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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

What To Do When Your Grant Proposal Is Denied

March 25th, 2014 by Karen Climer

Most grant proposals are denied.  This is not a reflection on the grant writer or on the work on the organization.  It is due to high competition for limited funding.

Of course, it is disappointing to get a rejection form letter, but there are productive and not-so-productive ways of dealing with it.  In some organizations, everyone sits around and commiserates about how unfair the process is.  It’s not fair that XYZ always get all of the money (never mind that XYZ is a great organization that is improving the community in a major way).  Other organizations will resubmit a nearly identical proposal the next year only to be surprised that it was denied again.  I’ve seen organizations that never submit another proposal to that funder because obviously the funder is not interested.  I’ll sheepishly admit that at one point or another in my career, I have responded to the rejection letter in each of these ways.

These days, I respond differently (and more effectively).  What I try to do every time a proposal is rejected is call the foundation and ask to speak to the program officer.  I thank them for evaluating the proposal.  I ask them what we could have done differently in our proposal.  They might say it is not a good fit for their priorities.  They might say the evaluation portion was lacking or the budget was not realistic.  They might say they wanted to see more of this and less of that.  Occasionally, they won’t say anything other than the stock phrases they used in the form letter.

Whatever they say, and this is the most important part, do not try to re-sell your organization or project.  Even if you think your project is an absolute perfect match for their priorities, they’ve made their decision.  Unless you goal is to irritate the program officer, don’t re-pitch your proposal at this point.  Instead ask them you can re-submit for the next funding cycle.  If they say yes, you can rewrite the proposal to emphasize the areas they mentioned.  If they say no, at least you know not to waste your time.

Another thing to ask is if they have any suggestions on who might be interested in the project.  I have had program officers suggest other foundations, and even individuals or corporations.  I’ve even had a foundation president offer to make an introduction to a potential donor.  

Lastly, I send a handwritten note to the program officer thanking them for their time and their suggestions. 

Calling and talking to the funder is not a guarantee that you will get funded next time, but it helps more often than not.  It helps the organization build a relationship with the funder, and it helps me become a better grant writer.

Posted in Grant Writing

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