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This post is one of a series that explores reasons why proposals fail to win funding. It presents some of the reasons that relate to proposal content (or lack of it). Content is among those reasons for funding outcomes that are most amenable to a grant seeker’s control or influence.

Other posts in the series explore other 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
  • Applicant readiness
  • Proposal development and delivery


A grant proposal may succeed or fail for any combination of reasons. Some reasons reflect the proposal’s qualities as an instrument of exposition and persuasion; these reasons are largely within the control or influence of a grant seeker.



A grant proposal may fail to win funding for reasons related to its content if:

  • It does not clearly fit a funder’s interests or priorities
  • It does not clearly reflect the funder’s interests or priorities
  • It lacks a well-defined goal
  • It does not link its goal to a funder’s goal
  • It lacks measurable objectives
  • Its expected outputs and outcomes are unclear
  • Its objectives are not attainable in the time available
  • Its work plan is not feasible in the time available
  • It fails to demonstrate a clear and compelling need
  • It presents inadequate data to make its case
  • It provides obsolete or incomplete data to support need
  • Its activities do not follow a logical sequence
  • Its timeline for activities or deliverables is unclear
  • It does not identify persons responsible for key activities
  • Its personnel appear to lack skills necessary for their roles
  • Time commitments of key personnel are insufficient
  • It fails to convey organizational capacity and accomplishments
  • It fails to base its strategies on proven approaches
  • It offers no plan to monitor progress or to adjust strategies
  • Its research rationale or literature review is out of date
  • Its evaluation design fails to measure attainment of objectives
  • Its identified evaluation instruments are inappropriate
  • Its budget is unreasonable (too high)
  • Its budget is inadequate (too low)
  • Its budget is not justified or explained
  • Its budget includes explicitly disallowed cost items
  • Its budget does not reflect the funder’s priorities


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



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