By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting
It is by no means enjoyable to be denied for a grant, but using the experience as a learning opportunity can make for stronger future proposals—better positioning your organization for success in the next grant cycle. Following up with funders can provide your organization with helpful feedback.
The first step should always be to check if the foundation accepts phone calls. If not, study the grants that were awarded and look for things the organizations have in common, the region that was funded most and the average grant size. Use this information to assess whether or not your organization could make changes to the next proposal, such as asking for a smaller amount. Based on what you learn, you might even decide that this funder is not a good fit for your organization and that you should focus grant efforts elsewhere.
If the funder does accept phone calls, find the appropriate program officer for your application (this could be based on region or a number of other factors, so read carefully). Hopefully, you will have already spoken with the program officer before submitting your application. If you haven’t spoken with the person, introduce yourself and thank the officer for considering your proposal, then ask whether or not he or she can provide feedback as to why your proposal was declined. Some funders do not provide specific feedback on proposals, but you can ask if they can tell you about any other patterns such as things the funded organizations had in common and what qualities the funded proposals tended to have. Whether the program officer is giving feedback on your specific proposal or general guidelines, be sure to take thorough notes and thank the program officer for his or her help.
If your organization decides to pursue this grant again in the next funding cycle, refer back to notes from the earlier conversation with the funder. For this or other grants, consider calling the appropriate program officer before applying (remembering to only call if the funder accepts phone calls from applicants). Verify that your organization is a good fit for their program, that the amount you’re asking for is within their range and that you understand the guidelines. Supplement your information search by studying annual reports or 990s to get a better idea of what projects are typically funded, if there is a geographic focus and what amount is typically awarded for similar organizations. This will hopefully cut down on the likelihood that your proposal is denied in the first place.