As professionals in the nonprofit sector, we have likely seen the dreaded rejection letter come back from a funder for whom we spent countless hours preparing the perfect grant for nonprofit proposal, stellar logic model and crystal-clear budget. These “denial letters”, as I prefer to call them, are an inevitable part of the profession. What’s more important is knowing what to do when you receive one. How do you handle “no” in your professional life…or personal life? Read on to learn about three key strategies to help you plan and recover quickly and seamlessly.

Strategy #1: The Call.

You may be familiar with this one…when you receive a letter that begins with “We received many strong applications but were unable to fund all of them” etc…, you can immediately contact the funder to thank them for taking the time to review the proposal and then ask if they can offer feedback as to why it was denied in this round.

Responses from the funder might include: 1) Extremely helpful feedback, leading to submitting another proposal (my favorite response); 2) an explanation that they cannot offer feedback because they receive too many applications or simply have a no-feedback policy, or 3) no response at all.

Fortunately, with many federal and state grants, you may be invited to have a phone call with a program officer and/or receive the written score and analysis of your proposal, thereby informing your next application.

Strategy #2: Your Budget.

Years ago, my friend who owned a unique women’s clothing store, told me she budgets for shoplifting. That’s right…she plans on some degree of shoplifting each year that will affect her bottom line budget. According to the National Retail Federation, retailers can expect a 36% revenue loss each year from shoplifting.

This realistic and proactive approach to loss can work for nonprofit organizations as well. Even with a high success rate, you cannot assume every grant proposal will be funded so you can budget for that “loss”.

Which leads to the third strategy…

Strategy #3: The Pipeline.

According to the Spring 2020 State of Grantseeking Survey, “only 11% of [nonprofit] organizations that submitted three to five applications won no awards”, indicating that the chances of funding increase with the more applications you submit.

Applying consistently throughout the year ideally provides a pipeline for funding. Because you are planning for a certain number of denials, and you have budgeted for it, you will naturally want to submit enough grant applications so that your total amount requested for any given project, exceeds the amount needed.

Only a few times in two decades have I seen a client receive an excess of funds. And the “problem” was immediately remedied by contacting the funder to ask if the funding can be carried into the next fiscal year or used to expand project scope. And that time, the answer was “yes”!

What strategies Can You share for how you handle “no”?

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Margit Brazda Poirier
Margit Brazda Poirier, GPC, M.S., Owner and Founder of Grants4Good LLC® (, created the company in 2009 to help nonprofits find and get grants. She is one of only 350 certified Grant Professionals and 1 of only 20 Approved Trainers in the U.S. and Canada in this profession. Margit and her team have written and received millions in grants from federal, state, foundation, and corporate sources – and she has the unique perspective of understanding both grant seeking and grant making, given her experience leading a prominent New York foundation. In addition to grant development, Margit is in high demand for public speaking engagements, national webinars, and customized training for boards and staff. Margit is a nationally published author and frequent speaker on all aspects of grant development. Her passion is teaching others about the power of grants so that they may achieve their nonprofit’s mission and work.