A few months ago, I covered the issue of rejection—that horrible feeling when a funder says “no,” and how you can learn from the experience to improve your chances of landing a grant the next time around. My advice in November focused on using the reviewers’ comments to your advantage—but this month, I’ll examine what you can do if there are no reviewers’ comments.

Usually, private funders such as foundations and corporations do not use external reviewers to read and score proposals. Instead, program officers review the proposals and select the ones they believe will be of most interest to the trustees based on the type of project that is proposed, how closely the proposed project aligns with the interests of the foundation, and the amount of money that is requested. Trustees then review the proposals—in many cases, at a quarterly meeting—and select those projects they want to fund.

It is not uncommon to receive a rejection letter that states, “The XYZ Foundation receives many worthy requests and cannot fund all of them.” This statement, however, does not provide you—the proposal writer—with any specific guidance for how to improve the quality of your proposal for the next submission. So, now what?

Call the program officer and ask if you can discuss your proposal in more detail. Try to make an appointment to meet face to face, if possible. If not, be prepared to ask your questions over the phone at that time or to schedule a phone conference in a few days.

Try not to ask questions such as, “Did we do something wrong?” Instead, have specific questions that relate to your proposed project and its components, such as:

  • Ask the program officer if your proposed project was perceived as a close match with the funder’s interests. This is often a major reason why a proposal is not funded. Although the funding guidelines might state that the funder wants to fund projects that impact young children, perhaps it is really only interested in projects that provide child care for children up to the age of three. (Of course, keep in mind that doing the research before you submit your proposal should have uncovered this important piece of information!)

  • Did the funder support a similar project—and, if so, what did the other project contain that yours did not? Did a similar project include collaborative partners that strengthened the project considerably?

  • Was the funder governed by geographic considerations?

  • Were your objectives considered to be reasonable or completely unrealistic for the project’s time frame?

  • Did you propose to reach a large enough number of students and/or teachers?

  • Did you request funds for items that the funder doesn’t support? For example, did you ask for funds for technology from a funder who has no interest in seeing dollars being used for equipment?

Having a list of questions that are somewhat specific will help you receive better guidance for resubmission. The answers to these and any other questions you might ask should help you determine whether your proposed project can be strengthened in any way before you approach this funder again (taking into consideration whether you have the manpower and/or resources that might be required)—or if, in fact, you should not pursue this particular funder for the foreseeable future and instead should redirect your efforts to those who are more viable.