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Rejection is a Bitter Pill

August 30, 2016


So you’ve written three amazing grants in the last four months, and they’ve all been declined.  Now what?  If you’re at all like me, you will instinctively begin to question your mission, your core values, how you are doing your work, who you are partnering with and ultimately want to throw in the towel.  But the reality is that grants are not always easy to secure.  They take a lot of work, perseverance, experience and initiative.  The easy way out is to give up; to fall back on excuses such as ‘we are not established enough’, or ‘no one has heard of us, so they will never give us any funding’.  If you were in sales, and your income relied on your performance, you would never, EVER,  give up after a rejection, or many rejections.


I want to tell you that you cannot give up.  Your charity deserves funding and your hard work merits the reward of financial success.  Being turned down for a grant is not necessarily an indication of how well you roll out your programs or how handle your finances.  More often it is an indication of your stage in the life cycle of your nonprofit (early or start up); inability to demonstrate historical and statistical success in your programs; or a lack of alignment with the funder’s mission.  

I don’t know how you’ve handled rejection in the past, but it’s time to learn a new approach: EMBRACE IT!  Yup, time to embrace the rejection.  No, I don’t mean that you are going to open the Prosecco and celebrate it- but you are going to use it as an opportunity for growth.  So, after you’ve swallowed the disappointment, pick up the phone and call the program officer.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Be gracious, polite, and generous.  Give them the benefit of the doubt - after all, they view thousands of proposals and are technically the experts in this process.  

  2. Find out why the grant was denied and try to get detailed answers.  The idea is to find out if there was something you could have done differently and whether you could be considered for funding next time around. Some of this information may be useful to you in your next grant application with another entity, so take extensive notes on the conversation.  If you are lucky, you might get some additional information out of the call, such as other recommended entities to apply to.  

  3. Make sure that you end that call on a positive note.  You may be back next year and you may be dealing with exactly the same program officer!  

  4. Don’t forget to send a thank you letter to the funder for their consideration of your proposal.  

  5. Keep trying.  You should have a spreadsheet or some effective tracking system to manage the grants that you are applying for, so move on to the next one.  The great part of this is that your grantwriting will get better with experience and your success rate is bound to improve.  


Still looking for answers?  A great resource is our recently published book,  Get the Grant, Change the World, co-authored by myself and my colleague Marcia Whitney at GrantDivas.  This ebook is the guide you need to avoid critical mistakes when writing grants.  Get your copy today, and you will be on your way to writing a winning grant!


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