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Handling a Grant Rejection Notice

As a grant writer, getting a rejection letter from a funding source after you've shed blood, sweat, and tears researching and writing your grant application can be a big letdown. Besides coping with your own personal disappointment, you also have to face your superiors, peers, and others in the community who rallied to your cause and helped you put the grant proposal together. The best way to handle a rejection letter is with your head up, hopes high, and a game plan for getting the funding through another source.

Don't cry

This is not the time to fall apart. Shedding tears may help you feel better initially, but tears don't move your failed grant proposal or contract bid proposal forward to award status. You need all the energy you can muster to keep chasing those dollars — you've got no time for tears.

Don't give up

Here's why grant writers need to identify more than one funding source for their projects for a reason: When one funder sends you a rejection letter, you still have numerous other chances to get the funding you need. As grandma always said, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket!"

If you're dealing with a contract bid rejection, then look for other bid opportunities. If one agency needed your services or products, so will another — maybe even in another state!

Open the postrejection discussion with private-sector funders

A lot of private-sector funders don't give you detailed information on why your fund request was rejected. Your letter or postcard with the "sorry" paragraph comes without a lot of clues as to what was wrong with your request. You need to know where your proposal was weak and how to correct its deficiencies so that you're able to approach the next funder with a stronger proposal that's more likely to receive an award. If your foundation or corporate proposal has been rejected, contact the funder to see whether it's possible to discuss the outcome.

If you have a failed contract bid, you can ask to meet with the procurement staff to go over the reasons for your elimination. You can also request a copy of the winning bid document if the privately owned company giving the contract receives any federal monies for its operations or has federal contracts that are subcontracted out to vendors. However, keep in mind that businesses in the private sector don't have to release any information about why you were not funded.

Request the grant reviewers' comments from public-sector funders

If you've been rejected for a federal or state grant, call or write to request peer reviewers' comments. You can use the Freedom of Information Act to request and receive copies of all review comments (including those on the strengths and weaknesses in your proposal) as well as the scoring records for each section of your grant proposal. Your rejection letter should tell you the name of the funding agency, contact person, telephone number, and maybe even the numerical tracking code that was assigned to your grant proposal when the funding agency first received it.

When you call the funding agency and request the reviewers' comments, more than likely you'll be told to put your request in writing. Just write a normal letter, but at the top put the following header, in all caps: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST.

If you failed to win a contract bid from a government-sponsored agency, you can request a copy of the winning contract bid proposal. If any sections of the winning bidding document were marked Proprietary Information, then the contract-awarding agency won't allow you to review those pages or sections.

Use your connections

If your federal or state grant application is rejected, contact your legislator for guidance and help in finding out the real reason your program wasn't funded. Federal and state grants have to be awarded equally across geographic areas and split between rural and urban areas; reviewers often factor in other equity indicators as well. These preferences are usually published in the application guidelines, but after receiving a rejection letter, your best move is simply to ask your legislator to investigate. Even better, demand that your legislator investigate. His or her intervention and support for your cause may make the difference in getting your grant application funded in the next competitive cycle.

Don't take it personally

Public and private funding sources receive hundreds of grant proposals each year; some funders receive hundreds of requests in only one month! Your proposal, when it eventually surfaces at the top of the stack, is reviewed for applicant eligibility, technical merit, and funder interest. If you miss the mark in even one of these areas, then your proposal moves to the rejected stack. Remember that a failure is not a personal rejection but an organizational setback.

Read carefully and look for a window of opportunity

Read your rejection letter very closely. Some funders receive more requests than they can fund in a fiscal year, but they often invite promising applicants to reapply after a certain date. Mark your calendar, reconvene the planning group, update your research, and start the rewriting process early enough to meet the next due date.

If you didn't receive a contract award, then you may not receive a letter indicating that the award was given to another company. Contract bid-letting agencies simply don't notify the failed bidders of their fates. In this scenario, you have to do some investigating; call, write, visit, and don't give up!

Play their game and win

Some funders (usually foundation and government agencies) automatically reject grant requests the first and second times they're submitted. These funders are looking for tenacity. So, revamp your proposal and resubmit it once a year or as often as the funder's guidelines permit. Don't be deterred by a rejection letter on the first try.

Track the results of your efforts

Keep an electronic database and a hard-copy database of your grant seeking and grant funding results. Depending on the type of database you choose to maintain, type in or file communications from the funder relating to your application (pending, awarded, or rejected) so you know where you're hitting the target and where you're missing the target. Keeping this information updated and organized will help you strategize and plan your next step with each funder.

Reassess and improve your request for the next go-round

Mark your calendar for the next open submission date, and when that date comes around, resubmit a revamped proposal or grant application if you're trying to win coveted funds from a government agency. If you're dealing with a corporation or foundation, call or e-mail to make sure you can resubmit a new funding request. Some funding sources accept only one proposal or grant application per year, so you have plenty of time to refresh your proposal.

If your company didn't receive a contract award, try and try again each time the bid-letting agency issues an RFP (Request For Proposal). You may want to consider lowering the pricing in the cost proposal, changing the scope of services, or adding a unique support service to make your contract bid proposal rise above the pack of your competitors.

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