So it happened. The hours you put into your grant application, the agony of waiting for a decision, the hopes you had hinged on starting a new program all came down to the mailed letter or the short email explanation:
Your grant application has not been selected.
In the process of applying for grants, even the most seasoned nonprofits and grant writers must inevitably come to terms with rejection. But don’t hang your head or give up!
In this article, we’ll cover how to respond to grant rejection letters—from following up with a thank you (yes, a thank you), to identifying key takeaways and applying them to your future grant applications, to staying dedicated to your grant pursuits.
How To Respond to a Grant Rejection Letter
If you receive a grant rejection letter, it’s always helpful to honor your disappointment before moving on. Often, we hurry through the emotional part of our work and hastily pursue the next opportunity. Writing grants takes time and effort, and it’s okay to feel let down when the outcome of the opportunity does not turn out as planned.
Allow yourself to feel sad or frustrated if that’s what comes up. Talk to your supervisor, coworker, or another grant writing colleague about it. Chances are they can empathize with receiving a grant rejection letter. Just sharing a bit about the grant outcome might help you process the rejection.
However, try not to get stuck in the negative feelings of the outcome for too long. After all, one rejection is just one rejection. In the grand scheme of grant writing, professional resources reveal that only between 10-20 percent of all grant applications get approved. While a well-crafted and thoughtful proposal certainly yields a greater chance of acceptance, even polished applications are often denied for reasons that have nothing to do with the application itself. Check out our article on grant writing stats for more info.
After processing these initial feelings and commiserating with coworkers, it’s important to follow-up with a response to the rejection letter. Keep reading for tips on how to craft a response that’s succinct, gracious, and ushers in the opportunity to gain more information about why you were rejected.
Grant Letter Rejection Response Sample
As mentioned above, it’s natural to feel disappointment at a rejection letter. It’s also natural to want to know why the grant application was not selected. After all, many criteria factor into a grant review panel’s decision.
Examples of these factors include:
1. The number of grant applications received
2. The amount of funds available for a particular grant cycle
3. Alignment of the organization and/or project proposal with the funding opportunity
4. Impact of the project or organization on the community versus the request amount
5. Organization’s history of carrying out comparable projects or award amounts
6. Overall confidence in and reputation of the applying organization
7. Quality of grant writing and clarity of project description
8. Organization’s financial state
Some of the above factors, once again, have less to do with the actual application and more to do with deeper organizational issues. Many grant writers have been called upon to carry out an unreasonable expectation of acquiring large amounts of funding when the organizations they work for are lacking in nonprofit fundamentals such as clarity of mission, leadership, and sound finances. Even the best grant writer cannot “write around” larger organizational issues that lead to rejections!
This aside, writing a well-crafted response should accomplish two goals: thanking the organization and requesting information as to why the grant application was rejected. Some grantmaking organizations will even be available for a debrief meeting to discuss why the application was declined and offer suggestions to make a future application stronger.
Keep the response succinct and straightforward. It should be just a few sentences. The response is not a place to launch into a compelling rebuttal about why the funder should change their decision. Make sure the tone is respectful and appreciative. Be gracious and grateful for their consideration.
Below is an example of a sample email response to a grant rejection letter:
Hello Ms. Funder,
Thank you for taking the time to consider XYZ’s project proposal – Youth Leadership Training – for the recent grant application cycle with ABC Foundation.
As XYZ is hopeful to apply again in the future, would you or another review team member be available for a brief meeting to discuss your decision and how we can improve our applications for the future? If this is not a possibility, can you offer a few written comments or suggestions on how to strengthen our application moving forward?
Thank you again for this opportunity and for ABC Foundation’s continued commitment to our community.
Learning how to respond to a grant rejection letter is a skill that successful grant writers will grudgingly develop. However, you can learn how to capture some takeaways from the process and apply them to future applications moving forward. Keep reading for more info on how to go about using this knowledge in your next steps.
How To Move Forward When Your Grant Proposal is Denied
Writing a response to a grant rejection letter is the first step in the process, but there’s even more you can do to ensure your next grant application is a success.
Here are some follow-up steps to help you move forward after receiving a grant rejection letter and improve on your next proposal.
Meet with the Grantmaker
If the funder is available for a meeting to discuss the application and outcome, come open-minded and have thoughtful questions ready for the staff. Some inquiries are okay, so long as you do not engage in critiquing the review process or overstep your bounds.
Always remember that you can often reapply for a particular grant or to a particular foundation after a specified period, so you never want to burn bridges by being obstinate, accusatory, or otherwise unprofessional if grant reviewers are taking the time to speak with you.
Take notes on the reviewer’s suggestions. For example, did the comments speak to the writing of the application or did it speak to underlying organizational issues? Or did the comments reveal that there were just too many applications and not enough funding to go around? (The latter is often the case as community needs continue to outweigh available funding, making applications even more competitive).
Seek Outside Consultation
Some nonprofit support organizations in your area may offer to review applications and make suggestions. It might be helpful to have a few outside eyes look over the application, particularly if you have received successive application declines. A “neutral” reviewer may notice some things to improve the application that you may have missed.
