Though giving from U.S. foundations was up in 2007, the investment market isn’t looking pretty for anybody. We can expect that numbers for 2008 will be quite different. Foundations effected by declining investment markets are likely to give less and you may be on the other end of some letters declining funding this year.

So what next?

Foundations decline proposals for many reasons. As a member of a foundation board myself, I know that deciding not to fund something is often more difficult than grantmaking. While there are many reasons foundations decline, for the sake of time let’s just focus on what to do next.

First, finding out the reason for the decline should make the list of top priorities. A simple call to follow up is usually all that’s needed. It sounds easy, but I’ll bet most of you haven’t thought of doing it. It’s sad, but many non-profit fundraisers just get so busy that following up on a decline for funding gets put on the long list to-do-later. Don’t! Do it now.

When I talk to a foundation representative about a decline, I want to know if they can help me understand the shortcomings of my proposal. If I’m the grant writer I usually have to swallow my pride and need to feel vindicated (translation: I keep my mouth shut and receive feedback). Don’t fire your grant writer the first time you get a negative critique. It is impossible to have 100 percent success. Likewise, don’t internalize any feedback about your program – foundation staffers aren’t rejecting you when they decline a proposal.

Here are some questions to help you get through this potentially difficult call:

  • “Did the program seem to fit your foundation’s interest?”
  • “Was there an emphasis in the proposal that missed the mark or was it something else?”
  • “How did our outcomes come across?”

Finally, ask a foundation if you should reapply. Based on the conversation, you should have some idea about where things went wrong. I like to end my questioning by simply asking, “Should we consider reapplying next year?”

This is a really important question. It gives the grantmaker a way to tell you, gracefully, if you stand a chance based on what she knows about your organization and her foundation. It also will give you some renewed hope about your grants efforts.

If a foundation staff person says, “No, I don’t think so.” Accept it gracefully knowing that you can mark them off the list and move on to spend your time some other way that will generate revenue. It’s all part of the process.

Let’s assume all has gone well and you know that you’ll submit another proposal at the appropriate grant cycle. I don’t want you stop now. You are almost home! Send a follow note of thanks.

I know it’s talked about like a magic bullet – but building relationship is very critical to keeping your grants program active and successful. A quick note saying, “Thanks for taking time to talk with me about our proposal. It really helped me understand your interests better.”

Now, add them to your grants calendar (more on that in future articles) to ensure you remember to call again closer to the application deadline. You’ve discovered how to write a better proposal, built the relationship and are ready to resubmit. You are on your way to funding!

This article is part of the Fundraising in Challenging Economic Times series.

Here’s a list of each of the articles in this series:

  1. Recession Proof Fundraising by Anisha Robinson Keeys
  2. 3 Suggestions for Raising Money in Tough Economic Times by Jim Berigan
  3. When Foundations Say “No” by Aaron Atwood
  4. Succeed at Fundraising Despite a Recession by Marc Pitman

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Posted on 26 June 2008

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