Five reasons why your grant application was unsuccessful
In an ideal grant funding world you would receive a helpful letter, perhaps even a phone consultation, from a funder after your application has been declined. However, in reality the number of applications funders receive can make this impossible, often only providing a general comment or, in a worst case scenario, a flat no.
Which, as a charity, leaves you rather stuck; what could you have done differently? It’s worth trying to contact the funder in the first instance to check if they will provide feedback upon request, particularly if this is not your first application to them. If this still results in a dead end, try working through the following list of common declination reasons to see if any of them could steer you towards a stronger application next time.
1. The application didn’t meet the eligibility criteria.
The majority of funders have an eligibility checklist; some even provide a helpful quiz online. These checklists are likely to be looking at the following information:
- Are you the right type of organisation for the funder? Some will only fund registered charities.
- Do you have the financial turnover / track record / free reserves required? Some funders require a minimum / maximum turnover in the year, or a certain number of years operating.
- Do you already deliver work in the area they fund? If not, you could try to apply for a pilot, but a larger project is less likely to be successful.
- Do you have the basic documents they require? This might include a constitution, recent accounts or certain policies.
- Do they accept unsolicited applications? Some small trusts only fund organisations they already have a relationship with. If you’re not sure, ask.
If you don’t meet the basic criteria, move on to another funder, and if you’re unsure, get in touch before applying.
2. The application didn’t meet the funding guidelines.
Even if your organisation is eligible, major funders tend to have an additional list of guidelines for what they will fund. These can be long, and can be tempting to skip, but ensuring you meet them can make all the difference to the success of your application. Things worth checking include:
- Do you work within the area they fund? This might be an area of need, a geographical area, or with a particular demographic.
- Have you only applied for eligible items? Some funders will only fund core costs, others only projects costs, and some funders are only interested in capital.
- Did you include all of the additional documents required? You may be asked to attach your accounts, your most recent bank statement or management accounts, or safeguarding information. Ensure you have this paperwork ready to go before the fund deadline.
You might find that the fund you are applying for doesn’t have published guidelines. In this instance it’s a good idea to get a steer by checking what type of project / organisation they have funded in the past and for how much. You can find this information often on their website or in accounts on the Charity Commission website.
3. Outcomes, evaluation, or consultation methods were unclear.
The majority of funders are keen to fund organisations and projects which are well planned and likely to make a strong impact. Ask yourself the following questions as you read your application:
- Is your project needed? How do you know? Have you asked beneficiaries if they would like it, and have they been involved in the planning process? Do you have ‘lived experience’ within your organisation? Have you tried a pilot if it’s a new project?
- Have you explained what difference you will make to your beneficiaries? Have you listed both outcomes and outputs?
- How will you know you have made a difference? What are your plans for evaluation?
4. The budget did not meet funding guidelines, or lacked detail.
First, check if the funder provided budget guidelines; very few will fund retrospective funding or passing on of funds to other organisations. The majority are also unlikely to fund a grant which is higher than your current annual income, with a few exceptions. The following questions might help you reflect further on your budget:
- Does your budget reflect the project applied for or have other costs sneaked in?
- Have you broken down costs clearly, ie specified what posts you are applying for and for how many hours per week?
- Have your salaries been benchmarked against other organisations or government guidelines, eg National Living Wage?
- Have you included the costs needed for a successful project, eg training, DBS checks, volunteer expenses?
5. Insufficient funds / portfolio reasons.
This declination reason might feel the most discouraging as it could be that you have proposed an excellent project, but most funders simply do not have an unlimited pot of money. It may be that another project more closely met their priority areas, or that another similar project has applied from your local area, in which case it’s worth looking at partnership work.
A 2018 article by Funding for Good suggests that a good success rate for funding applications is 50-60%, so keep this in mind and avoid putting all of your hopes in one application. Having a broad funding base with a number of smaller grants is likely to be more stable than relying on one funder.
If you would like further support in planning or reviewing your next grant application, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathryn Kendall is an Associate Consultant with Action Planning, and works alongside small, primarily faith-based, charities to support them with strategic planning and funding. Kathryn has worked for over 10 years in or alongside the charity sector, including roles at BBC Children in Need, Save the Children, and Care for the Family, and also working as a grant assessor for a number of major funders.