How to Rebound from a Grant Writing Rejection

Having raised more than $101 million “the hard way” through 90% private foundation and individual fundraising over the last 20+ years, I have experienced my share of rejections.  What I mean is that this total represents dozens, if not hundreds, of proposals with request amounts ranging between $10,000 and $200,000 for every $1million+ ask.

Why so many? The truth is, it’s a competitive process, and you cannot win them all.

If you’d like to know what my cohost Amanda Day and I think are the top 5 reasons grants get rejected, complete with a little rant or two, listen here:…tion-gets-denied/.

Pro-tip: if a grant writer ever tells you that they’ve never had a grant proposal declined, they may have minimal experience, only apply to the same funders year after year, or are moving from non-fiction into fiction territory when it comes to reporting results.

Speaking of fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, is one of my all-time favorites. A recurring motif is the faux Latin phrase: “Nolite te bastardes carborundum.” In polite company, it translates as “Don’t let them get you down.”

That attitude, if not the language, will serve you well as the inevitable rejection notices land like lead in your inbox. Here are some tips to put the spin on grant rejection.

  1. It’s Not About You! Yes, you wrote the grant, gathered the attachments, gently beat your head on the desk waiting for letters of support, and pressed the “submit” button. But remember that this is a decision about the proposal, not your worth. Grant reviewers and funding agencies have limited funding. You don’t know what other grant-seekers submitted proposals. Most importantly, the grant decision-making process is not transparent, especially for private and corporate foundations. There can be many other factors besides a well-written, compelling proposal.


  1. Start the Feedback Cycle Most government funding agencies will supply some form of reviewers’ notes or other feedback on request. Your mileage may vary with private foundations, but it will never hurt to ask. Any way you can get it, objectively reviewing feedback supplied by the funder can only help improve future grants. Don’t pass up the chance to learn. Remember, they won’t be able to see your facial expressions or hear you vent as you read comments in the privacy of your workspace. 😊


  1. Keep Your Friends Close… Consider becoming a grant reviewer. Many federal agencies and most state governments have formal grant reviewer application processes. Participating in these paid roles or volunteering for your local United Way or through other grant-making associations such as the Grant Professionals Foundation is a great way to learn by doing. In taking the time to rank and rate grant proposals, you’ll learn what to do and what not to do to create more compelling, competitive proposals.




  1. Redefine Wins Grant writing can feel like a very all-or-nothing proposition. But there are other milestones to celebrate along the way. Turning in a grant well ahead of the deadline can also be a cause for celebration. Or finally, landing that site visit from a foundation that only gives grants to pre-selected nonprofits. Regardless of the outcome, stretching for a larger national foundation that is a good fit for your agency should be celebrated. Taking calculated risks to expand grant funding is part of what helps the community you serve.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?


DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 6 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on seasons 1 – 5 and stay up to date on the new season here.

Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.

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