In this article, I'll share three of the top reasons that grant applications are rejected. There are many other reasons that factor into a grant rejection, and I will cover these in future blog posts. The errors listed below are gleaned from my experience as a federal grant application peer reviewer from 1992 to the present. I've seen these basic errors made on all types of grant request narratives, from foundation proposals to government applications. They demonstrate what not to do when writing your grant application narrative.
Rejection Reason #1: Not demonstrating your organization’s financial capability in the background and history section of the narrative.
Why do funding agencies need this information? To assess your organization’s financial management process, how much grant funding you’ve received and managed, and whether you have accounting safe measures in place (procurement policies, reporting processes, and governing body oversight for revenues and expenditures). When program officers, peer reviewers, and other decision-making entities are considering awarding your organization a sizeable grant, you must address 100 percent of your financial processes. No funding source wants to authorize a grant award that is mismanaged, or have the grantee return unspent dollars at the last minute that could have been awarded to a grant applicant that followed the financial plan outlined in their application’s budget detail.
Rejection Reason #2: Not validating your statement of need narrative with accurate and cited statistics.
Funding agencies need specifics in this section of the narrative. In the examples below, we'll analyze how the first narrative omits key points of information, whereas the second narrative provides a complete picture of the "good, bad, and the ugly" of the city's need backed by statistics.
Example Narrative 1:
Natchez has suffered economically since 2005. The population has dropped over the years. Today, there are a lot of youth that are eligible for the proposed YouthBuild Program. Our city is in dire need of a YouthBuild grant.
This narrative leaves many questions unanswered, such as:
- Where is Natchez located?
- What happened in 2005 that impacted the economy?
- What is the current population and what years are being compared for the population drop?
- What year is "today"? (Where are the timeframe comparisons?)
- How many youth are there?
- What is the age range of the youth and how is this relevant to the funding agency?
- Why is the city in dire need of this grant?
Example Narrative 2:
Natchez, Mississippi, the county seat and largest city within Adams County, is at the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway. It is the principal city of the Natchez, MS-LA Micropolitan Statistical Area. In 2005, prior to Hurricane Katrina, the City’s population estimate was 16,966 (8.1 percent drop from 2000 Census), including 1,500 youth between the ages of 16 and 21. In 2010, the eligible population for the YouthBuild pool of candidates is 2,000 (U.S. Census). In 2005, Natchez became home to 30,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees. This sudden influx of homeless and jobless persons stretched and depleted—and continues to stretch and deplete—the social, human, and education resources in and around Natchez. It is unknown how many evacuees remain in Natchez. However, the City of Natchez Community Development Office estimates that at least 1,500 evacuees are still here, bringing the 2010 population to 19,840. Today, the City of Natchez finds itself with alarming statistical indicators (Reference Table 1).
This narrative uses strong statistical information to demonstrate how the devastation from Hurricane Katrina led to an influx of evacuees into the city that "continues to stretch and deplete" municipal resources. In the actual federal grant application, the table that followed the narrative contained statistics to support the statement on the evacuees in Natchez.
Rejection Reason #3: Not incorporating measurable objectives into the program design (or methodology) narrative.
Why do funding agencies want specifics in your objectives? Because highly competitive grant applications must incorporate Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART) action steps to achieve funding goals.
Here’s a template for writing SMART objectives:
By the end of [your time frame; e.g., year, semester, quarter, month, including actual date], increase [what will be increased; e.g., services to the chronically homeless] by [percentage] as demonstrated by [quantitative measureable results].
By the end of Year 1 (June 30, 2015), increase the number of youth completing YouthBuild academic competencies by 40% or more as demonstrated by the number of youth actively enrolled in the construction trades apprenticeship program at Adams Community College, the number of youth completing their selected vocation’s modules, and the number of youth passing the national certification exams.
Tip: SMART objectives always have a percentage increase or decrease.
Your SMART objectives, when written correctly like in the example above, tie into your logic model (required now for most government grant applications), as well as the evaluation plan. I refer to this as the accountability chain. No chain, no money!
I encourage you to share your experiences with grant application rejections, including the reasons for not getting funded, in our comment section below. You can also sign up for my webinar coming up at the end of June by clicking the button below: