10 Steps to Embrace Grant Rejection

You’ve put your heart and soul into it. You may have lost sleep. You definitely missed the latest Breaking Bad episode. Or you paid a grant writer a hefty sum.

For all of that, what you got was a mass email that started with the lines, “We regret to inform you…”

Your heart plunges and you decide to write off grants for the rest of the year… or for the rest of your life. You might have at some point said, Enough with that foundation / federal grant. I’ll never get it.

I get it. Nobody likes rejection, especially after they put so much time or funding into writing a grant. Nobody likes to see their much-needed project swatted away and not even given a chance.

Here is the thing. Sometimes you just don’t have that great of a grant and it really should get rejection. Sorry, but sometimes you binge-watched the entire series of Breaking Bad and then wrote the grant a few hours before it was due. Don’t do that.

Other times you wrote a fantastic grant narrative, but you didn’t include a mandatory attachment, such as a Logic Model or a copy of your IRS Tax-exempt 501(c)3 certificate.

Most often is that you did spend some time (or cash) on writing a great grant, included all attachments, and went through the brutal process of submitting on Grants.gov or spent a fortune of your ink on printing a jillion copies and submitted them to a foundation. But you still got a “Rejected” stamp to your grant.

This isn’t always a bad thing. What?! Holly, have you lost your mind?

Okay, it’s not the best scenario (I’m not that much of a Pollyanna), but it’s not all lost time, energy, and moola. Let me explain:

1. You wrote and designed a project

Chances are you may have only had the ‘idea’ for the project in your mind before you wrote it. But once you sat down and wrote it, the details became clear. You may have changed some aspects or approaches because red flags became apparent as you got down to the nitty-gritty. The other great thing is that you organized it. You came up with problem statements, goals, objectives, a work plan, and a budget.

I guarantee this project was enhanced tremendously because you wrote the grant. You may have even found out that you don’t need money for a certain aspect because you have existing resources (refer to point #4). Even if you already had a full-on project developed, you may have updated your needs statement with new statistics or went out and got new and update quotations on costs for equipment and supplies.

2. You developed or strengthened relationships

Oh, those good ole’ letters of support, letters of commitment, and memorandums of understanding. Usually, you need these when turning in a grant and usually you ask your good and faithful supporters who you can count on to insert their signature and letterhead on a draft you prepared. That’s awesome.

Even if you don’t get that grant awarded you will continue to show that you have projects and communicate these projects with your stakeholders. Plus, you may have to go out and get some new partners based on what type of project you are developing. This is a great way to develop those new relationships and get you out of your comfort zone to talk to new partners. Furthermore, it also will show you who actually shows up and gets the letters back to you. Sure, sometimes they are great stakeholders and were just too busy, but sometimes it shows you your true “fans” and those you can count on.

3. You have created buzz for your projects

Developing a project for your nonprofit is usually not an isolated idea. What I mean by that is that you usually involve at least several people in on the process of hashing out what is needed, why it’s needed, how much it will cost, and so forth. This may be your board of directors, your staff, your beneficiaries (possibly conducting a needs & strength assessment, surveys, etc.), stakeholders, volunteers, and others. Even when you send out to get your stakeholders to sign your letters of support (see #2) you are creating buzz for your project. It is a good thing to take a vague idea and create some momentum behind it by sharing it with others.

4. Maybe you don’t actually need grant money for the project

A good thing about writing is grants is it makes you really identify if the project is needed and how much it will cost. For example, you may start developing a project for a botanical garden and as you writing it out and pricing it you realize you can tap into existing resources, volunteers, and stakeholders and do not actually need the support for that particular project. Or you may realize that you need a lot more than the $5,000 grant cap and should go after a larger grant that makes more sense for your project. In either case, you will get clarity.

5. You developed an outline for a fundraiser or crowdfunding campaign

You didn’t get the grant, but OMG you want this project to get off the ground. What about applying the project to a fundraiser or crowdfunding campaign? Why not? You articulated a problem statement, developed clear goals and objectives, have a realistic budget in place, and wrote a grant narrative. You have the framework for the Why, What, How, When, and Where already developed. Now you can communicate this with your potential funders, whether that be during an in-person event or online.

6. You may get ‘No’s’ on purpose

Here is the reality. Some foundations will just not give to a first-time grant seeker. Or a second-year grant seeker. Sometimes it can take up to three years to get your application seriously reviewed. Why? Well, think of this from their angle. The foundation may have received hundreds, or even thousands, of grant applications. They need to vet somehow.

But the other thing is that many people start-up nonprofits with eagerness and 10x passion. In a year they learn what you may be learning or know. It takes serious work to run a nonprofit. It’s not some cushy job that has no risks. Running a nonprofit is running a business and if you don’t have an entrepreneurial fire, it just isn’t going to work out in the long-run…which means generally longer than a year.

Rob Henson states that nonprofits have a higher failure rate compared to 80% of small businesses failing within the first five years. This may be true as people who aim to start a business usually at least have some entrepreneurial spirit. But many people do not associate nonprofits with being a business.

Believe me, a nonprofit is a business. It is just a business that is not going to generate a profit to supersede the organization. Many people who start nonprofits do so because they are passionate about the cause. That is great, but often that passion does not know how to fund the organization. A foundation will want to make sure you aren’t starting off with a bang to fizzle out when the hard times hit. After all, it is their money and they want to be confident that it is going toward something that will be sustained. Moral of the story? Keep submitting and in the meantime, try and develop a relationship with the foundation during off cycles of grant notices.

7. You will get feedback (not always, but ASK for it) and improve for next year

I have to say that federal grants are better at this than foundations as often there is a very elaborate peer review panel, scoring criteria, etcetera when the feds review your grants. With this comes comments for each part of the criteria, as well as scores. This is amazing for tightening up your next year’s grant application. It really is. It is harder (although not impossible) to get this feedback from many foundations. Do reach out and ask for feedback, though. Never just expect it!

8. Sometimes you need a “No” before you will get a “Yes”

As with anything, the rejections thicken your skin a bit. You don’t want to get sloppy or over-confident when writing grants. Sure, it is GREAT to get a yes all the time, but as with many things (like sending your manuscript to publishers – oh, the worst!) getting a no at least means you are trying – and submitting! If you are too scared of rejection and would rather not submit than get a no, then your nonprofit won’t last long. You need to accept the no as part of the overall journey. Because if you never try, you are already getting a no and will never get a yes.

9. You can use it as an outline for other grant applications

You may not have to wait until next year to submit your (edited and updated) grant to the same funding source. Oftentimes you can reformat it and submit it to another funding source. As long as you are writing to the priorities and criteria of the grant application, and your project is relevant to your organization, it is totally FINE (and actually a good thing) to use the same project and submit to another grant funding source.

You don’t want to chase the money, you want the money to jive with your project. So if another grant for a botanical garden comes out, you can use that same information and submit to a different funding source. This will save you so much time. Even if you write a completely different project, you can take out some of the information from the grant you wrote and that didn’t get funded. For example, you may be able to utilize some of the same needs and statistics, the section about the organization, or use the budget as a template. There is so much that you can pull from previous grants you have written, even if they did not get funded.

10. You can resubmit!

You can resubmit to the same funding source the next grant cycle they are open. As long as the priorities are the same, then you can even use your same (updated) application. Even if you never received a review, send your grant application – along with the scoring criteria – to your board of directors or staff and have them score. That will help get the grant application up to speed and be better.

There it is. Those are 10 ways of How to Embrace Grant Rejection.

Remember, getting a “No” isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Never writing up the project. Never taking a risk and submitting. Never getting the opportunity to win the grant. That is the worst.

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