When Your Grant Application Fails

Life is never perfect. Despite your most rigorous efforts, sometimes the magic just does not work. You applied for a sizable grant from a foundation to help your school develop a better professional development strategy. You thought this was a slam dunk, everyone is interested in school improvement, and PD is a big part of it. Your school needs to train its teachers to try new things, integrate the curriculum with new standards, develop better classroom tests, and implement a new reading series.

Your budget was realistic. You need to have stipends for teachers who will stay late for training. You included travel items for that PD conference in Chicago. The conference was not a fun thing, it was specifically targeted to the professional development plan your teachers have begun. You included materials for the teacher’s corner in the Library Media Center all aligned with new standards. Even with all these bases covered, you received a “no” letter. What do we do now?

What more could you have done?

Once the disappointment wears off, and you’ve stopped crying (you worked so hard), you need to come up with a follow up plan. Will you just drop it, and find funds from your regular operating budget to cover the costs of the project? Will you postpone the project, with the effect that there will be no improvement this year?

I see a way to marry those two options. Sit down with your team, in this case it will be the principal, the reading teacher, the Library Media Specialist, the district Curriculum and Staff Development Director, SPED teacher, and anyone else who adds value to your PD plan. Brainstorm a list of activities you will need to pursue to get the project off the ground with no money. You’ll be surprised to see there are quite a few, and your teachers may be willing to volunteer some of their time. Take the remaining must-haves in the budget and prioritize them. Work with your principal to see if there are building funds to support the first few items on the list. Maybe your Library Media Specialist has a book budget you can use for materials to get started.

You will need to postpone several things, especially the conference. The project may need to be re-examined. The foundation should have sent an evaluation rubric that will provide clues for why they don’t want to support your application at this time.

What you will not do is give up. One of your first activities after receipt of the rejection letter is to call your liaison at the foundation (you have one, right?) If you don’t have one, establish one and make an appointment with him to go over the evaluation rubric and find ways to fix the items in the application they weren’t so crazy about. With Skype and conferencing software, you can project this meeting on a screen in the library so everyone can participate. You may find that this foundation just isn’t a good fit.

What you don’t want to do is turn yourself into a pretzel to please them. Your goals and objectives were carefully crafted and must be adhered to. Don’t morph your plan into something that will not work for you just to receive funds on a second try. If you are still convinced that this foundation is potentially a great partner for your school, it is worth the time spent to develop this relationship with them.

So, no does not necessarily mean goodbye. In fact, since this may be the start of a great relationship, pay special attention to advice the foundation will provide. They know what they are doing, they’ve been providing support for projects like yours for a long time, and they know what works. In the event that you’ve chosen the wrong foundation, that’s ok, they may be a better fit for the math after school program you’ve been planning.

And, if you still don’t have a partner, you can always use the School Funding Center database to find a more appropriate choice.

Let me know how you’re doing, tell me your grant stories, I’ll share them with my readers if you like. What would you put on your list to ask the grantor for next time?


This entry was posted in Grant Research, Grant Writing on by .

About Neva Fenno

Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS, has been a special education teacher, school library media specialist, curriculum specialist and grants manager for several urban school districts in New York and Massachusetts for 30 years. As grants manager for 7 years, she managed up to $28,000,000 a year in federal, state, foundation and corporate grants from application through fiscal administration. She has hundreds of stories to tell, not all successes, but from each story there is a lesson to be learned.

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