients. It is nearly impossible to compare the work of one charity to another when both are clearly heroes. How do you compare drones carrying medicine to rural communities, with job training for Cambodian men who have survived human trafficking? It’s impossible. Fortunately, there are always a handful of LOIs that truly spark the interest of our group by being creative and cutting edge. Those are the projects that naturally progress to the application stage. When asked about the scoring process, one donor said, “It’s always hard to try and look at organization objectively without letting my personal politics be the guiding force behind my vote. That’s why I really appreciate the diversity of the other donors’ perspectives. We tend to balance each other out and force one another to work with organizations that might have been overlooked had it been just one person’s decision.”

Throughout the rest of 2019, Stronger Philanthropy will be working with the charities whose projects have advanced to the application stage and we will also continue working with our clients to refine how we match up donors and projects. Personally, I can’t wait to start learning from each of the shortlisted charities about their work and meeting the inspiring individuals behind these projects.