Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Waiting is NOT the Hardest Part

...  A Proposal for Uniform Feedback of Grant Application Denials

From Guest Blogger: Brian Leitten. Mr. Leitten is an experienced non-profit leader and consultant, chief executive and attorney. He provides consulting services nationally to non-profit and healthcare leaders from his office in Port Orange, Florida. He can be reached at Leitten Consulting -

Every year I assist clients in preparing grant applications that are submitted to 30-50 different private, community and corporate foundations and government agencies. The grant applications could be as simple as a letter of intent or a letter introducing the non-profit and explaining the grant request; or it could require a multi-page write-up with a significant number of supporting documents. Often, the foundation or agency has a very particular format that the application and supporting documents and it is generally the case that no two grant applications require exactly the same information presented in exactly the same format. In short, uniformity has not yet come to the grant application process.

Once the hours or days of preparation have been invested, the grant application is thrown into a virtual 'black hole'. After submitting the application, applicants wait to receive a decision. Most foundations are excellent at acknowledging receipt of a grant proposal, but from there communication falls off a steep ledge. Some grantmakers do provide a target date for making decisions on submitted grants; many do not. Non-profits can do nothing but wait. Many times they never hear back from a grantmaker on the outcome of the consideration of their application. I know of one application that was approved, a check was mailed (to the wrong address) and eventually canceled because the grantmaker (without bothering to inquire) assumed that the money wasn't wanted.

I find myself disagreeing with song writer and rock musician Tom Petty when I hear him sing 'The Waiting is the hardest part'. For me and the clients I serve, the waiting is the 2nd hardest part. The hardest part is receiving a denial letter with no explanation or feedback about why your proposal was not funded. Unfortunately, the typical denial communication goes something like 'Thank you for your application. We receive many more applications for support than we are able to accommodate and we will not be able to provide funding for your request'. This type of response is nothing more than a forced nicety and provides no help or feedback to the grant applicant. Without feedback, non-profits are unable to improve their grant submission process. This means that they could continue to submit grant applications containing flawed elements with no awareness of the problem and that grantmakers could continue to receive and waste time reviewing grant applications that have no chance of success.

It struck me that adding one rather simple step could greatly improve the feedback loop and eliminate the costly waste that continues to hamper the grant making system. I propose adoption of a uniform, one -page feedback sheet that would accompany all denial letters and emails. The feedback sheet would contain a list of common reasons for denial that could easily be checked off without adding any significant time burden to the denial communication process. It's likely that one or two issues led to a decision not to fund, and the checklist would be an easy and convenient way to deliver that message. This would provide extremely valuable information to the applicants that can help them improve future applications and not waste time seeking grants for which they have no chance of receiving. For the grantmakers, it would provide a wonderful opportunity to improve the quality and relevancy of future applications and avoid significant amounts of future time spent reviewing applications that they will end up turning down.

I submit the following one-page feedback sheet as a starting point for creating a uniform communication tool for grant application denials:
(click here to see full-size image)

This kind of uniform feedback would be a major step forward in enhancing the grant application process for non-profits and the foundations and agencies that support them. It would eliminate or reduce a significant flaw in the current process and return "The Waiting' to the top of the 'Hardest Part' list.