Grappling with Rejection
Grappling with Rejection

Chances are that your proposal will be rejected. It’s not personal. It’s statistical. An estimated one out of 10 is funded, the other nine are

turned down. This simply means that there are odds in the game and that they sometimes work against you. 

One of the first things to do is ask the funder for feedback. Of course, many are quick to warn you that “We don’t give any information to unsuccessful applicants.” If you’ve done a good job of making contact prior to submission, as you should, you might learn something — no harm in asking, according to Thomas Boyd, chief editorial consultant to The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif.. 

Some funders are also open to the conversation and will even suggest the basis for a rejection (e.g., this very clear statement from a California foundation “We also strove to fund organizations that were first-time applicants, had never received funding from the Foundation or grantees that had not been recently supported through the XYZ Program.” 

So you didn’t get funded by a particular foundation — who did? It’s helpful to look at the list of grantees to learn what you can about them, their focus and features and the specifics of their programs. If you’ve got a connection to a winning nonprofit, you might call to ask about how they went about it, what they might share about their grant etc. (The specter of competition should not dissuade you from making these kinds of collegial calls.) 

The most frequent rejections are those that praise you for your good work but turn you down “because we just didn’t have enough money to support all the wonderful requests we received.” This is frustrating but after the sting of it subsides, it’s helpful to wonder about whether or not there were things about your application you might do better the next time: did you get it in well ahead of the deadline or with an hour to go. . .did you answer all the questions they raised or did you gloss over some items. . .and critically, if you had won the grant would your program have helped the funder achieve its objectives—not yours, theirs?

“Think of rejections as invitations to look more closely at your process and program,” said Boyd, “and not as a door slammed in your face.” 

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