Writing a formal letter to a board of directors can be an intimidating process. This is your chance to get your thoughts heard by those in charge, so it’s important to follow the formal process. But there’s no sense in getting the formatting correct if the content’s lacking or the letter has grammatical errors.

Before Starting the Letter to a Board

In corresponding with the board of directors, know what you want to say. What’s your motivation? What do you want to accomplish? A complaint letter needs a whole different tact from, say, a letter seeking funding for a project.

Take time to make some notes. Jot down what to say and why it matters to you. The latter may not make it into the letter, but it might help keep you focused and sorted. Is there any documentation you need to refer to, evidence or statistics you want to share? Have them ready and make a note of why they’re relevant.

Drafting the Letter

First, organize your notes. What is the biggest point in relation to why you’re writing? What elements support that point? Put them in order. This is essentially your outline, so now you’re good to go.

Many people struggle with starting a letter, thinking they need to be witty from the get-go, but being clear is more important. Say everything you need to say, then improve and tighten it when editing. To start, address it "Dear Chairperson Smith and members of the board" and then open with “I am writing to…”, then cite your overarching reason for writing.

Follow your opening with the main supporting point and write a couple concise paragraphs that include all the issues you’ve noted earlier.

Remember, this is business and these people have a lot on their plate. Don’t be flowery or doting or long-winded. Get to the point, be polite about it and respectfully sign off.

The Importance of Editing

In reality, writing a board of directors isn’t much different from writing any formal business letter, except that it’s to a group of people and it may have more riding on it, depending on why you’re writing.

Most people over-stress about writing, when the most important part, really, is editing. Always take a break after writing something, so your head clears and you return with fresh eyes.

Take at least three editing passes. Look for grammar mistakes, unneeded words and an overly casual tone. People often mistake being concise with being rude, but writing concisely is strong and to the point, both qualities that play well in business correspondence.

Still, be respectful and somewhat deferential, but don’t gush or lay anything on too thickly.

Know Your Purpose

As mentioned, it’s important to know why you’re writing. It’s possible that the three most common letters you’ll have to write are to request something, to resign or to accept an opportunity.

Resigning: When resigning from a company, project or even the board itself, state you’re grateful you had the opportunity. Explain, in preferably one sentence, why you are resigning – for personal reasons, to explore a new opportunity, because you crave a change – without sharing details. Keep it short and professional. If you can, offer to be available if needed in the future.

Accepting: This can be a single paragraph followed by a statement of gratitude. Say you’re proud to accept the opportunity, you look forward to contributing and you’re grateful for the board’s faith. Don’t dwell on projects or intentions; that’s what contracts are for.

Requesting: Right away, state what you're requesting. Explain why. If you have supporting evidence for why the request is valid, then briefly document this. Avoid promises of performance or outcome, as these should be stated only in a contract or project schedule, where you have negotiating ability. Thank them for their consideration and offer to be available should they have questions or require clarification.