Grant rejection?

Make your next grant more competitive

You did the work. Filed the grant. Waited. And waited…

Only to get a “no thanks, try again next time” letter. Getting one of these “dear john” letters can really make your heart sink. All that work. All that hope.

Was it all for nothing?


Look, grants are hard. No matter how compelling your narrative, no matter how good your data, no matter how big your need, there are no guarantees. Not every application is going to be a winner.

There’s only one thing you can do.

Dust yourself off.

Take a breath.

Say whatever, ahem, “special words” you need to say.

And then?

Get ready for the next grant.

But… how?

Maybe your narrative wasn’t as solid as you thought. Maybe there was a crucial bit of data missing. Maybe your request needed to be higher-priority equipment. Maybe you didn’t make the deadline.

Grants are hard. There no guarantees. Whatever happened, you can do a better job next time, with our help. We can coach you on your grant, help you craft a better narrative, work with you on the data, and maybe—just maybe—skip the ole’ “dear john” rejection letter…

And instead find yourself in the winner’s circle.

Are you ready to write your best grant?

Contact a grant consultant today

Cowboy Up: What To Do When Your Grant Is Rejected

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

The letter has just arrived from the funding source! You have been sitting on pins and needles for months now, waiting to hear if your grant was funded or not. You open the letter…

But the news is bad. You’ve been declined funding.

What Are You Going To Do Now?

Outside of the string of epithets being hurled across the station house, stop and take a breath. Resign yourself to having lost a battle—but remember that you have not lost the war.

There are other methods, funding sources and alternatives. You can cry in your beer, lamenting and deciding that grants are not worth all the hard work you just did. Or, you can suck it up, grab the bull by the horns, and climb right back on that bucking bull!

Competition for grant money is fierce, and this is not a place for wimps or crybabies. You took one on the chin? Big deal! You didn’t get knocked out. What are you going to do now, throw in the towel?

No, sir.

Cowboy up, buckaroo!

Learn From Your Mistakes

Government agencies and the private sector are both notoriously famous for just sending a “blanket” letter of denial to you. They may or may not tell you in the letter what you did wrong or why they refused to fund your project.

Sometimes you have to read between the lines of what they send you, or pay attention to subtle details.

Look for clues such as “your program does not meet our current priorities.” A message such as this means you failed to address the funding source’s priorities. Go back over the original RFP or NOFA and critique yourself on how your application addressed or failed to address those priorities. It’s their money, and if you want their money you must always first meet their priorities.

Sometimes you can tell by the date you received the letter. For example, if you had received a rejection letter from FEMA regarding the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program within the first 3-4 months after submitting the grant application, you could almost bet that your grant never made it through the initial computer scoring process. Therefore, your grant was not considered to be “competitive”. That means a human being never even read it!

Examine the numbers that you put into the questions at the beginning of that application process. Many of the departments I have talked to, that received rejection notices, had placed a “0” in the “number of firefighter injuries or civilian injuries occurring from fire” columns. But the grant’s main stated priority was to “prevent civilian and firefighter injuries and increase firefighter safety.”

Too many chiefs were worried that their Workman’s Comp insurance would go up if they reported their actual injuries, no matter how minor they were. In this particular instance, failure to show that you had any injuries hurt your chances for funding from a source that had firefighter safety as a primary objective. The Workman’s Comp issue was actually a non-issue; they were not the ones reading your grant application.

If you have a friend at the Federal or State level in one of the funding source’s offices (remember what I’ve said before about making contacts), try to call them and get their feedback on what you did wrong. Honor their confidentiality with you, and take what they tell you to heart.

Remember: they have no reason to withhold grant money from you. Rather, it is their job to give the money away, but it is your job to make a convincing case of need for why you deserve a piece of the pie.


Just as a cowboy has to learn to climb back on the bull that bucked him off, you must be just as persistent.

There is always more than one funding source. There are always other grants to be applied for. Rejection of your grant by one funding source does not necessarily mean it will be rejected by another funding source. Sometimes, the reason your application is rejected is simply because the funding source had run out of money!

Let’s face it, when you have 1,500 grants to give away, and 18,000 agencies apply, someone has to win, someone has to lose. “No”, does not mean forever, it may simply mean, “not this time.” Try again! I have seen grant applications rejected 2-3 times, then get funded on the fourth try—without the applicant ever changing a word of the grant application.

