Proposal Rejection – Next Steps

You submit a grant proposal that you think has an excellent chance of success. Several weeks or months later you receive an email from the donor saying that it was not funded. Rejections can be difficult to swallow, especially since some reviewer comments might seem unjust.

The best way to proceed is to give careful consideration to the donor’s critiques and decide whether you should reapply or not. Before you decide what to do, you need to determine whether the application is fixable.

How to Decide What to Do

  • Contact the Program Officer for feedback. Ask him/her: (1) what his/her assessment of your proposal is; (2) whether the panel reviewers were enthusiastic about your idea; (3) if there are additional problems not addressed in the reviewer’s summary document sent to you; and (4) what your options may be.
  • If the reviewers noted many fixable problems, it is good news, as it demonstrates that they are interested in your idea and that the application is worth fixing.
  • If you have to revise more than 50% of your proposal, it is best to rewrite it altogether. If the revisions required are less extensive, then it is best to follow the rules for an amended application.
  • If the scores of your proposal are strong, consider amending and resubmitting as soon as possible.

How You Should Proceed

  • If your decision is to revise the original application, you should retain most of what you submitted, while addressing the reviewers’ concerns. That way, the next review group will look at the application in the context of the previous critiques and how you addressed them.
  • In the resubmission, capitalize on your strengths and eliminate or revise the noted weaknesses.
  • Respond to all reviewers’ comments and suggestions, even if you disagree with some. If you disagree, explain why and, if possible, provide additional information.
  • Add new findings and make adjustments that you believe will strengthen your proposal.
  • Address all items mentioned in the summary statement sent to you; however, remember that you are not limited to those.
  • There is always the possibility of not resubmitting right away. The reasons might be: (1) you need to wait until you have the strongest possible application; and (2) you need time to polish your application.

Ultimately, the decision to resubmit depends on the various factors mentioned above. If the application has flaws outside of the idea itself, you should fix them and proceed with a resubmission. If, on the other hand, the idea is flawed, weak or not innovative, you should go back to the drawing board.

Most importantly, you should not be discouraged, as success rates for first submissions can be as low as 12%; thus, you are not alone. The encouraging news is that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has anecdotal evidence that applicants who resubmit have as much as 50% greater chance of being funded.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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