Turning A No Into A Yes
Megan Ritter, Vice President of Communications
Six Steps for Productively Handling Foundation Rejection
How many times has this happened? You had a great meeting with a foundation and afterwards submitted a strong proposal for a program they were excited about – or so you thought, until you received a polite form letter declining to fund your request. Dejected, you crossed the foundation off your list of prospects and never talked to them again.
Receiving a rejection notice from a foundation can feel like a door slammed in your face forever – but it’s usually not. More often, it means not this project or not this year. You should (almost!) never assume that a single rejection from a foundation is the end of the line. However, you should treat it with respect and take these strategic steps to keep the lines of communication open:
- Say thank you. It’s not only polite, but also good practice to send a thank you letter. Reviewing your proposal required an investment of time and effort on the part of the foundation’s board and/or staff. Saying thank you is appropriate and shows the foundation that you respect their time and attention.
- Re-evaluate everything. The first and most important step is to spend some time reviewing your own proposals/submission. Why did you think the foundation was a strong prospect? Do those reasons still hold up? Was your proposal missing key elements that make your case – a clear problem statement, a sufficiently detailed work plan, compelling yet realistic objectives?
- Have a conversation. Schedule a phone call with a program officer or board member at the foundation – not to re-litigate your case or ask them to reconsider, but to get candid feedback. Use this chance to evaluate whether you really listened to the foundation in your earlier conversations. Are you trying to understand their interests, or are you hearing only what you want to hear?
- Make sure your fundamentals are strong. The budgets, donor and board lists, 990s, and audited financial statements you provided aren’t meant just to weigh down your application package. Savvy foundations scrutinize them for evidence that your finances and governance are in good shape. Do these documents show evidence that your organization is equipped to carry out the work you’re promising? If not, it’s time for a big-picture conversation with your colleagues and leadership about fixing those problems.
- Stay in contact. If you’ve re-thought everything, talked to the foundation, and still think they’re a good prospect, keep them in the loop. Occasional updates, event invitations, and other stewardship tools are all helpful options. The key is to treat the foundation like a valued ally, not an ATM. Continue to actively listen for clues about their priorities.
Don’t quit. Continue to pursue the foundation as a prospect, but be sure to apply what you’ve learned about their interests, their process, and your own organization’s strengths and weaknesses. You may never fully qualify for a grant from your chosen foundation, but you’ll learn a lot about your own organization and make yourself a better prospect for other group
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