It’s not a foregone conclusion that you’ll be successful in securing grants any time you write proposals or applications to trusts, foundations, lottery or any other funder. However hard you tried, your project proposal is likely to be rejected on many occasions.

You must exercise enough caution to prevent your proposals from failing to win grants. Please, be aware of those pitfalls that can result in your proposals or applications being turned down and guard against them.

Funders do have nice ways of rejecting proposals. They will write to say, “We received very many good applications more than we could fund. Competition for funds was very strong and we had to make very difficult decisions”.

Your goal must be to strive and beat the competition to win the grant! Common mistakes like submitting incomplete application forms, poor presentations and requesting funding outside the limit of funders can make your applications to fail.

Here are 17 basic mistakes that can result in your proposals and applications being rejected by funders. Try and avoid them when planning, preparing, writing and submitting grant proposals and applications to funders.

1. Your application will fail to win grants if it does not fit in well with the funding guidelines, criteria and priority of the funder you are submitting the proposal to.

Take the example of a funder who has written in its funding guidelines that it funds projects that improve education in primary schools. Then you send an application to this particular funder seeking grants for a literacy support project for older people. Your application did not take notice of the funder’s priority and therefore will be turned down.

2. When you do not show that the project you are seeking money for, is related to, or fits in well with what your organisation does, your project will
fail. For example, your charity was set up to provide services and support to children and young people in a particular town.

Then, in your proposal to this particular funder you are asking for grants to reduce isolation for older people. This project is not related to what you do
as an organisation unless you can prove that the project is for young people to work with older people.

3. You will fail to win grants if you submit incomplete applications. This can happen if you forgot to include details of contact persons, dates, addresses or other information as required on the application form.

If you fail to answer a question on the application form, just because you think it’s not necessary, too difficult or for lack of time, your application is
incomplete and will not be successful.

4. Another mistake that can make your proposal or application to fail is when you do not show the link between your project and the stated interest of the funder you are approaching.

Say how your organisation’s mission fits in well with the funder’s goal for funding? Showing this link clearly is very critical to your application being successful.

5. When you ask for more money than the funder gives, your proposal will fail to win the grant. This is a grievous mistake that can only happen if you do not read the instructions that funders send out to you.

Let’s say that a funder writes in its guidelines that the grant amounts it will award during this funding round are between £5,000 and £10,000. In your proposal or application, you are asking for £12,000 to run your project. This is more than the funder can give. Obviously you will not be successful.

You will also fail to win grants if you do not present an honest budget with your proposal or present a realistic request for funding in relation to your charity’s turnover.

Here is another example. In your current proposal you are asking for £30,000 for this particular project that will last for one year.

However, in the last financial year, your total annual turnover was just £15,000. This is half the amount you are requesting from this one funder.

Why this sudden and big leap?

6. Most trusts will fund projects in a particular town, district or region. Your proposal will fail if your organisation is not within the geographical area that the funder says it awards grants.

For example, if a funder says it funds projects in Mandy City and your project beneficiaries and non-profit work is in Brinton. Do not expect to be awarded the grant.

7. Your application will fail if it does not tell whoever reads the proposal anything about the problem or need you are addressing. Use your need statement to educate the funder about the deprivation, inequality or gap preventing your target population from attaining their potential. Then call for an action to help them.

8. When you fail to tell a funder why your organisation is the one to be funded to undertake the project, your proposal will be turned down. Make sure your application is very clear about your group’s extensive track record in supporting project users.

That your charity is well-established, understands the needs of service users better that all other groups and are in the best position to help users gain from a project like the one you are proposing.

9. Clearly show what difference your project will make to beneficiaries to avoid your proposal or application being rejected. Funders are impressed if your projects concentrate on making a difference in the lives of service users rather than on your own charity or community group.

10. You will fail to win grants if you do not present clear evidence of your users’ needs and the solution you are proposing in a logical and comprehensive sequence.

You may have identified a genuine need through consultation with users, reports or statistics of deprivation in the area and developed very good ideas to resolve them. But if you do not show this evidence very clearly or they are poorly presented in your proposal, you will fail to win the grant.

11. Writing incorrect and incoherent sentences, making spelling mistakes and typographical errors can damage your proposal. Committing such mistakes show that you have not given enough time and consideration to your application. Your project proposal will be rejected.

12. When you have not build any relationship or developed any contact with the funder you are targeting with your proposal, you’ll fail to win the grant.

Once you have identified a potential funder for your project, try to establish a relationship using e-mail, telephone or personal contact.

Read about funders on their websites, funding directories or latest funding guidelines. If you are not sure on anything, call the grants officers to discuss your project before submitting proposals. This can save you much time, money and anguish.

Your application will fail to win grants if:

13. You don’t comply with deadlines given to you in the funding guidelines. All funders set dates by which you should send your proposals to them. You’ll make this mistake if you do not read the funders guidelines.

If your proposal is late, it will be rejected, unless there is a clause in the guidelines that says “late applications will be moved to the next funding round.” A small number funders say that they receive applications on a rolling basis. In such cases, you can send your proposal to those funders at any time.

14. You fail to include the required additional supporting information that the funder requested from you. For example, when a funder asks you to provide them with your organisation’s bank statement, annual account, project plan or any other information on your charity and you fail to submit them.

15. Your end of year accounts shows that you have too much money in reserves. The question on the funder’s mind will be, “if you have this much money in your reserves, why do you need this amount of money from us?” Make sure that you explain any reserve policy your organisation has in the notes section of your annual account.

16. Don’t comply with the directives of the charity regulatory body of your country. These bodies expect all charitable organisations to submit their end of year accounts and trustees report as well as annual returns to them promptly.

If the trustees of your charity fail to submit these documents or are always
late in submitting them, your charity will lose its credibility among funders.

Your organisation will be branded as not serious, not trustworthy or just defiant by the regulatory body.

Whatever good work you are doing in saving thousands of lives within the community, no funder will give you money when you fail to comply with simple charity regulations.

17. In all situations, your proposals or applications will be rejected if you do not follow funders’ simple instructions. Read the funders guidelines side-byside to what you are writing. Comply with the number of words you are required to use, the questions you are to answer, the information you are to send with the application. Make sure you do what the funder wants and says.

There is one big mistake that most charity personnel do. Because of pressure of time and the desire to reach out to so many funders at the same time, some charities write the same proposal and mail it to very many trusts, foundations and other funders. Your proposal will not meet many funders’ guidelines and requirements and will be rejected.

The mistakes identified in this chapter can easily be avoided if you read guidelines, follow all funders’ instructions and pay particular attention to details when preparing your grant proposals and applications.

All funders have their good sides too. Majority of them are willing to discuss with you why a proposal you submitted to them failed.

Let’s say that, you believed in yourself that you’ve followed all instructions, did all things right and written a very sound proposal. You’ve written about who you are and what you do well; supported the need of your users with strong evidence backed by statistical data … and yet your proposal was turned down.

What do you do? Guess why you didn’t get a “yes” to your proposal or application. Rejection letters can dent your confidence, but let it not do so!

In today’s competitive grant market, you need to hold fast to your confidence. You need every ounce of it. Don’t just simply throw the rejection letter away in desperation.

Read this letter again. Find out why your application was not successful. If you can’t find a reason in the rejection letter, pick up your phone and call the grants officer of the funding organisation. Ask him or her to give you a genuine, honest and helpful feedback on why your proposal was not successful.

This can be a great learning curve for you. For most grant seekers, receiving rejection letters is a statistical reality. You can easily turn a rejection of your proposal or application to your advantage and win more grants in the future for your non-profit organisation.