Overcoming Grant Proposal Rejection

Published on 27th March 2020

We know what it takes to write a proposal. You are compelled by your narrative, months of painstaking research and the investment of time and energy spent in to pulling this together for this donor. After months of waiting, you finally receive the verdict and it is a NO. A short email or portal message that does not seem to justify the 15,000 words you submitted or convey the pain of long nights and energy
spent putting this proposal together.

It is a deeply discouraging time for everyone, it is never fun being rejected or told that your best efforts just do not hit the mark. However, this rejection can be a great learning experience and a chance to perfect your grant writing skills. The secret to coping is a learning review that addresses the result in the steps outlines below;

1. Feedback from the donor
Do not hesitate to ask for feedback. Tell the donor that you really need to figure out what particular aspects made you fail so as to improve them. Do not question the decisions of the donor, just ask. This is the first step to making your proposal more compelling on the next bid. Most of all, show the procurement staff that you are still willing to pursue your cause despite this rejection. It may not change their decision about you, but it can endear them towards you in the future. Most donors want to work with nonprofit organisations who have a passion for their communities anyway, so you are not the bad guy here.

2. Never consider it a failure
A change of terminology usually helps. Learning perhaps? The idea is simple, and the key is to be resilient. If you are familiar with the laws of seed and harvest, otherwise called the laws of probabilities, it is only a matter of time before the odds are in your favour. At this time, it is helpful to motivate your team and others who may not be as visionary as you. Learning reviews can be conducted in an informal manner and avoid passing blame.

3. Increase Learning
Learning about your organisation and improving your resource bank with updated information, images and evidence to support future applications is key. Some organisations make the mistake of recycling old proposals that are no longer valid or viable. Take this opportunity to reassess your strategy, quantify your targets and improve your technical skills in the area of intervention that you are proposing. Do not give up and do not stop learning.

4. Revise, customise, and humanise
There may be some merit in collaboration. When you eventually find out what organisation was successful, be humble and learn. Arrange meetings to introduce yourself and share cross learning. If you need to amend your strategy or change tact, do it. A simple change can be all it takes as shown in the below example of company XYZs vision statement

– To free our people from extreme poverty
– To see youth in the flurry community free from poverty by providing employment to 500 unemployed youth aged 18-24 in 3 years
You can offer the opportunity for partnership with a larger successful agency if the opportunity arises.

5. Show up with the same energy next time
There is nothing more frustrating than reading a proposal that lacks life and enthusiasm, obsolete facts and a bad attempt at motivating the reader. If you need time, take the time. You should make sure that when the next opportunity comes, there is renewed enthusiasm, zeal and confidence being put into the new proposal.

Findev Consulting Limited is a UK based consultancy that provides grant management training to NGOs and civil society organisation. We have worked with numerous nonprofits across 3 continents, focusing on proposal development, strategic planning and project evaluation we have experience with creating budgets and appraising successful donor proposals.