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How to Handle No

As grant professionals, we have all seen the dreaded rejection letter come back from a funder for whom we spent countless hours preparing the perfect grant proposal, stellar logic model and crystal-clear budget. These denial letters, as I prefer to call them, are an inevitable part of the profession. What is more important is knowing what to do when you receive such a reply. How do you handle “no” in your professional life…or personal life? Read on to learn about three key strategies to help you plan and recover quickly and seamlessly.

Strategy #1: The Call. You may be familiar with this one…when you receive a letter that begins with “We received many strong applications but were unable to fund all of them, etc…”, you should immediately contact the funder to thank them for taking the time to review the proposal and then ask if they can offer feedback as to why it was denied in this round. Responses from the funder may include: 1) Extremely helpful feedback, leading to submitting another proposal (my favorite response); 2) an explanation that they cannot offer feedback because they receive too many applications or simply have a no-feedback policy, or 3) no response at all. Fortunately, with many federal grants and state grants, you may be invited to have a phone call with a program officer and/or receive the written score and analysis of your proposal, thereby informing your next application.

Strategy #2: Your Budget. Years ago, my friend who owned a unique women's clothing store, told me she budgets for shoplifting. That's right, she plans on some degree of shoplifting each year that will affect her bottom line budget. According to the National Retail Federation, retailers can expect a 36% revenue loss each year from shoplifting. This realistic and proactive approach to loss can work for nonprofit organizations as well. Even with a high success rate, you cannot assume every grant proposal will be funded so you can budget for that “loss”. Which leads to the third strategy…

Strategy #3: The Pipeline. According to the Spring 2018 State of Grantseeking Survey, “only 11% of [nonprofit] organizations that submitted three to five applications won no awards”, indicating that the chances of funding increase with the more applications you submit. Doing this consistently throughout the year ideally provides a pipeline for funding. Because you are planning for a certain number of denials, and you have budgeted for it, you will naturally want to submit enough grant applications so that your total amount requested for any given project, exceeds the amount needed. Only a few times in my ten years of consulting have I seen a client receive an excess of funds. And the “problem” was immediately remedied by contacting the funder to ask if the funding can be carried into the next fiscal year or used to expand project scope.
Are there any additional strategies you can share for how you handle “no”?
Margit Brazda Poirier, GPC, M.S. is Owner and CEO of Grants4Good LLC®, a grant development consulting company based in Rochester, New York.

©2019, Grants4Good LLC®

GPC Competencies: 02. Organizational Development; 08. Funder Relationships



By: Katherine F.H. Heart, GPC, M.Ed.
On: 02/09/2019 09:16:58
I'm often asked in grant trainings about this question and I offer a 4 point response that is aligned with yours. In regards to the pipeline, I have more of a "back pocket" strategy for clients: (1) a list of best fit funders, (2) prioritized by deadline and type/amount of support, and then if/when denials come in, (3) apply to the next BFF on the list. This strategy works best when all of the initial applications are submitted in plenty of time to receive responses.

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