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This post is one of a series that explores reasons why grant proposals fail to win funding. It presents some of the reasons that relate to an applicant’s state of readiness to apply for a competitively awarded grant – or to manage one if it were awarded. These reasons are among those at least partially amenable to a grant seeker’s control or influence.

Other posts in the series explore reasons for a proposal’s success or failure that will fall along a continuum that is less and more within a grant seeker’s control or influence:

  • Choice of opportunities
  • Applicant attributes
  • Context and competition
  • Proposal content
  • Proposal development and delivery


A grant proposal succeeds or fails for any combination of reasons. Some reasons reflect aspects of the applicant’s leadership. Other reasons reflect aspects of the applicant’s resources. Still other reasons reflect aspects of the applicant’s procedures.



A proposal may not win a grant if an applicant’s leadership:

  • Lacks firm commitment to pursuing a particular grant opportunity
  • Wavers, procrastinates, equivocates, or acts indecisively before a grant deadline
  • Decides to apply for a grant too close to its application deadline
  • Lacks a pre-existing proposal submission approval process
  • Demands too much lead time or requires too many steps to approve submitting a proposal
  • Decides not to submit a proposal–or decides to submit one–but does so only at the eleventh hour



A proposal may fail for reasons related to an applicant’s access to resources if:

  • Available data do not substantiate need
  • Appropriately qualified key personnel cannot be identified or described
  • Appropriate partnering agencies are unavailable for a required partnership
  • One or more required partners withdraw from a proposal near its deadline
  • Partnering agencies cannot agree to terms on a memorandum of understanding
  • Qualifications of available and identified personnel are inadequate
  • Applicant is unable to adopt a required evaluation design (e.g., an experimental design)
  • Assets are insufficient to commit any to matching funds or to provide cost sharing



A proposal may fail for reasons reflecting procedural readiness if the applicant:

  • Has fiscal management practices and products that are not audit-ready
  • Lacks formal human subjects research policies and procedures
  • Lacks formal confidentiality and privacy policies and procedures
  • Fails to submit a required letter of intent or a required pre-proposal
  • Fails to submit a memorandum of understanding endorsed by all partners
  • Does not secure authorized signatures are unavailable before a proposal submission deadline


The next post in this series will explore the contents of an applicant’s grant proposal as potential reasons for its funding outcome.


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