In the eighteen years that I’ve spent in nonprofit fundraising, and especially in my years as a dedicated grant writing consultant, I’ve had my share of rejections from grant funders. Do you feel like you’re in a slump lately working your fingers to the bone only to be met with disappointment after disappointment? Don’t despair!
#1 Focus on grant makers that have the same mission as you. Are you truly spending enough time researching fitting potential grant funders or just using a machine gun approach and firing out applications whether or not you qualify? When I’m asked by nonprofits why their grants aren’t funded, this is the problem I most often see. The nonprofit simply didn’t take the time to investigate the funder’s interests, their funding restrictions and overall general guidelines. A lot of heartache (as well as time and energy) can be saved by focusing only on quality leads.
#2 Follow all grant guidelines to the letter. Believe this: you are always in competition with other nonprofits for that grant maker’s money and funders will take every opportunity they can to get rid of applications that can’t even follow simple instructions. You may think it unfair but it’s the truth. Grant makers are bombarded with applications and it makes their job easier to eliminate as many as possible. Do you want to be the one who goes in the trash can first? Then please take my advice and follow all instructions provided. Not some. Not most. All of them.
#3 Use concrete evidence to convince funders that your need is a true community problem. You’ll most likely use a variety of data to support your claim – just make sure that your data collection is well documented. When using Internet research, be sure that the websites you’re referencing are reputable and current. If using your own evaluation, provide your method of collection and explain how the data was collected. When citing authorities that speak on your topic, document who said it and the source where you found it.
#4 Include an evaluation component in your proposal. Do you have a solid evaluation plan in place to measure the success of your proposal? Grant funders want to see that you have a method to collect data about your project. The data can prove that your proposal was exactly on target or it can find improvements that need to be made to your program. Don’t be afraid of evaluation – it can be as simple as a small focus group where program participants are asked questions before and after the project. Grant funders just like to see that you’re as invested in the success of the project as they are.
#5 Ask them why you weren’t funded. You might be amazed at what you’ll find out. I once called when we were rejected and found that my proposal was actually the highest scored! I won’t go into details here but I was instructed to basically send the same proposal the next year and it would be funded. And it was. If I hadn’t called, I might have just assumed they’d never be interested and the nonprofit would’ve missed out on a $75,000 grant. In this case their rejection wasn’t a “no” it was a “not now.” It was simply a timing issue. You can dance around it but I always suggest calling to talk to a program officer about a rejected grant.