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  • Writer's pictureRachel Niemczyk

5 Reasons Why your Grant Wasn't Funded

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

Pencil and checklist.
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Let’s be real—it always hurts to learn your grant application wasn’t awarded funding. It’s tempting to just write off as a failed attempt and focus on the next funding opportunity, but it’s actually helpful for you to revisit your application (now that you’ve had some distance from it) and view it critically. If you can learn why you weren’t funded you can prevent yourself from making the same mistakes and improve your chances of receiving funding in the future!

Below are 5 of the most common reasons I saw for grants not receiving funding when I worked as a NJ peer reviewer. Use them as a guideline when reviewing your rejected application. This isn’t an all-encompassing list so all of these reasons may not apply to your application, but if you find one or more that do, you’ll have a better idea of what to watch out for when writing and editing your next application.

1. You didn’t meet all of the funder’s eligibility requirements. This one may seem obvious, but it’s something a lot of nonprofits miss! Every funder’s requirements are different, and the smallest requirement can be the stickler that negates your eligibility: geographic location, percentage of people your program helps, 3rd party ranking within the specific focus area, missing documents, the list goes on. Take the time to thoroughly research the funding opportunity before you apply. Even if your program is 98% in alignment with the funder’s goals, it can still be dismissed because that 2% you’re missing is a hard requirement for the funder. If you ever have any doubt about your eligibility it’s always better to ask the funder if you would qualify. (And if calling up funders for information intimidates you, you can use my guide to help you through it).

2. Inconsistencies between your narrative and budget. Your grant application is basically making an argument for your project. When there are inconsistencies between your narrative and budget you’ve essentially put holes in your argument; your grant reviewer doesn't know what you were intending or which document to believe more. At best they’ll write it off as a mistake. At worst, they’ll think you’re unorganized, don’t have a clear plan for your project, and will waste grant money that could have been given to a nonprofit that had their act together. Best way to avoid this scenario is to develop the budget before you start writing the grant narrative. Once you have that budget, you can use it as a guide for what staff, supplies, etc. you should mention in the proposal narrative.

3. Not enough detail on program implementation. Some reviewers are given the freedom to independently research an organization or project, but other’s have to judge your application solely by what is in your application packet. If you leave out information that seems obvious to you or is readily available on your website so you can meet the word/page/character limits, your application may leave reviewers struggling to figure out how your program even works. That’s never a good thing because the reviewer would rather recommend for funding an application that is clear than try to figure out all the details of your program that aren't explicitly written. So before submitting your application ask an independent grant consultant or team member who is not in any way, involved with the program or grant writing process to read over your grant and give you feedback; you’ll have a better chance of learning what details you need for a coherent application that way.

4. Few (if any) methods of judging program effectiveness. How do you know how effective your program is? What data do you have to support your claims? Does your program actually meet the needs of your constituents? Do you give your constituents an opportunity to provide feedback that can improve the program? What will you do if your program isn’t netting the results you anticipated? These are all questions that reviewers have when reading over your proposal, and the only way you’ll be able to effectively answer them is if you have established procedures for measuring your program’s impact. Having multiple forms of qualitative and quantitative data will go a long way towards showing funders your program is not only well planned out, but effectively addresses the community need for your program.

5. Program sustainability wasn’t well planned out. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: funders view grant funding as an investment. They want to know their money is going to make a difference and be positively associated with a successful nonprofit program. This means that if your program isn’t a one-time, short termed project, you’re going to need consistent funding to keep it open. How are you planning on doing this? Grant funding is wonderful, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be your only source of income. If that’s the case as harsh as it is to say, your program sustainability is probably poorly planned out. Ideally grants should only compose 20–40% of your project budget. Diverse funding sources reassure funders you are financially savvy and capable of sustaining the program long after their involvement with it (making the grant a solid investment on their part).

And there you have it! Those are in my experience the top 5 reasons why your grant may not have been funded. If you’ve realized you’ve made some of these in the past, how are you planning on changing your program planning or grant writing process to address them? Share your thoughts in the comments below so we can all learn from each other and support each other.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week with another article!

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