You spent hours upon hours researching, preparing, and writing what your team knows is the perfect grant proposal — a proposal that meets each one of the foundation’s guidelines. Why wouldn’t it accept your proposal after all your hard work? But when you read on, your heart sinks.
Rejection is, unfortunately, a fact of life, and that includes grant writing. For few to succeed, most have to fail. All the logic and reasoning in the world, however, won’t assuage the sting you feel after an application gets turned down.
Rejection isn’t fun, but that doesn’t mean you should stop writing grants altogether — or even fear future rejection. You just need to learn to lean into rejection. When a foundation says no to an application, you still have the chance to turn that rejection into a productive opportunity.
Leaning Into Rejection
Grant writing is about more than asking for money. It’s about creating a relationship with funders that helps them understand who you are, what you need, and why you need it. It’s a complex getting-to-know-you process that requires conversation and adaptation — and a rejection, as frustrating as it can be, offers an ideal opportunity to continue that relationship-building process.
When you get that rejection letter (and you will get at least one), the first thing to remember is that it doesn’t necessarily mean your application was inadequate or that your organization isn’t doing great work; it means it wasn’t exactly what the grantmaker needed to see or that another organization fit the requirements more closely. You can always resubmit your grant application after some careful nurturing — of both your proposal and your relationship with the funder.
The question then becomes: How do you determine what you need to change to have your next revision accepted?
Step 1: Reach Out
Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone on the committee to ask why your grant was rejected. See what the committee’s reasoning was and where you can improve next time. Unless you’ve received a response of “Your work doesn’t align with our funding priorities,” you can still possibly get your grant through the committee.
In doing so, be careful to not criticize. You’re not calling to complain; you’re calling to gain some insight. While it may sting to hear someone critique a proposal you spent months on, don’t get upset. Start a dialogue about your grant, your organization, and your cause. Not only will it help you gain insight about your grant proposal, but it will also start a relationship with the funder. The more you cultivate that relationship, the more likely the foundation will be to consider your submission.
Step 2: Discuss Future Projects
If your proposal was rejected because it wasn’t a fit for the foundation, talk about your other projects. See if any of those might pique the committee’s interest. Not only will this help foster a relationship between your nonprofit and the foundation, but it will also help you determine what the foundation’s overall priorities are and whether they’ve changed; that foundation may no longer be accepting your grants because its organizational priorities don’t match with yours. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to ask about another program that might be a better fit.
Rejection hurts, especially for nonprofits bent on creating positive change in the world. But rejection isn’t always as bad as it seems at first; on the contrary, it can be that foot in the door you need to truly understand the funder, its needs, and its priorities. It’s a way to facilitate a conversation and a relationship that otherwise wouldn’t have come about. If you turn rejection into a productive situation, it will prove itself to be an opportunity, not just a setback.