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Why Didn't I Get Funded?

You crafted and submitted the perfect grant application. You feel a burst of excitement when, a month later, you see a response in your inbox from the funder. But when you open it, you're disappointed to read that you didn't receive the funding.

You were so confident you had submitted a winning proposal. What went wrong?

Well, let me start by saying that it's possible you did do everything right. Some funding is just extremely competitive, so while I know funders would like to be able to give to every worthy organization that applies, it's just not possible. However, there are certain things that could have caused the funder to choose another organization over yours.

You Weren't a Good Fit

Before applying, did you research the foundation and its priorities? Most foundations have specific focus areas for organizations they'll fund, so if your organization doesn't fit within those priorities, you likely won't be successful. For example, if you're working on behalf of an education nonprofit, you generally shouldn't apply to a foundation that lists healthcare and food insecurity as its priorities. (Of course, there is one caveat: If you have a program within your education nonprofit that focuses on food insecurity in your student population, then that could be a different story!)

Most funders also have specific items they like to fund within those focus areas. Some foundations like to award general operating grants (about 32%, in fact), while some will only fund specific programs. Also, if there's something a foundation specifically says it won't fund, such as salaries, don't apply for personnel funding!

The bottom line is that you should always pay close attention to what funders are looking for — before applying. Funders don't want their time wasted, and they don't want to waste yours either.

You Didn't Give Them What They Asked For

When funders put out a request for LOIs or open a grant funding cycle, they usually ask for supporting documentation from your organization that they can review in conjunction with your narrative. Nearly all will ask for your IRS 501(c)3 determination and financial documents, but there are other documents that you should have at the ready, such as your Board of Directors list, strategic plan and a list of key partners and funders.

Another supporting document that nearly all funders will ask for is your project budget. Please note that, unless you're applying for general operating funding, this budget is different from your organizational budget. Your project budget will pertain to the specific program you're seeking funding for, not your organization as a whole.

You Didn't Communicate Effectively

Maybe you didn't explain your programs in enough detail. Maybe you explained your programs in too much detail. Maybe you submitted your application with multiple spelling or grammar errors. In one way or another, communication may have been your issue.

Funders want to see activities, goals, and outcomes explained thoroughly, but also clearly and succinctly. Don't make them work to understand your programs, because there's a chance they'll opt for a more digestible application from another organization instead. Also, don't assume they know something about your programming — when you know your organization inside and out, it's easy to forget that others don't have the same background knowledge you do.

And it probably goes without saying that your grant narrative should be well-written and without typos (I can help you with that)!

I Wasn't Funded. Now what?

If the foundation didn't give you an explanation for its denial of funding, you can always reach out to ask for feedback on your application. Many funders welcome the opportunity to tell you why they decided not to fund your organization. And if they give you valuable feedback on your application in the current grant cycle, you'll be in great shape to implement those changes and come back with a stronger application in the next.


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