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The Top 5 Reasons Your Application May Not Be Funded

I know it's difficult when you spend countless hours, weeks, or even months on an application only to find out that it won't be funded. This is demoralizing and may make you think about the strength of the application as well as your skills as a grant professional. It is hard not to take a denial personally when you spend so much time on an application. For those who have been in the grant seeking business for a while, denials can become easier to handle (sometimes). 

In order to make sense of the process, I have come up with a list of what I see as the top five reasons grant applications are not funded and have included them (in no particular order). This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully will provide you with some solace about why your amazing application was not funded.
1.      Competition: Many private (and government) application cycles are becoming increasingly competitive and more and more applicants are become savvier prospect researchers. You may have a stellar application, but it may not be funded simply because there were too many others in the pool. I have spoken with several program officers after an application was denied and was told that the application was great, but they simply ran out of funding.
Potential Solution: Introduce yourself to all new funders so they have an awareness of you prior to application submission.
2.      Non-Responsive: How many times has this happened to you--the application was developed hastily or the application slightly fit the funder's requirements as outlined in the RFP? Did your budget include items not allowed according to agency specifications? You knew that it might be a stretch, but in the end the application was not responsive to the RFP criteria.
Potential Solution: Research the guidance (or previous guidance, if not issued yet) early and spend time crafting a strategy, work plan, evaluation plan, and project management framework that can fully meet the funder's expectations. This is particularly important on government applications when evaluation criteria are aligned to each section of the application.
3.      Priorities: We all know that the Foundation Directory and many other prospect research databases contain detailed information about the funders' priorities. However, what happens when these priorities have shifted? Are you aware of these changes and updates and how they factor into the grant seeking process?
Potential Solution: Stay current and do your research prior to submitting an application.
4.      Awareness: Are you a small organization that is new to grant funding? Are you developing a pilot project and do not have key accomplishments and outcomes to share? This is a problem for start-up or small organizations, as being new can sometimes be a detriment, especially if funders specifically like to give to established organizations.
Potential Solution: This may require the organization to develop a comprehensive social media and branding communications strategy to ensure a presence to funders and the public in general. Relationship building with funders is also important.
5.      Risk:Have you been designated as a high-risk grantee? Do you have established internal controls and financial management processes to ensure effective stewardship of funding? Unfortunately, it is much harder to provide solvency and transparency once a designation has been given, but not impossible to overcome.
Potential Solution: Work with the program officer and document the steps taken to overcome a high risk grantee designation. This requires relationship building and assurance of current and future capacity to manage grant funds.
Let's hope we can all be awarded so we do not have to refer to these potential reasons for an application denial.


By: Jeffrey Lischin
On: 10/27/2015 15:32:24
I mostly write government grant applications for organizations with significant capacity organizations. On your list only competition applies to my work. One item I'd like to add to your list is that far too often the quality of the people who read and score applications is rather weak. It can be very frustrating to read scorers notes and find egregious errors. The second unpredictable and uncontrollable factor is straight up politics. As a grantwriter I have to be philosophical about my various victories and defeats. We need a twelve step program for grantwriting where we change what we can control, accept what we can't control and learn the wisdom to know the difference.
By: Dana Boe
On: 10/28/2015 12:36:52
This is a great article with good information and suggested solutions to problems. We tell our faculty that it is important to get to know the program officers. Program Officers want to know the PI or PD, not the grants folks. We just write the grants, we don't implement the projects. We do work with the Program Officers but nobody knows the project better than the PI/PD. Thanks for an informative article.

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