Let It Burn? 5 Tips to Survive Grant Rejection

Image: Ada Be http://flic.kr/p/8FKgee
Image: Ada Be http://flic.kr/p/8FKgee

Public Safety Grant News and Tips by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

The battle had been intense. Flames and smoke boiled into the night sky, as fire consumed the 2-story house. The fire chief looked at the family, huddled in blankets, staring in shock and sadness as everything they owned burned. At least they’d gotten out safe, the chief thought. But the house… He grabbed his radio. “Everybody out. Keep it contained. It’s a loss.”

The house burned to the ground. On the way back to the station, the chief said to himself, “We’re never responding to another call again.”

I know what you’re thinking: “No self-respecting member of the fire service would ever say anything like that!” You’re right. Thing is, lately fire chiefs have been saying exactly that sort of thing about fire grants. And they’re just as wrong about grants, as that hypothetical fire chief was about never responding to another call.

The pain of rejection

First, let’s back up a little. On Jan. 17, 2012, 11,015 rejection letters went out to applicants to the FY 2011 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFGP). In all my years working with public safety grants, I’ve never seen so many computer-generated rejection notices go out at one time.

There are 2 review stages for AFGP applications. In the first stage, applications are run through a computer. Equations and algorithms score each application, and reject all applications that don’t meet the computer’s criteria. The second stage, for the applications that pass the computer, is a peer review panel, also known as “real human beings.”

The 11,015 “dear john letters” that went out were for applications that failed the computer scoring. The reasons for this are many, but it led to a difficult reaction in the Fire Service community.

“We’ll never apply for a grant again,” has said many a fire chief after getting a rejection notice. And there’s no sugar-coating it: putting together a grant application is hard work. The pain of rejection, especially for AFGP, is hard on a department.

But you still have to soldier on.

Respond anyway

According to the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), there were 447,000 residential and non-residential structure fires in the U.S. in 2010. Not all those buildings were saved, but you can bet your turnout gear that the responding departments tried.

Everyone knows you can’t save every building, but you still respond to the call. The same thinking holds for public safety grants:

You can’t save every building, but you try. You can’t win every grant, but you apply.

No matter the outcome, there’s one thing true for grants: you win 0% of the grants you don’t apply for. And if you’re one of the 11,015 applicants whose department didn’t win an AFGP award this year, it’s time to get past the rejection, and work on what to do next.

5 tips to survive grant rejection

1. Review your application. Just as a department will review its protocols, you need to review your application. Rejected or awarded, you can learn from your mistakes and your successes to write stronger grants next time. Did you paint a thorough picture of your need? Did you address all the points of the Program Guidance? What other data did you need to include? (We can do this just sort of “constructive criticism” review for you, by the way: see our Grant Writing & Review Services for more information

2. Do your homework now. The best time to start on next year’s grant is right now. Refine your project, get more data, do another needs assessment—start building a better application now, and you’ll be better prepared when the FY2012 AFGP Official Program Guidance is published.

3. Train. Just as your department runs you through different response scenarios in training, you can also train to be a better grant writer. Attend grant writing classes and workshops (such as the 2-day grant writing training classes we offer). We are also offering a special 3-day 2012 AFG Super Summit, where all we’ll do is develop and compose the application narratives for your 2012 AFG grant, and have it subjected to 3 separate mock peer panel reviews by your fellow classmates (prerequisite restrictions on attendance apply).

4. Think bigger. Is your project unique to your agency, or do other public safety agencies in your area share a similar need? Regional and multi-agency applications can push your application straight past computer review and directly to the peer review panel for AFGP.

5. Apply again. When you get rejected, dust yourself off and try again. Look for more grant opportunities in advance of AFGP, and get more grant experience by applying for other programs. Then, when AFGP comes around again, you’ll be all the more ready to apply. (By the way, FY2012 AFGP is expected to open for applications in June or July.)

Out of the ashes

Whether you lose a structure to fire or lose a grant you worked hard on, it’s hard to not let that get to you. But just as you still respond to the next call and the call after that, you have to keep going with grants too.

Remember: a good grant writer only wins 1 out of every 6 grants they apply for. Rejection just means that you are one step closer to an award letter, so, try again.

Because when you do, sooner or later, you will win that grant—and that is all that matters.