First thing you need to realize is that a good grant writer in the US right now only wins about one out of every six grants that they submit for; and that’s a good experienced grant writer we are talking about. If you have won even one out of six, you’re doing well. The more you apply for, the more you win.

You just can’t give up. Try and try again! Don’t feel bad that your first couple of tries at the grants game result in a rejection notice. Live and learn.

Critique The Application

Give a couple of copies of your rejected grant to others in your community.

But don’t give it to another officer in your department or your City Manager. Give it to the local high school English teacher, or that friend of yours who is a bank vice president. (You can also send it to me, and I will look at it for you.)

Ask their opinions and listen to what they tell you. This is a process that I always recommend you do before you submit the grant. However, if you did not do this to start, perhaps you should now. The lessons learned from this exercise can be eye-opening.

Maybe you got too technical and the average Joe could not understand the jargon. Perhaps you did not paint a clear enough picture of financial need. Keep an open mind about their feedback, and remember that they are trying to help. Sometimes the best form of help you can get is a critical review of what you did wrong.

Rejection is a hard pill for anyone to swallow. Too many of you walk away after being rejected, and this is simply the wrong tactic to use. Get over it and get on with it! The effort you expend will eventually pay off, and one day, that letter from the funding source will be telling you your grant was funded.

Photo: Sean MacEntee

Final Peer Review Dear John Letters Released for FY2012 AFG

Peer review rejection notices for 2012 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program are finding their way into many of your mailboxes, says Kurt Bradley, Senior Grants Consultant at First Responder Grants.

“To any of my clients who received one today, take heart,” says Bradley. “You made it to peer review. That’s a great accomplishment considering that the competition was so fierce and the money so low.” Bradley recommends applicants update relevant facts and data for their applications, and then re-submit the updated application when AFG re-opens for applications.

“Remember, those who got funded this year ahead of you, are no longer competition,” says Bradley. “The usual outcome of same is positive for more than 75% of our clients who get a peer review rejection notice. The program simply ran out of money before they got down to your grant, that’s all that is wrong in most cases.”

What Separates the Winners from the Losers in Grants?

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

Most public safety agencies fight a continuous and ongoing battle in funding their existence. Shrinking tax bases, poor economy and swings from the budget axe all take their toll on departments daily and have become the norm, instead of an occasional problem area. Most fundraising activities, if you are allowed to conduct them, are only marginally successful. Generally they allow you to keep fuel in your vehicles, keep the lights lit and the phones turned on at the station, but little else. So how do we continue to wrestle with this beast and yet continue to keep our employees operating safely?

One answer to that question is through the use of grant strategy; planning, researching, developing and applying for grants. The grants ballgame is very much like playing the lottery. Simply stated, “If you don’t play, you can’t win.” From looking at the recent application numbers it appears that quite a few of you are in fact playing the game. Many of you may have gotten the dreaded “Dear John” rejection notice letters,” and some of you may even have received them multiple times. When you don’t win a grant, I am sure many of you are asking the obvious question: “What separates the winners from the losers”?

One year, I took on 18 departments who had previously had their grant applications rejected for a minimum of 2-3 years. This was done purposely, with the intent of conducting an experiment to see what impact “applying the rules” would have on the outcomes. Apparently my observations about what they were doing wrong were correct. That year, 14 of those 18 departments were funded after using this approach to their grant applications.

Lessons Learned

Part of this problem lies in not understanding exactly what a grant is, or what is required to get a grant. Let’s examine these two issues and see if a little knowledge can tear away the frightening mask that covers the face of this imaginary “boogey man.”

One of Mr. Webster’s definitions of a grant is particularly applicable to public safety grants: “giving to a claimant or petitioner something that could be withheld.” In the world of public safety, it is a gift or monetary award to perform certain deeds or services and to achieve certain goals and objectives while solving a unique, particular problem(s) exclusive to your agency and community.

Applying for, and being awarded a grant, is not just simply sticking out your hand and saying, “I need money”. In that scenario, the only thing likely to be placed into your hand will be a rejection notice. All grant programs are offers to fund solutions to problems that exist for your community, and for which no other source of funding is available. Grants are, in essence, a program or project to resolve community problems. Please pay particular attention to the use of the word “program” here.

