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Why Grants Get Rejected

...and how to recover after striking out



Fact: Babe Ruth had a 66% fail rate at bat. 


Yes, he failed most of the time. So...why isn't he considered a failure? 


When he DID get a hit, there was a 25% chance of its being a homeroom and a 77% chance that a run would be batted in. That's why he is a legend.


A .342 batting average in baseball is pretty darn fantastic. But grant professionals often forget to hold our own work to a similar standard.


Here's the hard truth: most grant proposals will be rejected - especially first-time submissions. 


But Babe Ruth didn't walk away from the plate after the first strike-out...why should you?


Of course, it's still important to consider why the grant was rejected. When that dreaded, "We applaud your excellent and important work in our community, however..." letter comes, what should you do?


Grieve a bit, of course. Eat chocolate. Say bad words. Cry, if that helps. Then move forward.


Note: 30 years into my nonprofit career and I STILL get upset with EVERY rejection. That's the downside of caring.


Here are some key reasons why grants get rejected and how to handle them:

  1. Wrong Funder - Most funders have a list of things they WON'T fund. If you ask for one of those, you will get rejected. Instead, you should find funders that have an expressed interest in funding a program like yours.

  2. Poor Writing - a foundation manager once told me that 90% of the proposals they get are badly organized and don't communicate well. If your proposal confuses or bores its reader, it probably won't be funded.

  3. No Relationship - you can't always develop a relationship with a funder but you should always try. They will be more open to your proposal if they already know you. Check out my blog on building a relationship with a funder.

  4. A Weak Program - it's hard to get funding for a program that isn't well organized, isn't reaching many people or isn't accomplishing its outcomes. Some programs duplicate other efforts in the community. You must ensure your programs are strong and fulfill a unique need. 

  5. Not the Right Fit - I submitted (what I thought) was an outstanding application to a funder who had encouraged the proposal. Although they liked the proposal, the board decided (during their meeting!) that they would focus giving on rural programs that year. Mine was urban. It happens.

  6. A First Strike - Funders will often deny this...but experience shows it's true: the first time you submit a proposal to a funder, it has a smaller chance of being funded (some say 1 in 6). The second time you submit to the funder, your chances increase tremendously. The third time, your chances are even higher.

  7. Not This Time - Sometimes your proposal is great, your relationship is great, your organization is doing everything right...but a funder just can't help this time around. 

  8. Not Gonna Happen - If you've done everything else well and had three or more rejections from the same funder, it's probably time to move on. There will be other ballgames.



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