(The following blog post, part 1 of 2 on "Handling a Grant Rejection," was written by Dr. Bev Browning, Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis and the author of more than 40 grant-related publications. As a grant writer, getting a rejection letter from a funding source can be a big letdown. Besides coping with your own personal disappointment, you also have to face your superiors, peers, and others in the community who rallied to your cause and helped you put the grant proposal together. The best way to handle a rejection letter is with your head up, hopes high, and a game plan for getting the funding through another source.
Don’t cry and don’t give up
This is not the time to fall apart. Tears don’t move your failed grant proposal or contract bid proposal forward to award status. You need all the energy you can muster to keep chasing those dollars.
Here’s why grant writers need to identify more than one funding source for their projects: When one funder sends you a rejection letter, you still have numerous other chances to get the funding you need. As the phrase goes, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!” If you’re dealing with a contract bid rejection, then look for other bid opportunities. If one agency needed your services or products, so will another—maybe even in another state!
Open the discussion with private-sector funders
Many private-sector funders do not give detailed information on why they reject funding requests. You need to know where your proposal was weak and how to correct its deficiencies so that you’re able to approach the next funder with a stronger proposal that’s more likely to receive an award. If your foundation or corporate proposal has been rejected, contact the funder to see whether it’s possible to discuss the outcome.
If you have a failed contract bid, you can ask to meet with the procurement staff to go over the reasons for your elimination. You can also request a copy of the winning bid document if the privately owned company giving the contract receives any federal monies for its operations or has federal contracts that are subcontracted out to vendors. However, keep in mind that businesses in the private sector don’t have to release any information about why you were not funded.
Request comments from public-sector funders
If you’ve been rejected for a federal or state grant, call or write to request peer reviewers’ comments. You can use the Freedom of Information Act to request and receive copies of all review comments (including those on the strengths and weaknesses in your proposal) as well as the scoring records for each section of your grant proposal. Your rejection letter should tell you the name of the funding agency, contact person, telephone number, and maybe even the numerical tracking code that was assigned to your grant proposal when the funding agency first received it. When you call the funding agency and request the reviewers’ comments, more than likely you’ll be told to put your request in writing. Just write a normal letter, but at the top put the following header in all caps: "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST."
If you failed to win a contract bid from a government-sponsored agency, you can request a copy of the winning contract bid proposal. If any sections of the winning bidding document were marked “Proprietary Information,” then the contract-awarding agency won’t allow you to review those pages or sections.
Use your connections
If your federal or state grant application is rejected, contact your legislator for guidance and help in finding out the real reason your program wasn’t funded. Federal and state grants have to be awarded equally across geographic areas and split between rural and urban areas; reviewers often factor in other equity indicators as well. These preferences are usually published in the application guidelines, but after receiving a rejection letter, your best move is simply to ask your legislator to investigate. Even better, demand that your legislator investigate. His or her intervention and support for your cause may make the difference in getting your grant application funded in the next competitive cycle.
Don’t take it personally
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.
Have any tips that you would add? Tell us how your organization has bounced back from rejection and refocused efforts.