Understand That It Is Not Just About You

The first thing everybody needs to understand is that all grant funding sources have “funding priorities” assigned to them. We need to remember that it is their money, and if you want their money, you must address their priorities. The successful grant writer is always the one who can form the proper nexus between the funding source’s needs, and the needs of their agency or community. If you don’t accomplish that first step, you have just failed the first litmus test of getting your grant to score high enough to be considered in the competitive range and be passed on to the next step, peer review. Let’s look at one federal grant program.

In the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, the Program Guidance document states that, the “primary reason” for this program is “to enhance firefighter safety.” What can we infer from that statement? They are seeking to make the individual firefighter safe. Those of you who have previously applied should now ask yourself what was your response to the questions that was asked in the grant application about, “How many firefighter-related injuries has your department had during the last three years?” Almost without fail, every rejected application I read had answered that question with “0.”

Now, if the primary purposes of the grant is to enhance firefighter safety and you answered that you had no injuries in three years, what do you suppose a grant reviewer, or in this case the “computer review” would conclude? The computer will assume that you run a very safe operation and that you do not need any help with safety-related matters. If you didn’t list any injuries and the program’s stated purpose is to prevent firefighter injuries, then why would they want to fund you? The key to this is you need to have “documented” these injuries.

On top of that when I asked the Chiefs why they had answered the question that way, the number one answer was “I did not want anyone to think I was running and unsafe department!” Really? Guess what? In the words of the noted Southern comedian, Bill Engvall, “Here’s your sign!”

My inquiries of these fire chiefs also showed that many of you did not understand how critical these answers are that the application asks you to answer in the front of the grant. People, 20,000 departments just like yours have filed for this single public safety grant program. Do you think that a human being reads every one of them first? No, they don’t! When you are dealing with this many grant applications you have to “screen” them somehow. A computer tabulates and assigns points to the answers you provide to those questions in all those little boxes at the front of the grant. If, in the end, your score as compiled from those little boxes does not reach a certain level, then your application does not score high enough to be considered in the competitive range. That means a human being never reads your request! All of the work you did in the narrative section now becomes moot.

It is vitally important that the answers to those “activity specific” questions are not put in “willy-nilly”. The numbers need to be researched thoroughly. They should be accurate and they need to be complete. You have to do some research here folks; just throwing in a number is a sure-fire way to get your grant scored lower than it needs to be. The decision to fund, or not to fund, can sometimes is decided by as little as .25% of a single point. You need to fight and claw to gain every fraction of a point that you can gain.

Paint a Complete Picture

A grant writer must be an artist. You are providing the funding source, or “grantor,” with a picture of your community, its problems, your department’s problems, and the proposed solution. The problem with them is they lack sufficient detail. Many times I have received grants for review and am presented with what amounts to a black-and-white picture describing the proposed program. What is needed is an 8×10, color glossy, 12-megapixel digital image.

The grant writer is painting their picture with too broad of a brush stroke and the reviewer is left with no sense of scale. Here is what I mean; let’s look at describing a common piece of critical infrastructure, such as Interstate 75 as it goes through Atlanta, GA. Obviously, there might just be a little bit of difference in terms of scale between I-75 in Venice, FL and I-75 in Atlanta, Ga., right? However, without stating that detail specifically, and providing some sense of scale, the problem or concern can be totally lost, especially if the reviewer happens to be a person that has never been to your area (which happens quite frequently). Which of the two statements below does a better job and provides you with some sense of scale?

“We have a critical infrastructure concern with 5 miles of I-75 in our area”.

or We have critical infrastructure concerns with 5 miles of I-75. This is a limited access, 16-lane highway with and Average Daily Traffic Count of over 750,000 vehicles daily, of which 30% are commercial vehicles.

Never Underestimate The Value Of A Professional Consultant And/Or Formalized Training

Utilizing someone who deals with grants as a profession or increasing your level of formalized knowledge as it concerns grants is always a wise investment. Gaining their insight and knowledge on your applications prior to submission can save you countless hours and eventual hair-pulling frustration vs. having to learn through the school of hard knocks. A word of caution about this though! Picking the right grant consultant or trainer is crucial to your success. Writing successful public safety grants are very much different than writing for non-profit or social services grant writing. Be sure that the grant writer you use has a specific background in writing and winning these specific grant program awards; all grant writers/consultants are not created equal!

Photo: Athena Workman

Let It Burn? 5 Tips to Survive Grant Rejection

Image: Ada Be
Image: Ada Be

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.