What to do When Your Proposal is Declined. (Hint: It’s the Beginning, Not the End!)

It’s always frustrating to have your grant proposal rejected, but it’s absolutely essential to stay optimistic and to persevere. The fact is that most grant proposals do get rejected, but learning from the experience—examining why your proposal was turned down—will benefit you by making future proposals stronger.

If you feel like you’ve done a solid job describing your non-profit’s mission, the population you serve, and how your proposed grant would help your clients, then take another look at the foundation’s mission. Did your proposal help the foundation meet its goals? Was it really a good fit in the first place? Foundations routinely turn down the best conceived projects simply because the goals of the non-profit and the foundation aren’t aligned. Explore the foundation’s website to see what kind of projects they’ve funded in the past, and compare those projects to your own. See what you can learn, and if this step wasn’t part of your last round of proposal applications, make it part of your next.

If you’re confident that the goals of your proposal met the goals of the foundation, then go back to the original Request for Proposals. Consider the following questions:

• Did the foundation recommend or require a letter of intent?
• Did your project meet all of the eligibility requirements?
• Was your request for funding in line with the foundation’s guidelines?
• Did you complete all of the required forms correctly, including strict adherence to page limits?
• Did you meet all of the foundation’s deadlines?

Next, evaluate the writing in your proposal.

• Did you state your needs clearly and specifically, right up front?
• Did you include information about your non-profit’s other sources of funding to help show that you’re a worthy cause?
• Did you use testimonials to bring the needs of your clients to life, and did you use meaningful, accurate data to support your organization’s needs?
• Is your writing clear and compelling?
• Does the proposal sound like it’s been written by one person, or do several different voices make it choppy and scattered?
• Is the formatting clean and consistent?
• Did you use headings and subheadings to make your proposal easily navigable?

After you’ve reevaluated your proposal, call the foundation and ask to speak with the program officer who reviewed your proposal. After you’ve thanked them for their thoughtful review, ask these three questions:

1. Is there anything we could have done differently in our proposal?
2. May we resubmit for your next funding cycle?
3. Are you aware of any other foundations that we might approach?

Follow up by dropping a thank you note in the mail.

And in your next round of grant proposals, build upon what you’ve learned. Send your applications to a diverse group of foundations, and be sure to explain how your project can help each foundation meets its own goals, not only how the foundation can help you meet yours. Above all—be patient, be persistent, and be positive.


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2 Responses to “What to do When Your Proposal is Declined. (Hint: It’s the Beginning, Not the End!)”

  1. M. Teresa Vandergriff says:

    Many thanks for these suggestions. I am encouraged to see that there are specific steps I can take to make progress despite a rejection.

  2. “… be sure to explain how your project can help each foundation meets its own goals, not only how the foundation can help you meet yours.” I need to work on this! I have told many jobseekers this, since I’ve had way too many applications that tell me that the applicant could learn to much in the job. To be blunt, the response to that is “who cares?” I hire people to help our organization do its work, and to help make my own job easier. I need to keep that in mind when I work with foundation staff.