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Handling a Federal Grant Application Rejection Notice

by Beverly Browning on January 19, 2015
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Grant-proposal-rejectionAre your grant-seeking efforts resulting in a slew of rejection notices from funding agencies? What happened to the excitement and hope that you had when you were planning and writing your grant applications? Are you becoming “grant writing shy” and not wanting to apply for more competitive grant funding opportunities? In this blog, I’ll talk about the steps to take in order to effectively handle grant application rejection notices.

Rejection from Federal Grant-Making Agencies

When you apply for a federal grant, you are competing against other states, U.S. territories, and federally recognized tribal organizations. Tossing your grant applications into a swirling pool of funding requests with hundreds or thousands of other competitors takes fortitude. Federal peer reviewers are given specific criteria about what constitutes a funding recommendation, criteria that have little to do with your zip code or authentic need. There can be numerous reasons why your applications are not resulting in grant awards. So when that standard generic rejection email arrives in your inbox, don’t have a meltdown. Here are some steps that I take when my client’s grant applications are not funded (Did I actually say this to the world? I did, I’m human!):

  • Request a copy of the peer review feedback from the funding agency and look for the list of content weaknesses that caused your application to lose peer review points. Often, the points that are deducted have nothing to do with the merit of your proposed project or your own writing abilities.
  • View the funder agency’s website to see if the list of awarded grant applicants has been posted. Look to see who else was funded in your city, county, state, and federal region. If there was nothing funded, your problem is politically related, not writing-related—no matter what the peer review feedback summary lists as your grant application’s weaknesses!
  • Particularly look at the budget narrative feedback. Often, once you write the narrative and assemble the attachments, preparation of the budget narrative and summary are handed off to a municipal treasurer, finance director, business manager, or someone else that crunches the numbers and can add the cash match information as well. Most often, the grant writer has no control over what ends up in the grant application’s budget section—and if we did, we couldn’t change overhead or hidden administrative expenses!

Explaining the Rejection, and Moving Forward

Of course, since you’re the grant writer, the reasons for rejections take second place to having to share the news with your supervisor, board of directors, governing body, or department colleagues. Typically, they care little about the details or things that are out of your control. You are suddenly the bearer of bad news, and it’s not a comfortable seat to sit in. What can you do? How can you instill greater confidence in yourself and emit hope throughout your organization or agency?

  1. First, after you share the results of your hard efforts—a rejection—take a personal day or half-day to walk away from the stress. Just breathe! Do something peaceful and something that makes you smile (attending a movie, going to the library to read in a quiet corner, taking a hike, going to the beach and listening to the waves, just relaxing and trying to regroup your professional focus).
  2. Second, after you’ve done all that can to research the reason(s) for the rejection notice, start bonding—even more—with the federal program officer assigned to the grant program. Talk about your community’s disappointment and your surprise at all of the points that your application did not garner.
  3. Third, regroup your grants team and go over your findings and how you are putting a plan into place for next year’s competitive grant cycle. Create an early planning and preparation process. Make political connections in Washington, D.C., to make sure that you’re getting all of the insider news on the grant program’s fiscal year funding allocation and the proposed notice of funding available release date. Prepare! Prepare! Prepare!

Remember, you are human. Of course we take rejection at any level as a failing moment. Some grant writers leave their jobs; others experience burnout symptoms. These are all warning signs that you are not handling your rejection notices in the right way. Here are some final words that I practice: Breathe, be better next time, be realistic, be ready.


Norfolk Virginia Case Study from eCivis

Topics: Grant Articles & News

2 min read time