Refusing a grant award is sometimes the right call

Imagine this scenario: It’s the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend, and a state funder calls and offers you a grant award for your project. But you must decide whether to accept immediately, because the funding decisions have to be made by the close of business in a few hours. And here’s the catch: If you accept the award, you cannot apply for a possible future national competition that might or might not happen. Do you accept the award on behalf of a collaborative partnership that includes four entities?
This actually happened to one of my clients recently. I was slightly alarmed when I found out, and I offered some words of caution and advice in case this situation ever comes up again.

Of course, it goes without saying that receiving a call from a funder with a grant offer is probably the perfect scenario for any grant seeker! But during my long career as a grant writing consultant, I’ve learned that saying "yes" to grant awards, especially when the pressure is on, might not always be the right decision to make, even if it’s the easiest one.

Over the years, I have spoken to individuals who have accepted a much lesser amount than what they asked for and then regretted it later. Why? Because they did not reexamine what they had specified in their proposal for their project’s goals, objectives, and activities–nor did they renegotiate these with the funder to align them with less funding. Savvy grant seekers know that you develop your project budget based on the goals, objectives, and activities that you propose to carry out during the funding period. If a funder offers you substantially less than you requested, it only makes sense that your objectives and activities would need to be scaled back, too. If this does not happen, your district might end up spending additional dollars to carry out the project as proposed–dollars that, in all probability, are not available, or you would not have requested the amount you did in the first place.
Other upsetting facts about the scenario I’ve just outlined include the lack of sufficient opportunity to speak with collaborative partners and make a joint decision whether to accept the funds that were offered, as well as the need to forgo applying for another grant competition if the chance arose. Personally, I would not want to have to explain that I made a singular decision that I thought was in everyone’s best interests without seeking input from collaborative partners. This is especially critical, I believe, if other partners are contributing matching funds to the project that enabled you to submit the proposal in the first place.
So, what is the wisest course of action to take? Here’s what I suggest:
• Explain to the funder that there are other partners involved who should (and must) be consulted regarding the decision, and ask for some time to contact them.

• Ask that the grant amount and the specific conditions and expectations be put in writing as quickly as possible, so this information can be transmitted to others.

• Ask for time to review the offer and get back to the funder with a mutual decision.
As painful as it might be, if the funder is not willing to allow these terms, this might be a case where saying "no" to an offer is best. What do you think?

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