Grant Proposals are Like Baseball – You Won’t Hit A Home Run Every Time
After nearly 30 years in the fundraising profession, most of them in foundation relations (grant proposal writing, prospect research, etc.), I couldn’t even begin to calculate how many grant proposals I have written. I honestly do not know how many of those proposals have resulted in grants being awarded, because so many of them have been written for my clients. Once it’s in the client’s hands, I do not always know what happens. However, I can safely say that (1) I have helped raise tens of millions of dollars through grant proposals that I have written, and (2) many of the proposals I have written have not received funding.
It’s not unusual for an organization not to be awarded a grant. On some level, I’m suspicious of any organization that receives funding for every proposal, or even most of their proposals. To use another sports analogy: If all, or almost all, of your proposals lead to awarded grants, you probably are not swinging for the fences. You might be asking for really small grant amounts, or sticking to the same set of funders every time, or avoiding ambitious plans for expansion and growth.
Sometimes clients call on me for help because they are not having any success in their foundation relations efforts, and they realize that they need a new approach. I can diagnose the problems pretty quickly and help them get back on track towards writing strong grant proposals that lead to new funding, increased funding, relationships with new foundations, and more.
Reasons Your Grant Proposal May Not Have Resulted in Funding
Here are some of the top reasons I’ve observed for grant proposals not leading to awarded grants, based on my experiences with clients, feedback from potential funders, and collaboration with colleagues over the years:
- The grant proposal talks about a project or cause that is not really of interest to the foundation.
- The grant proposal is all about the organization and not about the cause, the need, the people the organization serves, etc.
- The foundation has specific submission guidelines, but the grant proposal does not follow those guidelines (e.g. too long, missed the deadline, etc.).
- The organization asks for an amount of money that is not within the range that the foundation typically gives.
- There are math errors in the proposal budget.
- The proposal budget features items that are not described in the proposal narrative.
- The grant proposal asks for a type of support (e.g. a building project, and endowment gift) that the foundation does not support.
- The foundation board is not funding a certain type of project or a certain cause during this grant cycle (e.g. applying at a different time of year, or before a different board meeting, might have had a different result).
- The foundation’s interests have shifted; the board is simply interested in different things right now.
- The foundation is only funding its current or previous grantees right now; they are not funding new grantees.
- There is missing information, e.g. the foundation asks grantees to include an audited financial statement, a board list, etc. and the organization does not submit those items.
- The foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, and the organization sent in an unsolicited proposal anyway. (See my blog post, No Unsolicited Proposals, for ideas on how to overcome this hurdle).
- The organization was not able to touch base with anyone who works at the foundation before submitting the proposal, so they didn’t get any tips on what the board will get excited about, things to emphasize or de-emphasize, etc.
- The foundation received substantially more proposals than they could fund.
- The grant proposal is poorly written; anything from bad grammar to endlessly long paragraphs to confusing and conflicting information… the list goes on.
- The foundation has made a lot of multi-year commitments and is focused on paying those out, rather than funding new projects.
- Major national or international events (e.g. COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, natural disasters, etc.) have shifted the foundation’s short-term giving priorities. (My tips on Pandemic Proposal Writing apply to other major events and circumstances, as well.)
- The organization had a bad relationship with another foundation – foundation officers talk to one another.
- A smaller organization has asked for a huge amount of money, and the foundation has doubts about the organization’s ability to handle the grant and carry out both the activities and the fiduciary management and reporting.
- The foundation prefers to give to specific projects, but the grant proposal asks for general operating support.
- The grant proposal is just…. boring. (I’ve got some tips for what you can do about that!)
- The grant proposal talks about the cause, and talks about the project, but it does not explain what the organization actually will DO, e.g. if the organization is proposing a series of women’s empowerment circles, what will happen at those circle events? What will the women say, do, or create? What will they experience? How often will the circles take place? How many people will be involved? How will you recruit participants? The proposal needs to go into the nuts and bolts of how the program will work, and it should paint a picture of what the experience will look like.
- The organization offers up assertions in the proposal narrative without data or citations to back them up.
- The grant proposal was submitted through an online portal, but there was a technical glitch and the foundation never received it.
- The foundation has a series of questions that they want potential grantees to answer, but the organization did not answer all of the questions.
As you can see from this list, sometimes proposals do not get funded for reasons that are entirely out of the organization’s hands. But sometimes, organizations make mistakes that can be remedied with a little extra attention and care.
Don’t expect a home run every time, but make sure your “at bat” is as strong as possible.
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