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Grant Writing Tips: Writing Effective Letters of Commitment

Mar 6th, 2006 -- research

While the phrase 'letter of commitment' is often used interchangeably with 'letter of support,' there is a fundamental difference between the two.  A letter of support may, for example, state that a community group endorses or approves of a particular project.  A letter of commitment, on the other hand, is a statement of active participation in the project.  It specifies resources that the group will commit to the project and identifies what role it will play in bringing the project to a successful conclusion.   

There is no formula for writing a strong letter of commitment - each must be crafted to address a particular project and collaboration.  An effective letter of commitment is succinct, usually less than a page in length.  It addresses four aspects of the proposed collaboration:  it identifies the project, specifies what the collaborator will contribute, is authorized by an appropriate official, and convinces the reader that the collaborator has the capacity to fulfill its responsibilities and is committed to achieving success.  The tone of the letter should convey a sense of enthusiasm for participating in a worthwhile project. 

Letters may be directed to the sponsoring agency or to the PI of the project.  Check the program guidelines to determine what is appropriate and whether specific information needs to be included.  Read the announcement carefully when preparing a letter of commitment and ask yourself what a reviewer might want to know about your organization and its ability to perform on a project.

Identification:  The opening paragraph of the letter should identify the proposal, sponsor, project title, and all partners and collaborators. 

Roles and Responsibilities:  The letter should clearly state the role and responsibilities that the collaborator commits to the project.  It should persuade the funding agency that the collaborator brings appropriate skills and/or resources to the project and has the capacity to complete its commitment.  If the organization is pledging funds, as in a cost-share situation, then the amount of money or the value of resources contributed should be stated.  As for program responsibilities, it is often sufficient to identify a broad area of responsibility ("perform statistical analysis" or "collect test data") and say that activities will be carried out as specified in the project description.  Several factors can underscore the collaborator's capacity to perform successfully.  Mention experience on similar projects and expertise, equipment, and other special resources.  Be sure to mention if the partners have worked on prior projects together because it indicates that a productive relationship is already in place.   

Authorization:  Some sponsors accept emails, especially from consultants, but letters printed on letterhead are more formal and "official", and are oftentimes more substantial in content.  Letters should be signed by the individual who bears responsibility for the fulfillment of the commitment (consultant, corporate authority, or provost, for example).  When RIT is participating on an initiative that requires collaboration across colleges, the deans may elect to write and endorse a single letter of commitment.  Proposals involving collaboration with centers should be endorsed by the head of the center.

Motivation:  An effective letter of commitment expresses excitement about participating in a worthwhile project.  It goes beyond the tangible aspects of a proposed partnership to address the motivations that shape the collaboration.  Endorsing the objectives of the project or citing a broader impact highlights what the collaborator sees as a likely outcome of the project.  A collaborator that mentions, for example, creating a more specialized workforce, bringing needed services to the community, or helping to alleviate pollution, invokes a vision that reaches beyond the immediate project and links the proposal to the collaborator's own mission, goals, and objectives.  This is a powerful way to show an intense commitment to the project.