5 reasons why your grant proposal was rejected

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July 15, 2021
5 minute read

Grant writing is hard work, and it’s frustrating to get a rejection notice after spending so much time on a proposal. To help you avoid that feeling in the future, here are five top reasons grant proposals get rejected. You’ll also find tips to help you avoid these mistakes in the future.

1. The grant proposal didn’t meet the deadline

Grants have strict deadlines, so if you submitted your proposal late—even by a minute, that likely disqualifies you.

To help meet your deadlines going forward, try breaking down the project into smaller steps before you begin. Then you can do a little work every day leading up to the deadline, instead of trying to do it all at once.

Tip: Don’t forget to pay attention to time zones.

2. Your proposal was too vague

When a grant funder gives away a lot of money, they want to know exactly how it’s going to be used. If your writing didn’t clearly spell out the organization’s use of the funds, that likely contributed to your rejection.

Tip: For your next grant proposal, be specific and list measurable goals, so everyone knows exactly where the funds will go.

3. You included unrealistic plans

If your proposal was for a big, grandiose project, the funder might have doubted that your organization would stick to the plan. It’s easy to talk big and make your plans sound amazing in a grant proposal. But if it’s not realistic, you won’t get the money.

Next time, describe in detail why your organization is capable of pulling off the plans you propose. Be aware of anything that might sound too good to be true, and explain why it’s not.

Tip: Everyone wants to change the world. But, in terms of grant funding, you need to focus on a clear how. While your project may cause a ripple effect in the community, leave out these uncertain potentials from your proposal.

4. Your proposal didn’t match the goals of the funders

Funders typically have particular goals in mind when they award grant money. If your organization’s plans for the grant money don’t align with the funder’s goals, your proposal is going to get rejected.

Tip: When looking at future grants to apply for, be honest with yourself about how much your visions match up. If they’re too different, it’s probably best to wait and find a grant that matches your plans better.

5. Your proposal didn’t follow the directions

Application directions for grants are notoriously tricky. And for a good reason; funders want to know you can follow instructions. If you can’t do what’s asked of you in an application, they won’t trust you to follow instructions for spending their money.

Tip: For your next grant proposal, read the guidelines multiple times. Then, come up with a plan early on to make sure you don’t miss a single thing.

Grant writing resources to help you improve

Now that you know a few common reasons grant proposals get denied, it’s time to move forward. Don’t keep dwelling on your rejection. Instead, commit to improving your craft and becoming an even better freelance grant writer in the future. Below are some writing resources for grants that can help you become a successful freelance writer.


The World Wide Web is full of grant writing resources. A few of the best are:


If you're going to keep writing grants in the future, consider investing in these books:

  • Grantseeker's Toolkit: A Comprehensive Guide to Finding Funding by Cheryl Carter New and James Aaron Quick: This comprehensive grant writing guide is a valuable resource written by the leaders of a grants consulting business.
  • Grant Writing for Dummies by Beverly A. Browning: This book is an excellent resource for new grant writers, with clear, step-by-step instructions for crafting successful proposals.

Other resources to help you improve

Here are two more resources you might have access to.

  • Past submissions from your organization: Ask if there are past submissions you can read. Seeing how other writers tackled grant writing can be a big help.
  • Other grant writers: People who have been doing this for a long time have likely made lots of mistakes—and learned from them. Talk to others making a living as a grant writer, and ask questions.

Successful grant writing examples

Sometimes it helps to see successful grant writing examples to use as models for future ones. Below are two great ones for you to check out.

  • Kurzweil Educational System: This grant proposal walks you through each step of the writing process, using an example of a school trying to secure funding for reading programs. The goals and objectives are clear and concise and not too broad or too narrow.
  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums: This grant proposal includes a budget and budget justification that spells out what the money's for. It’s a great example of a highly specific proposal.

To find successful grant proposals in your niche, Google can help. Use the term “successful [niche] grant proposal” to search.

Don’t give up

No matter why funders rejected your grant proposal, it’s essential not to take it personally. Learn from your mistakes, dust yourself off, and try again. That’s how you’ll make a living with online writing. And when one of your proposals gets funded, you’ll be so glad you persevered.