Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Declined Grant Request

If you have solicited grants you have received notice that some of your proposals have been declined. It is a part of the grant raising process to be declined, and more than once or twice.

You put all of that work into that grant proposal, and there is the response letter; "declined".

I know how you feel. All of us who write grant proposals do. You are not alone by any means.

May I suggest the following to you, your E.D., and board:

1. Be willing to apply for grants and forge relationships with grant donors imperfectly. In other words, do not try to put out THE perfect proposal only to be CRUSHED by a decline. Agencies that give grants place many factors into whether or not they give a grant donation and they are beyond their deciding whether your grant proposal is "perfect". Perhaps their coffers are low. Maybe they have outstanding pledges to grant before they can accept new proposals. What if their Trustee just passed away and the will is in probate, causing the foundation's endowment to be frozen? You don't know why a grant is declined sometimes, but call the foundation and gently, professionally, and kindly ask why. Yes, it's ok to do that. Lastly, be open to learning what you can do (better, or adjust, or on a different date) on your next proposal to that grant donor's organization and do it next time.

2. Be realistic. If a grantor doesn't typically give to the cause that your organization works towards, or if the grant donor has been rumored to be in financial straight; don't expect them to donate a grant to you any time soon. In fact, weight whether it's worth sending them a proposal this round or not. If it's more likely that they won't grant to your group this time, don't apply this round, and spend that time on a proposal to a grantor that is more likely to give.

3. Prioritize submitting proposals to grant donors that seem most likely to give to your organization. While you research foundations and others that would give to your organization; prioritize which grant donors are most likely to give to your group. For instance, a foundation that grants to organizations in your region, to the cause that you work for, typically gives grants in the dollar range that you are looking for towards the kind of programs/project that you are needing funding for, etc. is more likely to grant to your agency than one that gives to agencies like yours, but in another city or county. Work on the proposals to the most likely donors before submitting requests to entities that do not match up as well to your org.

4. A 'decline' is not the end of the relationship (or read "not the end of the world"). Your potential donor is communicating with you whether their response to your proposal is 'yes, we're sending you the $1,000,000 grant,' or 'while we appreciate the work your organization does, we can not donate a grant to your org, currently'. First, it is good that they have responded. Second, any communication is actually GOOD communication because it's an opportunity for your organization. Here's what I mean; any communication allows you to a) begin a file on that organization, always keep their correspondence, and have a history with them to follow, b) respond, c) understand what their organization's fiscal cycle, priorities, and preferences are to know for the next submission to their foundation and actually apply the next time you ask them for a grant, and d) to demonstrate that you, as your org's grant writer, listen to them, care about their position as donors, and can follow through by thanking them for their attention to your proposal (yes, even if they declined giving to your group). Above all, if they remain a likely grant donor for your agency in the future, absolutely submit another proposal to them when their guidelines allow you to re-apply. DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED. Grant making should not be taken personally, but rather appreciated for the information you get to leverage your organization and its next application.

5. Apply to enough potentially likely grant donors so that you statistically will probably receive enough grants in the fiscal year to fulfill the grant budget goal. Remember that word "probably". When any organization deals with any donor (and I mean, even if that donor has given $1,000,000,000,000 to your org every year since 1901) never assume you'll get the donation. You know what they say about assuming. It makes a donkey out of you and me.

6. Remember that every organization that solicits grants receives responses regretfully declining requested grants every year. Your org is good but so are thousands of thousands of others. Grant donors can't give to us all always. We could all use a slice of humble pie now and then. Unfortunately, maybe we could use less humble pie some times of the fiscal year than others!

7. Research those grant donors that you are about to send proposals to beyond just looking at their giving history, IRS form 990, and their website or publications. Look to see if there is recent news on them. Has one of your colleagues at another agency recently applied and heard back from them? Find out what they told him/her about their current giving and the current state of their foundation. Has someone just passed on in their board of trustees? Is their giving being questioned by a professional association (i.e. a question about their ethics)? Is the IRS looking into them? Consider the answers to these kinds of news items and ask yourself, is your organization still able to apply to them (given your org's Development Plan and ethics)? If no or maybe, then decide what priority that grant donor should be in the line of proposal you'll write. If, yes, then go for it! If you can, know what is going on lately with the donors you approach.

8. Ask your colleagues who are grant writers for other causes to share any leads they find and do the same with them. Since I've been a professional grant writer I have sent to colleagues who work for different agencies (i.e. working for causes different than my org's or are in a different financial position than the org that I work for) leads on donors and the associated information. It's good business. Why? When I help them with a lead, they will respond and send me a lead. It has worked like that for me, and frankly, it helps my organization's cause and others'.

9. Get over the fact that we are "competing" for grant dollars. It helps you help your colleagues who can reciprocate and help you. Only organizations who apply to a grant donor for the same type of cause, and the same project/program, in the same grant period are really competing for grant money. That's the only time. Just the same, make your relationship with the grant donor a communicative one; work for an organization has a successful, long, mission-completing history; and be a good donation recipient and the competition falls away.

10. Continue to be open, listen to others, and learn whenever you can.

Finally, don't use the word "rejected" when referring to a potential grant donor who says they can't fund your request at this time. You, your organization, your proposal, and your project were not rejected.

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