Improve the Chance of Getting Your Grant Application Approved
By Sarah Lange

Sarah Lange
Sarah Lange
Grants remain one of the best ways to generate revenue to support for your nonprofit, and while the marketplace is getting more competitive, there are things you can do to increase the chances of having your application funded.

Given that the rejection rate for grant applications is 50%, new grant writers usually have to submit three grants before they get their first “yes,” yet grants remain the second best fundraising strategy in terms of return on investment, after individual donors.

Why is the rejection rate so high? There are the top three reasons:
  1. We’re operating in an increasingly congested marketplace of more than 1.5 million nonprofits (not counting religious institutions). Combine that with a poor investment performance for the past few years and you end up with lots of applications and not enough money to go around.

  2. Nonprofit requests fall outside the funder’s guidelines/interests.

  3. Applicant do not follow directions/instructions.
There's not much you can do about #1, but rejections based on reasons #2 and #3 are totally avoidable.

If you’re going to go to the trouble to prepare a grant application, then don't waste precious energy, time, and resources by sending it to the wrong people and failing to follow the instructions they provide.

Here are tips for improving the odds that your grant application will get funded:
  1. Take the time to write a good proposal. A messy, slap-dash proposal will pale in comparison to those that were given proper time and attention. Starting early and taking your time will improve your chances of getting the money you need to fund your programs.

  2. Submit a proposal focusing on one program. When you give the funder the option to support every program you run, it leads to confusion. (And the confused mind says "No!")

  3. Don't adopt a “spaghetti against the wall approach.” Sending the same proposal to 100 funders hoping that a few of them will send you a check won't work. It will be glaringly obvious to them that you did this (see rejections reasons #2 and #3 above) and it will leave a bad impression. (And ,yes, funders each other...about you.)

  4. Do not ask for the moon. No funder wants to be the sole investor in your program. If they don’t give you a clear idea of how much to ask for, check the past three years of their 990s, which list all the grants distributed each year, to establish a range. Your first ask should be at the lower end of the range, not the higher end.

  5. Show them how you will turn their money into more money. Tell them how their grant will help leverage additional funding. Nothing breeds success like success!

  6. Tap local expertise. Get advice from seasoned grant writers. If you don’t know any, get involved with your local Association of Fundraising Professionals Chapter or Women In Development.

  7. Ask for feedback from the funder. Be polite when doing so (remember, funders talk...). However, don’t be surprised if you don’t get it #147; many program officers and foundation staffers are not given specific reasons by their grant committee for the rejection.

  8. Compare your application to those that got funded. Look at what their application provided that yours didn’t.

  9. Resubmit your application. But do so only after making revisions and only if it is allowed.

  10. Have someone review the entire application before it goes out the door. This will help catch typos, mistakes, and omissions #147; even if you have been doing this for decades, because by the time you're ready to submit a grant, you have spent too much time staring at it and have lost all perspective!
Sarah Lange is principal and founder of New Era, which helps nonprofits integrate best practices in fund development, marketing and communications, board development, strategic planning, and leadership. Email her at
June 2016