I’ve spent a lot of time in this space writing about fiction writing and editing, but I do more than that. I act as a nonprofit and grants consultant to small or start-up nonprofits. I also work part-time at a private foundation, so I have a good bead on the general thought processes grantors go through when they get your material. In grant writing, rejection is a part of the process. But the reasons why your application is rejected may not be so straight forward. Or even your fault.
The rejection may have little to do with how well the proposal is written or the merit of the proposal. Even a good fit can get rejected. Often, there are factors that are simply beyond your control as an applicant. Here’s a few things that I’ve seen happen behind the scenes that might sink your otherwise fantastic proposal.
1. No more money
Even if you submit by the deadline, you never really know what the financial situation is behind the scenes. Despite the great care that foundations take in projecting dispersible funds, and planning the amounts to give away each cycle, some boards or panels might suddenly get behind a larger-than-usual gift that eats up available cash. A Pulitzer-level grant narrative can’t do a thing about that.
2. Board or panel doesn’t get behind it
If the grant you applied for is a small one decided by a program person, this wouldn’t necessarily apply. But most grants are awarded by panels of program officers or more often the board of the foundation itself. Every grant application needs a champion, and if no one on the panel makes a case for you, then it’s going to be much easier for them to reject the proposal, even if it’s meritorious.
3. Too much good competition in the cycle
Some funders grant money on a rolling basis, but many – including the one I work for – have between 1 and 4 cycles per year. If you apply in a crowded cycle, you may get rejected regardless of merit. Hopefully, you’ll get feedback from the funder letting you know about this or inviting you to resubmit at another time, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
These are a few of the realities of of grant writing. The key is to not give up. Build your programs and track record, do your research, find the right fits, and try to develop relationships with the funders that are able and willing to talk with you on the phone (not all of them can or do, though). A good grants program is a marathon, not a sprint.
Ever been rejected for a reason out of your control? Did you get feedback? Tell us about it in the comments!