Grant Rejection: How to Turn it Around

We all know that sinking feeling as you open the long-awaited email and read:

“We regret to inform you that your proposal was not selected for funding…”

Really? Do they really regret it? Not as much as you do right now!

Once you get over that initial frustration, the rational part of your brain kicks in and reminds you that research funding is competitive and that grant rejections are common. Despite this knowledge, many people give up after their first or second failure. What if we searched for a new job like that? We’d give up after the first rejection and never move on. Instead, we keep sending out applications, upgrading our skills and experience, until we get a new opportunity. It’s the same with research funding. It’s vital to remember that a rejection is not the end of the world and an application is still valuable and, with effective reworking, can be resubmitted.

This blog looks at common reasons your proposal was unsuccessful and gives you some tips on how to upgrade those skills and polish your application to maximise your chances of landing the next one.

Reason 1: Your proposal didn’t directly tackle the funder’s strategic aims and objectives

Although you are structuring the project from the perspective of a primary research interest, the funding programme will be as interested (normally more interested) in the rationale supporting the project, its need and resultant benefits. The project’s rationale needs to be tailored to the assessors.

It’s important to remember that a grant application is not a research description or thesis. It must attack the remit of the call and argue and defend throughout. In addition, it needs to reference the overarching aims of the funder: What is their 5-year plan? How does the research fit into their vision statement?

Reason 2: The proposal was full of technical jargon

You live and breathe your research topic every day so it’s easy to get absorbed in explaining what you will do with the money. This is important but is the last question the funder will ask.

To maximise your chances of success you must explain why you want to do the work; why it is important and why it is needed. Many proposals launch straight into the scientific detail and miss the all-important ‘why?’ You are an expert in your topic and you want to impress the reviewer with what you are going to do, but this must be presented in a way that a non-expert will understand. The opening page of your proposal should excite a semi lay reviewer and give them a reason to keep reading. We call this the taxi driver test! Can the opening of your proposal be read and understood by someone with no specialist knowledge of your topic?

The best way to check this is to get as many people as possible to read your proposal and to highlight areas they don’t understand. It’s time to get pestering those friends and family!

Reason 3: Vague impact and benefit

The impact and benefit provides the justification for the research. It is the funder’s return on investment. All too often the impact section of a proposal is full of statement such: “results will be disseminated to relevant stakeholders.” How can a reviewer assess this statement?! Which results will be disseminated? How will they be disseminated? How do we know that the stakeholders are relevant? Who even are the stakeholders?! Give the reviewer a break! Tell them your plan. I know you have a dissemination strategy in mind which is designed to result in real world impacts. Detail this by explaining which deliverables will be used, in what way, for what impact and benefit?

Final Thoughts

Proposal writing is not an exact science. It includes good planning, some trial and error, some luck, and lots of long-term effort. If you’re struggling, reassess your strategy and your proposal construction and keep plugging away.

Historically our success rate at GrantCraft is better than 1 in 3 (compared to averages of 1 in 8 to 1 in 12). Of course, success is never a certainty and a subsequent bid, building on the feedback received from an application may be necessary. However, we hate to see a good proposal go to waste, which is why our support, if such a resubmission is deemed suitable, is automatic and provided at no additional cost to yourself.

We have a wide range of support packages available. Contact Us to find out more.