the letter of intent

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

I have been told that the grant class I teach is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, class to teach in the upper division writing curriculum. I also hear this about technical writing, but I haven’t yet taught that, though I have been trained to teach that class as well. After teaching grants, I can see why this is the case because it requires a fair amount of writing, good research, and clear communication, not just in writing, but orally since students often do have to talk with people in the community and for an interview assignment. I think people say it is a difficult class because you have so many different projects and different skill levels all while trying to teach the rich field of grant writing and research. Yes, that certainly is challenging, though I would still argue that writing in the humanities and social sciences can be just as difficult. Despite the difficulty, I think the class is doing well and students seem to be responding positively to it and I also enjoy teaching it far more than I thought I would.

The recent assignment my students completed, the proposal for unit 2, has left me thinking. As a former student of this class, I remember this assignment well and remember trying to describe what I wanted to do, even though I had not quite done it nor perhaps had, or put in, adequate time to think about it. I’m seeing some similar reactions in my students proposals. I am seeing those similar mistakes, and frankly I don’t blame them for it. Mostly I fault time management and the genre choice as I have seen students write memos and proposals for this assignments. Hence there is a little confusion.

And this got me thinking more about grant writing as my job and how when I sometimes write letters of intent, my organization does not yet completely understand the project fully enough to share any of the long-range details of the project. For example, if we were to write a letter of intent to bring yoga classes to rural areas, we may not yet have a curriculum written up, though we could probably describe what that curriculum might look like. We may not also yet know the exact cost of the project, but we could probably compose a tentative budget, which sometimes letters of intent require.

In a sense, my students are facing a similar dilemma. They know what they will do. They can envision its whole, but cannot yet see the details of that whole. They cannot yet describe, with acuity, all the pieces. Frankly, I don’t expect them to explain each part with acuity, but because some students misread the assignment as a “proposal for a proposal,” I had students try to do this since a proposal would require as much.

This got me thinking that perhaps asking them to write a letter of intent in place of the memo for the project proposal will just make more sense. It might lead to less confusion and it would also give a perfect opportunity to teach more about the letter of intent.

A letter of intent (LOI) is just what it implies: it is a professional letter, sometimes actually just referred to as a cover letter, that describes a project and gives some details regarding the organization. It also names people working on the project and gives some specifics about that project. Sometimes the funders ask for a tentative budget. Mostly I have seen funding organizations post actual forms for you to fill out as LOIs. Sometimes, I write what I refer to as a “blind” LOI (I am sure they have a more technical name) where I just send out a letter to a funder who is not familiar with my organization. In these, I may not actually describe a project, but share information about my organization and talk about how that foundation can help my organization. And, usually, I try to describe a recent project or two as well, just to give some insight. Inserting brochures with the LOI doesn’t hurt, either, even though I sometimes feel I am being annoying, or like a salesperson, but really doing this is part of my job.

So for next semester I think I’ll have my students write a letter of intent for their project proposals. My students will give me a 200-250 word description of the project, describe organizations and people working with the project, share resources they have for the project, and instead of a budget I may ask my students to write about some benefits for this project. I may include one or two other slots, but for now this is what I am thinking about. I may also set this up similar to the forms I see when I write those letter of intents in real life.

Writing a LOI for their unit 2 project will help students not only to focus on what they know already for this project, but give them some experience in how letters of intent work. While it isn’t a perfect assignment by any means, and will probably will have its own hiccups, I think it would be a useful activity for students, especially since I already have a fair amount of students who are interested in this work or already work with nonprofits. I also look forward to working on this course further and seeing how it all turns out.


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