When and Why Do Grant Makers Reject?

Posted by Timothy Tiernan on Aug 19, 2012 10:00:00 PM

grant application rejection, grant proposal rejection, grant makers, grantmakers, grantseekers, grant seekersI was reading an article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy the other day about the main reasons that grant makers reject grant proposals, and it inspired me to reach out to some major foundations to get the word from the funders themselves. The answers bear repeating: Sources agree that oftentimes a proposal is denied funding not “because there was something ‘wrong’ with the proposal that if fixed would then result in a grant… but because: a) the foundation’s grant budget was insufficient, b) the program or purpose wasn’t a priority, or c) the organization did not demonstrate the capacity to carry out the proposal” (Council of Michigan Foundations, Information for Seeking Foundation and Corporate Grants). This source was recommended to me by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

In this way, project alignment and capacity make up the foundation (forgive the pun) upon which the argument for funding is based. To pick an easy metaphor, take job searching: For instance, you could have the "perfect résumé"—but it isn't perfect if you’re applying for the wrong job. If you’re not the right fit for the company, you’re not getting a call back. It doesn’t matter if you have superb qualifications, grammar, and the premium glossy paper from OfficeMax.

I reached out to the big foundations and received responses that aligned with the perspective of the Council of Michigan Foundations.

Rebecca Noricks, Communications Manager at the Kellogg Foundation, stated that “generally speaking, the reasons outlined in the Information for Seeking Foundation and Corporate Grants (above) are consistent with those of the Kellogg Foundation.” Jacob Harold, Program Officer for the Philanthropy Program of the Hewlett Foundation, echoed point “b” above, stating, “We only request [grant proposals] when (1) there's strong strategic alignment and (2) there's a strong relationship.  My one piece of advice is to seek strategic alignment. We're all on the same team!”

My one piece of advice is to seek strategic alignment. We're all on the same team!

- Jacob Harold, Hewlett Foundation

We’re all looking to improve the communities in which we live, whether we’re part of a county-level agency or a small nonprofit down the street. Whether the project is moving along the same path of this "team" or that one—therein may lie the difference between rejection and award. But my sources indicate that “taking rejection personally” is not only unproductive, it’s not even logical.

Dr. Bev Browning makes this point clear in her September article for Grants Network: KnowledgeBase subscribers:  “Public and private funding sources receive hundreds of grant proposals each year; some funders receive hundreds of requests in only one month! Your proposal, when it eventually surfaces at the top of the stack, is reviewed for applicant eligibility, technical merit, and funder interest. If you miss the mark in even one of these areas, then your proposal moves to the rejected stack. Remember that a failure is not a personal rejection but an organizational setback.”

As other responses roll in, I will publish those in a follow-up post. What has been your experience with grant rejections, and how have they positively shaped your own skills and organization?

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Topics: Grant Seeking, Grant Writing, Grant Making, eCivis Resources, Foundation Grants