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Learning From Rejection

November 9, 2012

Let’s face it, rejection hurts. It doesn’t matter if you’re licking your wounds after a hard fought political race, were dumped by your significant other, or passed over at work for a promotion. Rejection is part of life and it’s part of philanthropy. The key to rejection is to learn from it. This is especially salient in grant writing.

Estimates for success rates in grant writing vary from 10%-50%. This variability reflects many things including the economy, financial markets, trends in giving, and the experience and preparation of grant seekers. Even assuming that you have done everything right on your end as a grant seeker – you selectively applied only to organizations that were a strong fit, you took the time to understand the funder’s mission, vision, values, and giving preferences, you wrote a memorable and honest narrative, you had a realistic and detailed budget, and you followed directions EXACTLY as stated – you still might get turned down. In this case it’s important to not give up.

It’s against our nature to stand tall and ask someone why they rejected us. It’s easier to vilify the rejecter or assume we simply weren’t good enough. But in the land of grants we have to fight that instinctual feeling of self-deprecation, put aside our bruised sensibilities and ask for feedback. Many funders are willing to provide feedback; you just have to ask them. Ask constructive questions to get constructive answers. Try to find out what the funder is looking for and what you can do to be more competitive in the next funding round. If the funder is too busy to provide feedback, ask someone outside of your organization to read your proposal. An objective eye will catch skips in logic or in narrative stories that you might overlook because you know the story so well your mind automatically populates that information. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Don’t let rejection define you or your efforts. Use rejection to fuel a quest for something better. Give yourself time to dissolve the immediate pains of rejection and then pick up the phone and schedule a time to talk about your proposal. Actively seek out constructive criticism. As Henry Wadworth Longfellow said, ” The strength of criticism lies only in the weakness of the thing criticized.”