You did your research, you compiled all the relevant program details into a beautifully packaged and well-articulated proposal, and hours later, you finally submitted it to the prospective funder…and then your proposal was rejected. Disheartening as it may be, this scenario is not uncommon even for the best organizations and the most talented grantwriters.
So what comes next? What does one do after the dreaded “we regret to inform you…” email from a foundation?
I talked with my colleagues in the philanthropy space to validate (and refute!) advice I’ve received over the years as a fundraiser, and here are some of our top suggestions for the next steps to take following a proposal rejection.
When interacting with the foundation:
- Understand that not every response to a proposal rejection needs to be the same. If the funder leaves the door open for future work together, show enthusiasm for this idea in your response, and find out what they recommend as next steps for your organization to take. Conversely, if the funder’s response is tepid, simply request feedback.
- Be as gracious as possible. You may be disappointed, but try not to take the rejection personally. When you respond to a funder’s rejection letter or email, thank them for their time, consideration, and the work that they do. Being positive and gracious is not only a good approach to development work generally, but it will also help the funder feel like they can give more honest and insightful feedback without hurting fragile egos.
- Ask if they can provide any feedback on why the proposal was not funded. This feedback will be deeply valuable and could save you time in the future. It will be useful to know if their funding priorities have shifted away from your organization’s mission so you can avoid re-submitting to the foundation, or if the timing was not right but you can resubmit in the next funding cycle, or if there was an element of your proposal that wasn’t clear enough to warrant a grant so you can make changes before re-submitting to that foundation or others.
- Ask if you can apply again in the next funding cycle and if they can provide any insights to help you strengthen your proposal. They may or may not provide these insights, but it is worth asking since you stand to gain valuable information to improve the chances with your future proposals.
- Use the rejection as a learning opportunity. Keep–and share across your organization’s grant writers–notes on why proposals get rejected. This way staff can learn from each other and learn from rejections to have better success in the future. Consider setting up a shared folder in your communal file storage for this purpose and directly upload rejected proposals with feedback from foundations at the tops of them.
And, keep at it! It’s okay to be disappointed when the proposal you labored over is rejected, but try not to take it personally, and remember that everyone who writes proposals has seen rejection. Keep submitting new proposals while refining your process and remember that rejection is a great opportunity to learn and grow.
Ellen Eoff, Sky(lark) Strategies