Lemonade from Lemons | How to Handle Grant Rejection

money lemons.jpg

After spending days or weeks assembling a grant proposal, it can be crushing to receive a rejection letter from a foundation. For new grantwriters, it is difficult not to take it personally, but even the best grant writers receive rejection notices. Like finding the right spouse, finding a grant funder is a matter of fit, timing, and emotional attachment. The funder not only needs to strongly support your program, but they need to have funds available for allocation, and the approval process needs to somewhat overlap with the program calendar in your proposal. So what to do if you receive a rejection?

Get over it

Consider this rejection a “sorry I can’t go out with you tonight,” not a breakup. The funder (unless specifically stated) hasn’t banished you from future proposals, and there is always the opportunity to improve your proposal and work with them in the future. Don’t let one rejection deter you from applying with a funder in the future.

Find out why

Many funders will release reviewers commentary so you can see what they thought and how they rated your proposal. This will be valuable not only for future applications to the funder who rejected your proposal, but can also enable you to fine tune your work for future grants. Maybe a section wasn’t clear, or maybe you didn’t provide enough metrics for improvement. Either way, a funder’s evaluation provides valuable insight. No commentary? Schedule a meeting with the grants coordinator or executive director of the foundation. Many funders are willing to discuss proposals and alignment with funding priorities.

Remember to follow up

Even if a funder rejects your proposal, you need to do your due diligence in keeping the relationship alive. Always send an email or thank you note in response to a rejection thanking them for their consideration. Be sure to keep in contact with the grants coordinator, and don’t be afraid to compare your board of directors to the funder’s board to see if any connections are there. You never know who is best friends with a board member’s sister. I make it a habit to send board lists to our board on a monthly basis, so they have ample time to coordinate a meeting or a drop-in that will mention my proposal.

Don’t say it in words

Many funders restrict attachments, addendums, digital content, photos, etc. in the proposal. This keeps an even playing field between organizations and enables funders to look at the content of the program and proposal rather than client photos. That being said, an annual report mailed to a funder keeps them intrigued and interested. People gravitate to pictures, and a memorable annual report sent in June can definitely spark someone’s memory in October when you send in the proposal. Keeping a grant calendar of proposals for the current year is a good way to plan ahead and see who needs to see a copy of the annual report. 


Don’t ever put your eggs in one basket

No matter how committed a funder seems, always factor in the likelihood that funding may not come through. Always use multiple sources to cover a program so no one funder carries the burden of funding.

Here are some common reasons for proposals to be rejected


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