The brighter side of failure

At first glance, securing a grant seems simple: find the funder that fits the program; compose a well-written, convincing grant proposal; get the grant; repeat.


Grant proposals fail more often than they succeed. The qualities that go into good grantsmanship — targeted prospect research, logical thinking, persuasive writing, attention to detail, a competitive spirit — will win you the grant some of the time. But good grant seekers are also willing to gracefully accept failure as part of the job, using it as a trigger to soldier on, improve their game, and turn the failure into success.


“The ability to be motivated by failure demands a fair amount of ego strength,” said Holly Thompson, contributing editor for The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Rejection can sting, but it’s very rarely personal. You’ve got to shake it off. If you let it get to you, bitterness and frustration will come through in your grant proposals and interactions with prospective funders. It will also affect your job satisfaction.”


How do you avoid negative thinking in the wake of rejection? The usual advice is to determine why the proposal was declined and try again. But besides that, Thompson suggested, trying positively reframing failure. Accepting failure as a part of your job description is an effective way to deal with rejections. Ask yourself: What’s the bright side of this rejection? What good can come out it? How can this failure help me develop a better proposal next time?


“Think about people in your lives and work who have bounced back from failure,” said Thompson. “Very few successful people have gotten where they are without a few stumbles.” Many leaders describe their failures in their memoirs, speeches, and blogs. Do some reading.


“The key is to be honest with yourself about failure. Be willing to talk about it and, most importantly, to laugh about it. Humor can be the best coping strategy of all,” Thompson said.