This is always a popular topic for individuals assigned with the task of writing grant applications. We work so hard to research and write what we think is an award-winning proposal for funding. Then, weeks turn to months until that email arrives from the funder stating we did not get the grant award. The most devastating part of this communication is that we have to tell our employer, supervisor, or client that all the hard work and resources involved in the planning and writing processes now seems for naught.
Well, after over 40 years of helping clients and workshop attendees discover why their grant request was not awarded funding, I’d like to share some top reasons that your grant application was not funded. I’d also like to remind you that eCivis will be hosting a webinar (I’ll be the speaker) on September 7 at 9:00-10:00 a.m. Pacific on this topic. Make sure to sign up early and tell your colleagues, please!
What Do the Funders Say?
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the applicants didn’t do their legwork. They might have glanced at the grant maker’s website, but they didn’t dig deeper, they didn't understand the specific grant-making priorities. In an attempt to win money at a time when many foundations are reducing their grant making, many grant seekers skip important steps, some of which may even make the difference between winning and losing a grant opportunity. Missteps—from math errors to omitted contact names and numbers—are common.
For grant seekers writing research grant applications, here is some specific feedback from the National Institutes of Health on major reasons they don't support a proposal:
- Your research idea is not of interest.
- The selling sections of your research plan don’t sell.
- Your experimental approach is deeply flawed.
- Other people had better ideas.
- You didn’t follow instructions.
- Your peer reviewer dozed off (from boredom and confusion when trying to read your disconnected ideas).
The National Endowment for the Arts, like the other 25 federal funding agencies, provides this listing of how peer reviewers score grant applications:
- The project is not sustainable after our grant support ends.
- The project does not include substantial cultural history.
- The project does not follow any national standards or best practices.
- The project is too large in scope and cannot possibly be completed within the grant timeline.
- The project has no expert advisors.
- The project’s dissemination language does not mention non-social media information sharing mechanisms.
How Can You Find Out Why Your Grant Application Was Not Funded?
If your grant application was rejected by a state or federal funding agency, you’re entitled to review the grant reviewer’s comments under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Unfortunately, if you’re rejected by a foundation, you probably won’t receive any reviewer’s comments, and you can’t use the FOIA to get them. However, you can call or email the foundation’s program officer and ask for verbal feedback—providing they have time to provide specific reasons for rejection.
Government agencies, especially federal ones, typically send a summary sheet with the section scores and an overview of strengths and weaknesses for each application section. If you receive a rejection notice from a state or federal funding agency that doesn’t include such a summary, or if the summary doesn’t give you enough information, write an email requesting the peer reviewers’ comments (each federal grant application usually has three peer reviewers).
When you use the FOIA, you receive the federal peer reviewers’ actual written comments and scores (the points they bestowed on each narrative section in your grant application).
Here’s a link with specifics on how to write an FOIA request to a government grantmaking agency: http://www.dummies.com/business/nonprofits/grants/how-to-request-peer-review-comments-when-your-government-grant-application-is-rejected/ (from Grant Writing for Dummies, 5th ed.)
Don’t forget, I’m going to give you some very detailed feedback in my September 7 webinar, where I’m also giving away a signed copy of one of my grant writing books. I’ll see you there.
UPDATE: While this webinar has past, we have made available a free recorded webinar by Beverly Browning ("Dr. Bev"). Just click below and provide your email to access.