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Three Ways to Turn a Grant “No” into a “YES”!



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Nothing is more disappointing to a grant writer than spending hours, days, even weeks, working on a grant proposal only to receive a form letter from the funder that the application has been rejected. Before you wad up the letter, toss it away, and cross the funder off your list, take a deep breath.

Don’t give up.

A rejection from a grantor is not the end of the application process. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to learn and can be a perfect starting point to build a game plan for future success.

Stay positive, be optimistic, and turn that grant “no” into a “yes”!

For starters, don’t take the grant denial personally. The grantor rejected the proposal, not you. Every grant writer at some point has a proposal that has been denied by a funder. Many proposals don’t get funded, especially on the first submission.

Why? There are numerous reasons proposals are turned down. The most common is that there is a huge amount of competition and funding is limited. Grantors may only be able to fund a small number of the applications they receive. Often, the mission of the nonprofit or the proposed program doesn’t align with the funder’s mission, goals, or objectives. It’s not a match.

Have you built a relationship with the funder? Grant proposals are also rejected because grantors receive unsolicited applications or have no introduction to what your nonprofit does and who it serves in the community.

And then there’s the applications themselves. Grantors always deny funding to proposals that don’t follow the guidelines. They seldom support submissions that are vague, unclear, or have incorrect or sloppy budgets. Matching the budget to the narrative is key to success.  

So, with rejection letter in hand, consider these important next steps.

One, ask for feedback.

Talk to the funder and find out why your application wasn’t supported. This will provide critical insights into strengthening or improving future applications.

Specifically, you want to know how many proposals were received and how many were awarded. This will tell you about the competition. Even good proposals may not make it to the “yes” pile if the demand is far greater than the money available.

You also want to know what factors were considered that affected the review. If there were new donor priorities or economic factors beyond the criteria, you will gain an inside perspective about what to ask for in future applications.

Finally, you want to know what information was missing or how you can strengthen future proposals. Hearing first-hand from the grantor gives you a blueprint of what to include next time.

Remember, be positive and avoid arguing or making excuses. Listen and learn from the feedback.

And make sure to ask if you can apply again in the future.

Two, invite the funder to your facility or program.

Grant writing is relationship building.

Applications are more likely to be funded if the grantor is an ally of your organization and believes in your mission and the great work you’re doing. Invite them to tour your facility, attend a program, participate in a service in the community, whatever you can do to familiarize them with your efforts. Build relationship with grantors and gain their support.

Three, say thank you.

The most important step following a rejection is to write a personal note or email and thank the funder for spending time considering your proposal and giving you the opportunity to apply. Be optimistic about how you look forward to developing future partnership opportunities.

Be gracious.

Maintaining a positive relationship with a potential funder is critical for any future success.

Grant denials are disappointing and frustrating, but they are also tremendous learning opportunities. If you follow these steps and stay positive, the next letter you’ll be holding in your hand will be a grant award letter.

For more information and resources for nonprofit professionals, join NPO Centric’s membership program. >>