Your heart races when you see the email or snail mail from XYZ Foundation. There is a 50/50 chance that the project your organization has planned will be funded. You took the time to apply and as you read their letter about your grant application, your heart drops at these words:
"While we appreciate what your organization provides to communities in need, we regret to inform you that we are unable to provide funding for your project at this time."
Like you, I know that feeling all too well. In my 15-year career as a professional grantwriter, I've learned how to handle grant rejection letters. Why? Because everyone who has applied has received at least one rejection in his or her career. No one has a 100% success rate.
I wish I could tell you that you will receive a successful award letter for most grant applications that you submit (and wouldn’t that be exciting?), but the reality is that grants are competitive. There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S. and they all have compelling cases. The silver lining of a rejection is in how you handle it.
Over the years I’ve implemented strategies with our clients to turn a rejection letter into a successful financial opportunity. The next time you receive one, I recommend these tips:
- Don't take it personally. Grantmakers often reject the first request from most organizations. While it may feel like they don’t appreciate the work that you and your team are doing, it’s more likely they received an abundance of requests and simply cannot fund all of them. Ask your team to review the grant application and funder to see if it was truly the right fit for your organization. Reasons may include the simple fact that you’re located in Nevada and applied for an Arizona-based fund or your organization isn’t aligned closely enough with the foundation’s mission. If you find you are aligned, consider applying when the grant cycle opens again.
- Contact the funder. Ask if they would be willing to provide insights as to why the proposal wasn’t funded. Create a script prior to the call so you can stay on point, not waste time, and gain the knowledge you need for the next application. Take copious notes and keep track of feedback so you can reference it as you develop other proposals. Also ask if you can re-apply in the next grant cycle. In the meantime, make connections at the grantmaker organization if possible; personal connections can make the funding difference.
- Invite the funder to experience your program first-hand. While connections are important, it can also be impactful to see the work being done through your program. We serve 100 meals a day to low-income school age kids may not be as meaningful as meeting the kids and the staff who bring the mission it to life.
- Request a copy of the reviewer’s written comments, if available. Share these comments with key players and save them in your donor database or CRM. Pertinent information such as if the mailed application was received by the deadline, if the online application was complete, if you followed directions as stated on the application, and if your organization or program is ready for seeking grants. If you’re not ready, dig deeper to learn what steps need to be taken so you can take advantage of funding opportunities in the future.
- Research organizations that were funded in the cycle you applied. See what insights you can glean directly from them. For example, you may find out that this is their first time being funded but they’ve applied three times prior, or you may learn they have a longstanding relationship with the organization or key players. That knowledge is pure gold and is useful to encourage your team to build relationships and re-apply again.
- Ask for another set of eyes. While it is beneficial to your program that you are intimately familiar with its mission and implementation, I recommend asking someone outside your organization to review the proposal. Schedule time to walk through their feedback with them. An outside perspective will likely identify areas where there is room for improvement, whether in the actual application (What do you do and what are you asking to be funded?) or within the organization (Are you tracking metrics within the program that the funder is requesting?).
- Freshen your program narrative. Hiring a professional grantwriter like The Rayvan Group to review your proposals and offer ways to strengthen your case for support is a valuable investment. It’s probably not needed for each proposal but if you keep getting the dreaded grant rejection letter, it’s time to ask for professional assistance.
- Focus on next time. Government funders and some private funders look for tenacity and will automatically reject all first-time applicants. While it may be frustrating, they’re seeking to fund projects that are long lasting, impactful, and tenacious. Take heart; you’re not the only one being rejected and you won’t be the last. Take action, learn from this grant cycle, and make changes for future funding requests.
I have had my fair share of rejection letters but the successful reward letter makes it all worthwhile. The strategies I shared above are all ways to increase funding potential.