For too many nonprofits, fundraising feels like exercising in one of those “swim-in-place” pools. You huff, puff, and struggle, yet never move forward – while a single pause for breath can send you back to the starting wall.
Receiving a “no” answer to a grant proposal can be one of those moments that make you feel like you’ve lost ground. All the time you spent planning, preparing, and even dreaming about the outcome, for zip, zero, nada. But according to Diana Compoamor, President of Hispanics in Philanthropy (which works to support and strengthen Latino organizations and leaders), this is also a moment of opportunity.
“As discouraging as a rejection from a funder can be,” says Diana, “I see too many nonprofits viewing this as a door that has closed forever. The nonprofit’s list of possible funding sources thus gets shorter and shorter with each ‘No’ answer.”
What should nonprofits do instead? “Contact the funder after a rejection,” says Diana. “I know it’s hard, but all you have to do is politely say, ‘I understand that you had many proposals to choose among, and am sorry we didn’t meet your criteria this year; could you share with me your thoughts on what we could do to improve our chances of success next time?’”
The answer might surprise you. Perhaps the funder liked everything about your proposal, but your program was too similar to one from another nonprofit that it had already committed to funding. Then again, perhaps an embarrassing, fatal flaw emerged in your proposal – in which case, wouldn’t you want to know about it before sending a similar proposal to another funder? By adjusting to the responses you receive, you increase the odds that the next answer you receive from a funder will be a “Yes.”
But does this really happen? Do foundations ever change their minds about a group that they’ve rejected? Jim Lynch of TechSoup Global tells the following story (excerpted from my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits): “I had developed a phone contact with an officer at the Crocker Foundation. Every year, I called to ask what they had going, and every year, the officer told me that it wasn’t a good fit. Finally, one year I called, and something did fit—and we got the grant! I think the officer was partly relieved to be able to give me some good news for once.”