Support vs. Commitment Letters – Know the Difference

Collaboration among grantseekers has been trending so long, it has become the norm.  One way you can demonstrate collaboration in your grant proposals is by submitting extraordinary letters from your partners and other key stakeholders.  The type of letter you submit depends on the purpose—letters of support or commitment.

Support or Commitment?

Letters of support articulate general support for the grant request.  The letter should describe the author’s involvement with your organization and/or the community as well as explain how the funding will help address a need or solve a problem.

Consider soliciting support letters from

  • Consumers that use your services or individuals that benefit from what you do;
  • Government officials – aldermen, mayors, state and federal legislators; and
  • Other stakeholders with an interest in how the funding will benefit the community.

Letters of commitment demonstrate your partners’ involvement and identify the specific contributions they will make to ensure the project’s success.  The content should include

  • A brief description of previous collaborations with the applicant;
  • The role the partner will play in the proposed project;
  • The amount of monetary support they will contribute (if applicable); and
  • The type and value of any in-kind support they will provide – staff time, facility space, supplies, equipment.

When funders ask applicants to submit letters, they typically expect letters of commitment.  In some cases, the funder wants to see both.  And in other cases, they don’t specify what type of letter to attach.  If the funder’s guidelines are vague, or if they impose page limits, I recommend that you submit commitment letters.

Match Documentation

If the funder requires applicants to pledge matching funds, it’s important that the commitment letters be as specific as possible.  The grant reviewer will take into account the sources and amounts of matching funds identified in the letters and look for consistency with the budget you submitted.

Wisdom from Grant Reviewers

Because most of my experience involves applying for grants—not reviewing them—I consulted with funders to get their perspective on letters included with a grant proposal.  Here’s what they have to say:

When requested by the grantmaker, a letter of support can show the depth of a partnership.  For example, is the letter writer potentially willing to be involved?  Did they help shape the proposal?  Letters can also show the degree of support.  For example, do they simply like the concept or do they actively endorse the proposal?

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Given the amount of documentation that reviewers often have to read, it’s good to check with the grantmaker if they are specifically asking for letters.
  • Many reviewers will dismiss letters that appear to be based on a template provided by the applicant. Unique letters that show the letter writer’s actual support are more effective.
James Patterson, Grants Officer,
Community Foundation of Northern Illinois

Providing letters of support when submitting a grant proposal can definitely make your application more competitive and can help influence the ultimate funding decision. Letters show that other people, organizations or businesses believe in the work you do and also that you are qualified to deliver the programs you are asking the funder to support.

Many times, funders will ask for letters of support to see how the potential grantees are collaborating with other organizations.  It’s all well and good to list those you are partnering with, but including a letter of support has more impact and can be more persuasive.

As a past grant reviewer, organizations that submitted letters of support ranked higher for me.  It showed me that they are connected with other organizations within the community and also that they spent a little extra time to put forth a strong application.

Sarah Tapscott, Director of Statewide Partnerships

Letters of support from partnering organizations are an important part of proposal review and evaluation.  They indicate that there has at least been communication between the organizations, and hopefully some genuine planning around the project development.  We also pay close attention to the quality of the support letters submitted.  There is a broad range from what are clearly form letters that the applicant has given a partner to fill in the blanks and sign, versus others that reflect a genuine partnership and investment in the project authored from the collaborating agency.  Any letter of support is preferable to none.

Amy Starin, Senior Program Officer
Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation

Additional Tips of the Trade

Here are more tips to help you solicit extraordinary letters from your partners and set apart your application from all the rest:

  • Ask them to limit their letters to one page.  Rationale:  to keep the content succinct for the reviewer and to minimize the total number of pages in your application.
  • Provide your partners with a list of talking points instead of a template.  Rationale:  to avoid ineffective form letters and to help the author focus their thoughts.
  • Request the letters early in the grant development process.  Rationale:  to allow time for revision and to avoid last-minute stress.
  • Ask them to sign the letter in blue ink.  Rationale:  When submitting a proposal in hard copy or color PDF, blue ink will distinguish the original from photocopied versions.

Looking Ahead

Watch for my next GrantSpeak post.  I’m going to offer some guidance about wading through grant instructions and deciphering what the funder is asking for.