For over 30 years I have been writing and submitting grants to foundations all over the country. The very first time I wrote a grant, it took me one week to research, type up, and mimeograph (Yes, I am THAT old.) it to 50 foundations. Within the next two weeks I received 30 rejection letters and never heard back on the other 20. Over the years, I learned a few lessons — most importantly, that you don’t write a grant in a week and then blindly send it to dozens of random foundations.
There are a number of other reasons grants are declined; below, you will find what we believe to be the top 10:
1. Organizations do not meet the PRIORITIES of the foundation. When researching funders make sure that the funding source funds in your specific field of interest and population groups. Some foundations will fund the homeless, but not housing issues, while others are interested in senior citizens. Carefully look at the list of grants they have awarded to other organizations.
2. Organization is not located in the GEOGRAPHIC AREA. This is a key issue because most funding sources will fund only in specific geographic areas. Some foundations in Colorado will only fund within the metro Denver area and others will fund throughout the state. Corporations usually fund only where they have large numbers of employees or have definite economic interests. Religious institutions usually don’t have geographic restrictions. Make sure you carefully read the geographic limitations of the funding source.
3. Proposal does not FOLLOW THE PRESCRIBED FORMAT. Make sure you follow EXACTLY what the funding source wants. If they want a four-page proposal, don’t give them five pages of narrative. If they want you to send three copies of the proposal, do it.
4. The proposal was POORLY WRITTEN and difficult to understand. When writing proposals, make sure a third party proofreads the proposal. Do not use acronyms that people outside of your industry won’t understand. When hiring a grant writer make sure they are a GOOD WRITER rather than just experienced in writing grants. Make the proposals interesting to read; weave in quotes, stories and interesting examples
5. Proposal is not written within the FUNDING RANGE. When researching grants, be sure to review the foundation’s 990s and look for the MEDIAN (the most common) grant size. Typically, you can increase the common grant size number by up to 20 percent — if you can justify doing so.
6. The funding source DOES NOT KNOW YOU. Raising private grant dollars is very much a matter of relationships. People fund people — not programs and projects. Frequently, if the funding source doesn’t know you well or at all, they’ll reject your proposal because they don’t know if your organization is credible. The first time you apply for a grant, you may not get granted, but if you keep on coming back to the funding source you’ll establish credibility.
7. Proposal does not seem URGENT. With the competition as severe as it is today in the funding world, your proposal must ooze a sense of urgency without crisis (unless there is a real crisis such as the recent tsunamis in Asia and Africa). Make sure the proposal is written with a passion and urgency that expresses why you need the money NOW.
8. OBJECTIVES AND PLAN OF ACTION exceed the budgets and timelines. Make sure your goals and objectives are clear and that they correlate well with the budgets and the timelines for implementation. Don’t propose to solve the community’s problems, or eliminate homelessness and then ask for $25,000. Be realistic.
9. No evidence the program will become SELF-SUFFICIENT after the grant is completed.Most granting sources will not give you long-term funding, and will want to know how this program will support itself after their grant expires. Make sure you include in your proposal a section on how you will diversify funding for the program.
10. All the money for the GRANT CYCLE has been allocated. Frequently, when your grant is declined, it has nothing to do with your proposal or the other reasons we have listed above. Instead, the grant is declined because the funding source is struggling with fewer dollars. Often foundations will have more money in the first half of their fiscal year than the second half. Keep on trying and sooner or later you will be funded.