After receiving feedback from the grantmaker and others, you can hone in on improving particular sections in future applications. Perhaps you discovered that you need to better explain how you are going to carry out a specific project or present a timeline in more detail. Or maybe you found out that you need to present more evidence to help evaluators understand the potential outcome of the proposed project.
Record Your Notes
After you have taken stock of the rejected application and ways to improve, make notes in your grants management database on the outcome of the application and the suggestions for the future, noting any waiting period that may ensue before you can apply again.
If you are still keeping track of your grant applications through an Excel spreadsheet, time to throw that out with the fax machine and sign up for a dedicated grants management software system! Try out Instrumentl’s 14-day free trial and organize your applications, notes, dates, and tasks all in one place!
Keep reading below for a handful of actionable ways to modify your grant proposal and better your chances of future acceptance.
5 Actionable Ways to Improve Your Grant Proposal After a Rejection
Right from the get-go, there are a few tips you can apply to up your chances of creating a better application in the future. The following five tips cover some of the basic, yet easily overlooked, factors that will improve your outcomes.
1. Check grammar, punctuation, and formatting.
Simple, I know, right? But you would be surprised to see how many people in their rush to finish by the deadline forget to spell check or make copy and paste errors, leaving a great idea packaged in a sloppy application. As grant applications become more and more competitive, the details indeed matter.
2. Make sure you have answered the application questions.
Another seemingly basic point. Almost too basic! But many proposals fail to answer the basic questions on the application in the space allotted, even with expert writers. Consider the questions thoughtfully and make sure your narrative fully answers all of their parts.
For example, a section may state:
Describe your project and its impact on the community in the space below. (Maximum 500 words).
You may have written a very eloquent description of the project for 450 words and then only used 50 words to describe its impact. Or even worse, you didn’t describe its impact at all! Be sure that your narrative matches the application’s request for information and that you don’t short your descriptions or explanations by including unnecessary information.
3. Make sure you have provided a detailed Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
The grant application should at some point include each of these elements. These are basic concepts of a project description or, in a general operations proposal, elements of day-to-day operations.
Even if the grantmaking foundation is local, do not assume that the reviewer knows anything about your organization’s mission, history, or programs. Write each application as if the reviewer knows nothing about your nonprofit.
When answering questions, include the titles of and numbers of staff, the mission statement, service area, population served, reason for existence, rationale for programs, and vision for the future. Be succinct, yet cover all these basics so that the grant reviewer is not left with any hanging questions about the structure and purpose of your nonprofit or its proposed project.
For example, if your project description started off by stating that your organization intends to provide food to homebound individuals (the what), make sure that you include the necessary supporting information. In the description or subsequent sections, reflect on if you have included thewhy (demonstrated need), the how (the mode of delivery), the when(days/times per week), and the who(staff or volunteers).
4. Describe partnerships and/or supporters.
Grant reviewers love to hear about existing or proposed partnerships. Be sure to include information about other funders who are invested in your project or organization. Include community partners with whom you are working on a shared goal. This gives reviewers increased assurance and demonstrates your organization’s collaborative capacity.
5. Include community input and outreach efforts.
It is always best to have community-led projects and to include peer advice within programs. Nonprofits are designed to serve community needs, and thus, should always include input from the population the program or organization hopes to serve.
Consider these questions:
Do you adequately tell the story of why your organization began or how you got an idea for a proposed project?
Does your narrative explain the community's need and response?
Does your organization have any data from public outreach events or forums where residents provided input?
Does your organization have a youth, elder, or resident advisory board?
If so, describe this data and/ or your nonprofit’s processes for engagement.
Can You Change a Funder's Mind About Your Grant Proposal?
This is a common question grant seekers ask after receiving a rejection letter. The short answer is usually, no. The longer explanation is that it is typically not time efficient or worthwhile to appeal for a reconsideration except in certain very specific cases. Rather, it’s best to wait for the next available grant round and enhance your application in the meantime.
Though every situation is different, most often a grant review panel’s decision is final. However, a few compelling reasons to ask for a reconsideration are as follows:
A significant and/or unexpected change has occurred in the community since the grant application was submitted and reviewed (examples would be the COVID-19 pandemic, a natural disaster, or other unforeseen events that necessitate an increased need in the community).
A recognizable error occurred in the grant submission process that was the mistake of the grantmaker (such as grant applications being mixed up or the system receiving only a partial application).
An existing grant recipient has proposed that your organization be part of their project, which has already been approved. (Some foundations may be willing to re-allocate money rather than to distribute additional funds).
Wrapping Things Up: Responding to Grant Rejection Letters Effectively
As a grant writer, you’ll win some and lose some (and if statistics are correct, over time, even the best will likely lose more than win). Even after writing a strong proposal, it’s never a bad idea to prepare yourself for the possibility of a rejection letter.
When faced with the decline of a grant application, acknowledge the rejection, express thanks for the opportunity, and welcome any additional information you can use to create more compelling applications in the future. Even a rejection adds to your experience as a grant writer and its takeaways offer valuable insight into polishing your proposals for the future.
The best way to rally from a grant rejection response is to seek out a new funding opportunity and apply what you have learned in the process. For more info on how to locate your next grant opportunity, check out our best grant research tools post here.
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