Seven Reasons Why Grant Proposals Fail to get Funded
by Gina Beckles

Gina Wilson Beckles, Ph.D.
Program Evaluation Services, Inc.

Life is about opportunities. They are ever present and we must learn to seize them as they present themselves. For instance, take the world of grants. The opportunity to secure funding through grants is seemingly boundless these days. First, there is ‘The Giving Pledge’, where some of the richest people in the world, including Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have pledged to give away half of their fortunes. This single act is expected to generate approximately $600 billion in charitable giving!

Now before you run off and start writing a grant proposal, consider the old quote that states, “though many are called, few are chosen”. This is definitely true when it comes to the “grantsmanship” process. Many organizations are going to try to secure grant funding for their callings, ideas, and visions but only a select few of these proposals will ever actually be funded. Here are some of the top reasons why so many proposals will fail to receive funding:

The first reason is that the person or persons preparing the proposal did not explicitly follow the guidelines. Guidelines are presented for a reason and agencies expect them to be strictly adhered to. They expect potential grantees to meet all eligibility criteria. They expect them to be located in the appropriate geographic regions. They expect them to have adequate support personnel to operationalize the plans as set forth in their proposals. Most importantly, before they even open a proposal, they expect it to be submitted on time!

A second reason is that the proposal may be too vague. It does not clearly outline the specifics that the granting agency or foundation is looking for. Some of these include not clearly defining the target population, not identifying the specific activities that will take place, or not specifying how and where the recipients of the services will be served.

A third reason is that the focus of the proposal may be too narrow. The population being targeted may be so narrow that the agency or foundation feels that the services offered under the grant are not widespread enough to make a significant, measurable impact. In other words, it does not touch enough lives to really make a difference.

Alternatively, a fourth reason is that the proposal may be too broad. Yes, we would all like to change the world by completely eliminating certain societal ills such as hunger and poverty. However, these types of goals are far too unrealistic to be either reasonable or practical and the granting agency knows that their funds would be much better utilized elsewhere. So the goals within grants must be achievable, reachable, doable, and measurable.

A fifth reason is that the organization is a start up or does not have a significant enough track record to be considered credible. Furthermore, the organization has not taken the initiative to overcome this weakness by partnering with other established, reputable organizations that can increase their credibility. One must realize that, when a proposal is submitted, the requestor is basically asking an agency or foundation to hand over thousands or possibly millions of dollars. Especially during the tough times that we are currently living in where headlines often read of fraud, scams, and other forms of financial deceit, granting agencies want to know that their funds are being distributed to credible, worthy organizations that take their fiduciary responsibilities seriously and operate with high levels of integrity. Furthermore, grantors want to know that grantees have the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to accomplish the goals as stated in their grant proposals. In other words, they want to know that they are going to get what they pay for!

A sixth reason is that the requesting organization has not presented a clear evaluation plan. It is all about accountability. How is it going to be shown that the goals were or were not accomplished, as stated in the proposal? What kind of measures are going to be used? Are these measures going to be generated and presented by an internal or external evaluator? Grantors simply want to know that grantees have adequate systems in place to accurately measure what is accomplished under these grants.

Finally, sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control that prevent grants from being awarded and funded. Some of these circumstances include budget cuts resulting in grants being withdrawn, changes in focus or priorities, foundations that cease to exist, etc. So basically, a grant proposal can be the best one ever prepared in the history of time and still not get awarded or funded.

So be very cognizant of what granting agencies and foundations are looking for when they make grants available and follow their solicitations meticulously. Read over the proposal several times and pay close attention to all relevant details. Remember, it is clear in your mind what you want to do but the granting agency has no clue. It is your job to present your thoughts and ideas in a clear, concise and logical way so that the granting agency or foundation can have a thorough understanding as well. This will ensure that both the grantor and the grantee are absolutely clear about the expectations that they have for each other, thereby resulting in a win-win situation where all involved parties are satisfied. Happy grant writing!