I hate to admit it, but I’m depressed. I just found out that a proposal I spent a great deal of time on was not funded. I’m struggling a bit with the personal rejection, even though I know the reviewers didn’t know I wrote the proposal, so it’s certainly not personal. What do I do now?

You have several options when a proposal is rejected. The first is to get really angry and decide that you will never, ever approach this funder for a grant again. That’ll show them, right? Unfortunately, you might not be in a position to refuse to approach the funder again (especially, for example, if the funder is the U.S. Department of Education!)—and frankly, I don’t think the funder will be too distraught if you never submit another proposal to them.

Another option is to write a scathing letter to the funder, pointing out that the reviewers obviously didn’t know what they were doing. I would only recommend this approach if you want to assure that the funder never funds you for the foreseeable future!

The third, and smartest, option is to read over the reviewers’ comments as objectively as possible and go back over your proposal carefully, with the goal of revising your proposal for the next submission. Learn from your mistakes, and you’ll have a better chance of getting your proposal accepted the next time around.

Many reviewers take their scoring responsibilities very seriously and try to do their best to provide you with constructive comments that will help you resubmit a stronger proposal. Read over the comments carefully and look for statements that are connected to the requirements listed in the request for proposals (RFP), as well as how the information you presented was interpreted. Pay close attention when one or more reviewers make the same types of comments about the same sections of your proposal; this usually means you need to go back and read over these sections again, taking their comments into consideration as you make revisions.

If you are puzzled by the readers’ comments, you might want to contact the program officer and request a meeting to review your proposal. Some will do this, but not all. Keep in mind that in most—if not all—cases, the reviewers’ comments and scores are considered final. Your final score will not be changed because you disagree with the scores the reviewers gave your proposal. It can help, however, to look at your proposal with a program officer and ask for suggestions to improve it—or, in some cases, to revise your project to make it more “fundable.”

I make it a practice to contact a program officer if a proposal is rejected without comments being provided. You will find that many private funders do not provide comments or use external reviewers or scoring sheets. To find out what the trustees of a private foundation had to say about your proposal, more than likely you’ll have to speak to a program officer. Believe it or not, some trustees just need to see the same proposal a few times before they decide to fund your project.

For a variety of reasons, you might decide not to resubmit a proposal that was rejected the first time. However, keep in mind that a rejection does not have to mean a definitive “no” in regard to your future chances of being funded.