As a professional grant company, we routinely seek out feedback from grant proposals. From this feedback we have identified some common missteps that can result in a rejected grant proposal. Following are six common reasons why grant applications get rejected, and even more importantly, what you can do to minimize those mistakes.
1) The proposal doesn’t meet all technical grant requirements.
Funding agencies, especially large, national ones, are so overwhelmed that they reduce the stack by first rejecting any proposal that’s deficient in some technical requirement. For example, the National Science Foundation will reject proposals if an entry in the bibliography does not list the names of all authors (“et al.” is not sufficient).
What you can do: Make sure your proposal meets every technical requirement listed in the grant application. If you have a question about a prerequisite, contact a grantor representative and get a response, lest a bad guess cause your valuable time to go straight to the rejected stack. Also, before submission, have some fresh eyes review the proposal specifically against all technical requirements.
2) Proposal not responsive to the guidelines.
Once you get past the requirements, funding agencies are looking for proposals that clearly and demonstrably meet their goals and criteria. When we talk to reviewers, this is the complaint we hear most often. Applicants may have a project that is only tangentially related to the funding agency’s goals. Such proposals stand a poor chance of funding.
What you can do: Before writing the nitty gritty text of a proposal, write down your basic case for funding. Review the case for soundness. Make sure you can support every argument you plan to make. Also, review the case statement against the proposal review criteria listed in the funding announcement. Even before developing your case statement, it’s a good idea to talk to the funding agency and get their feedback informally before deciding to develop a proposal.
3) Project or program to be funded is poorly developed.
Most grant-making organizations wish to fund projects that have a high change of making an impact. Best is a program that is in place, or modeled after one that is already in place and producing results. Next best are programs that are not in action currently, but have well-thought-out plans, including specific impact areas and budget figures. Such programs can begin quickly and provide results sooner than those with less advance planning. An argument we hear from clients and potential clients is that they need the grant to plan the project. Our response is that they are competing with applicants who do have plans in place. If the resources are not available for such planning, it may not be a good investment to develop the proposal.
What you can do: Take the time to plan and detail your project or program. This does require thought and effort beyong simply writing. We often say that proposal development is primarily a research and planning task, and only after that a writing task.
4) Proposal is written or organized poorly.
Grants are exercises in persuasion. They need to be written in a persuasive fashion, with the primary arguments clearly stated and well supported. Also, while the proposal needs to be detailed, it also needs to be understood by a lay person that may not have a direct knowledge of your industry. And, of course, spelling and grammar really do matter. Any obvious problems show carelessness, which is not a good sign for a prospective grantee.
What you can do: Structure the proposal before you begin writing, and review the text for logical flow and consistency frequently during the process. Make sure several extra pairs of eyes look over the grant application before it is submitted.
5) Team or resources are inadequate.
Don’t undervalue having a competent and qualified team, as well as sufficient resources to implement your project. If members of your team do not have the background needed to perform the work (e.g., using student volunteers to screen for complex medical conditions), your plan is not sound. Any unanswered questions about what resources or equipment you will use to facilitate your project are also negatives.
What you can do: Make sure your team member’s qualifications are made clear in the proposal and are sufficient to carry out the work. Additionally, support from all parties should stated in the proposal, with letters of support as appropriate. The budget must be reasonable, and the means to provide facilities, equipment, and other resources should be determined before the proposal is submitted.
6) Evaluation plan is inadequate.
Most grantors require an evaluation plan as an integral part of the project to ensure the project has measurable results. If your evaluation plan is too vague and does not provide clear methods of evaluation, then it could be a strike against your funding request. Also, if your plan does not truly measure expected outcomes, grantors could be less likely to fund your project. For example, if you want to reduce obesity in youth, you need to measure obesity, not just the number of presentations or other activities held.
What you can do: Spend quality time planning your evaluation plan and how you will track your results. Include baseline measurements and expected results over time. Make sure that your evaluation techniques are sound, and your results can be collected and reported numerically.
TheGrantHelpers.com is full-service grant company that can help you avoid many missteps during all phases of the grant development process. Our services are completely customizable and range from strategy sessions to grant searches to grant writing to project implementation. Our team of experts, including Municipality Specialist Rebecca Motley, can also help walk you every step of your grant journey.
Photo credit: Toms Bauģis