Lead with the right hook

Posted on January 12, 2012


Like any piece of good writing, grant proposals and letters of inquiry need a hook. Something to catch your reader’s attention.

The best place to start is your first sentence.

The most common approach to the first sentence is, unfortunately, also a bit bland. About 75%* of the requests I receive start with generic sentences, like these:

  • The obvious: “This is our grant request to you.” True, but it’s not a particularly compelling opening.
  • The grateful: “Thank you for the opportunity to apply.” At the risk of offending etiquette experts, a thank-you is nice, but not necessary up front. You can conclude with one, if you’re so inclined.
  • The introduction: “Our nonprofit is a premier institution in your area.” or a common newbie variation “My name is Bob, and I’m writing to you today…” Nice to meet you, folks. Since I can see the letterhead and signature line, don’t waste your first sentence on intros.

I get it; you want to warm up before pitching. It may seem cold and abrupt to lead with your ask. But funders are looking at dozens of requests at a time. They’re warmed up and ready for something less generic.

The first sentence is valuable real estate. Try an opening sentence that draws the reader into your mission, like these:

  • The ask: “The ABC agency respectfully requests $X to accomplish Y & Z.” Bam. There it is. My favorite. It makes life easier for your readers to know the main point early on. (Hiding the ask in the middle of the request is one tell-tale sign of a grantwriting rookie.)
  • The reference: “At the suggestion of Mary Smith, we request…” A modified version of the ask. If there is a relationship that helps build credibility and trust between organizations, it’s good to share that information.
  • The question: “How many times did you use the Internet today?” Helping your reader imagine a need helps underscore the importance of the program. A variation on this opening is the statistic: “X% of students don’t have access to the Internet.”

Let me be clear: the first sentence won’t make or break your request.  Remember, a fit with the funder’s mission will always be the most important factor.

Use your opening sentence to reel in your reader and introduce your mission. Other examples and advice? Please share them in the comments below.

* A totally unscientific number. I scanned about 50 requests for a quick count.

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