Rejected: What to Do if Your Grant Proposal is Denied

by | Jul 30, 2020 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Writing

No one likes it when their grant proposal is denied. If your organization just received a grant denial letter, you might be wondering, “What next?”

Rather than toss the bad news into the trash and move on to the next proposal, it is essential to complete due diligence to determine why the donor denied the proposal.

REMEMBER: whether you apply for government, corporate, or foundation grant dollars, an AWARD is never guaranteed!

Determining WHY a grantor denied your proposal is the first step to improving future requests and increasing your chances for funding.

Some grantors explicitly state in their guidelines that they do NOT provide feedback on why a grant proposal is denied, so focus your energy on those that do.

There are three primary reasons donors deny funding:

  1. Capacity to Give – Grantors have a finite number of dollars to award each cycle. Competition for those dollars is often high, and requests most often exceed the grantor’s budget.
  2. Giving Priorities – Although your organization or proposal might have “technically” been eligible for funding from a specific grantor, the proposal might not have aligned with the grantor’s giving priorities as closely as they would have liked. Grantors are investors and will almost certainly award a proposal that addresses key priority areas over those that “touch” on their key priorities.
  3. Quality of the Proposal – Grantors seek assurances that grantees are committed and equipped to administer funds in a way that achieves the intended impact. The following faux pas often contributes to denial letters:
    • Failure to follow all grantor guidelines (page limits, font, margins, required content, submission instructions, etc.)
    • Poor written communication skills (the proposal was not clear, concise, or compelling)
    • Weak program design (the proposal was vague, over-ambitious, or failed to articulate strategies for achieving stated goals/objectives, evaluation measures not in place, no sustainability plan, etc.)

Now that you know some of the primary reasons a donor might have rejected your proposal, it is time to reach out, express gratitude, and request feedback!

Here are 5 Things To Do if Your Grant Proposal is Denied

  1. First, write a hand-written thank-you to the potential donor and thank them for considering your proposal.  Let them know you appreciate the opportunity to apply, and look forward to exploring future partnership opportunities.
  2. Next, call the program officer and request feedback on what to do to strengthen your proposal in the future. Points of conversation should include the following:
    • How many proposals did the grantor receive this funding cycle?
    • How many proposals did they award?
    • Was this a traditional grant cycle, or did something specific change typical grant outcomes? (change in the grant cycle, donor priorities, economic factors, etc.)
    • Was there anything specific that excluded the proposal from funding?
    • Can the program officer/grantor/review board share any feedback on how you can strengthen a future proposal?
    • Could the organization submit a proposal for a future grant cycle, and if so, when? (Some grantors have restrictions on how often a nonprofit can submit a proposal)
  1. Finally, accept all feedback graciously! Avoid arguing or making excuses. (Arguing will not increase your chances for a future award. Instead, you risk alienating a potential donor)
  2. Be humble, say thank-you, and implement any changes a grantor/program officer recommends.
  3. Seek ways to strengthen the relationship with the grantor. ( Respond to requests for feedback on their grant cycle. Share their grant opportunities with eligible organizations. Check in with them during future grant cycles. Invite foundation representatives to select events that align with their charitable/personal interests, if the donor is local)

If your organization is NOT encouraged to reapply in the future, accept that feedback but keep the relationship building in place. You never know when you will have a project or program that fits their interest in the future. Here are some related articles:

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