What can you do when you receive a letter of declination? Here are some ideas:

For federal proposals, you should receive panel feedback and scores on your application. Take the time to go through these, as you can likely improve your score on next year’s grant round. Many federal agencies post winning proposals on their websites. Look at the differences between your proposal and those that were funded. 

If the letter lists a program officer by name and phone number, take a moment to phone them and ask about your submission. Sometimes the answer is no for now and sometimes it’s no forever. It’s important to find out which it is. If it’s no for now, find out what could have strengthened your proposal or what would help that funder offer support in the future. If it’s no forever, thank them for the assistance they’re giving the nonprofits that they are able to fund and the impact they’re making in their field. You can now focus your energy on more promising ventures.

If the funder discourages phone calls, send a letter thanking them for taking the time to review your submission and sympathizing with the difficult decisions that program officers face. As we mentioned in our prior note about serving on grant panels, reviewing is a difficult job. All foundations will acknowledge that there are more requests for money than there is money to give; the foundation will appreciate that you value others’ challenges in the field of philanthropy and perhaps remember your organization during future reviews.

If you feel that a phone call or follow-up letter is not in anybody’s best interest, take what you can from the experience and put it to good use. You have likely created a proposal that will be valuable elsewhere; you also might take another look at your proposal and fine tune certain areas. Keep applying! If you never submit any requests then you know you’ll receive nothing, but if you do keep trying, there is a much greater likelihood that you will receive some level of award.

When you believe passionately about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, it hurts to find out that someone else is unable to financially endorse those efforts. But have hope. There are those out there who believe in you and who have the means to support their convictions with grant funds. They understand that if they give you funds, you will improve lives. 

P.S. Some of the best grant seeking advice we’ve gotten has been during follow-up phone calls with funders when our proposals have been declined. Use the declination as a time to learn, and don’t take it personally.


Most nonprofits struggle with getting grants and they’re tired of chasing money. It shouldn’t be this hard. So we created a process that helps them find funding, get grants, and connect to a network. This gives their organizations the money they need to make our communities strong.