What to do after a grant is rejected?

So, you recently got a grant rejection letter. You are feeling a bit bummed about the situation, and you’re not sure how to move on. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. A rejection of any kind hurts, but a grant rejection can feel like a professional and a personal attack. In our article, Why Was Our Grant Rejected? 5 Reasons and Solutions I give some tips on why this might have happened and the next steps. But for this article, I want to focus on YOU.


So, let's pause for a second and acknowledge some of the emotions you might be feeling, regardless of how new or experienced you are at grant writing.


Devastation. Anger. Doubt. Despair.


Devastation. You may feel devastated that your organization will not receive the grant you applied for because you were depending on that money, and you were sure you were going to get it. You needed it to expand your services; to support more people. You may have already started to spend money on equipment or hire staff in anticipation. Without the grant money, you don’t see how your organization will accomplish its goals. Devastation in Normal.


Anger. No matter how many grant awards you have received in the past, you may still be angry that you didn’t get this one. You invested your time, possibly even weekends and evenings away from your family and friends to complete the grant on time. You invested money. Maybe you hired an external grant writing company, or your team dropped everything to focus on the application. You invested energy. Your created new goals, outlined activities, and collected data to meet the application requirements. And none of it mattered. To make matters worse, you may feel your program is better than at least some of the organizations that were selected. Anger is Normal.


Doubt. You may question if your grant application was any good. In the decline email or letter, the funder says your organization is worthy, but you can tell this is a generic email they sent to everyone who was rejected. If you wrote the grant application, you may wonder if a mistake you made is the reason the grant wasn’t awarded. If you are the Director or person that approved the failed application you may feel like you let your organization down, or that other people will think less of you. Doubt is Normal.


Despair. You may feel that this grant or funder was the perfect opportunity for you, and nothing else will come along to replace it. You may feel like, without the grant, your organization will have to shut down. Especially if it was a sizeable grant award that you were expecting or have received in the past. You may start mentally preparing for all the bad things that could come next-layoffs, service disruptions, etc. Despair is Normal.


All of the emotions above ARE NORMAL. However, with a plan in place, you will be better prepared to accept and move past grant rejections. Here are four things we always do to decompress, destress, and recenter after a grant decline.


Get More Information

Getting more details about the funding decisions can help you understand the “Why” behind the grant rejection. The easiest way to get more information is to ask the funder for feedback. Sometimes the funder can provide your organization with comments from the grant reviewers, frequently referred to as a debriefing. Debriefing notes are very common for federal grant applications. Nonfederal organizations may feel more comfortable with a quick phone call. Politely ask for a meeting and then listen- never use this as an opportunity to complain or critique their process. Unfortunately, most organizations will not respond at all to your request. They may have a small staff or too many applications to provide individual feedback. In these instances, you will have to do your own research.


Focus on the Positive

When we get one grant rejection or multiple, it can be tempting to dwell. To prevent this from happening I try to focus on the positive things that happened as a result of completing the application. Perhaps the project you proposed was just an idea before you started the application. Now you have a clear set of activities, goals, outcomes, and a budget. When another grant opportunity comes along you will have a foundation for success. This really works.


One grant that I spent more than 100 hours working on was rejected. I did research on why and came to the conclusion that even though it WAS a good fit, they were not funding organizations that looked like mine and there was too much competition. Still, I was bummed about the outcome. I focused my time on finding grants that were similar. We found several and only needed to tweak the messaging, and I am happy to say that we were able to fully fund this project.


The decline helped us improve our messaging, and outcomes. And we didn't have to spend so much time the second time around. More than likely the grant decline you received will help you in the future too.


Remember the Wins

It may take several grant applications to find a grantmaker that wants to partner with your organization. So, while you wait, I suggest you focus on the wins. Focusing on the wins redirects your attention from the current sting of rejection to all of the things you have accomplished in the past.


If you haven't received many grants in the past, your win might be creating a great partnership with a new community organization or getting the grant completed on time. There are so many WINS on the road to completing a grant application. Remembering at least one will instantly boost your mood.


Create A Moment of Joy

Last but not least, when I get a grant rejection, I like to create a moment of joy for myself. Creating a moment of joy will look different for each person. It may be treating yourself to a sweet or buying yourself a little gift. It could be going out to the movies with a friend. It could be taking a walk, or even just taking a deep breath. Whatever brings you joy, DO IT, DON’T WAIT! If you have a hard time rewarding yourself, build it into your work. Plan, write it down, and decide to choose JOY.


To wrap it up, dealing with a rejected grant never feels great, but it does get easier with a plan. My suggestions are to:

1: Get More Information

2: Focus on the Positive

3. Remember the Wins

4. Create A Moment of Joy


I hope that one of these suggestions, will make the grant rejection a little less painful, and give you the boost you need to keep trying.


If you are interested in learning more about how Sidnae Global Research can help your nonprofit secure more grant WINS, please take our simple, 5-question survey here and we will get back to you within 2 business days.