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Tag Archives: competitive grants

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 the context and circumstances surrounding grant-seeking opportunities at a given point in history. Other posts in the series explore reasons for a proposal’s success or failure that fall along a continuum that is less and more within a grant seeker’s control or influence:

  • Choice of opportunities
  • Applicant attributes
  • Applicant readiness
  • Proposal content
  • Proposal development and delivery


A grant proposal succeeds or fails for any combination of reasons. Some of reasons reflect the context of a specific grant opportunity and the nature and extent of the competition for funding.



A grant proposal may fail to win funding due to its context if:

  • Economic conditions have eroded values of assets usable for making grants
  • Government appropriations for a grant program are far less than anticipated
  • A funder suspends, rescinds, or discontinues a grant program before its funding decision deadline
  • A funder has recently dissolved or merged with another entity
  • A funder’s grant-making priorities have changed
  • A funder’s leadership composition or decision-making style has changed
  • Partnering agencies fail to furnish letters or other timely required evidence of partnership
  • Size of the applicant pool favors other more-experienced applicants
  • A funder’s policies or priorities favor other less-experienced applicants
  • A funder desires to fund proposals from certain specific applicants over others
  • A funder desires to fund proposals from certain types of applicants over others



A proposal may fail to win funding due to its competitive situation if:

  • A funder has attracted far more requests than it expected
  • A funder lacks assets to fund all otherwise worthy requests
  • A funder plans to award very few grants in a given program
  • Competitors have shaped the enabling legislation or subsequent regulations
  • Competitors’ grant requests exhaust available funds faster than expected
  • Competitors have presented more compelling ideas or plans of action
  • Competitors plan to invest far more resources in what they propose to do
  • Competitors propose to use a funder’s resources far more efficiently
  • Competitors have cultivated relationships with funder more effectively


The next post in this series will explore aspects of an applicant’s readiness for grant seeking as reasons for the funding outcome of a grant proposal.


Active seekers of competitive grants must be aware of broad social, political, and economic trends that impact their ability to obtain funding. Some of these trends are newly emerging; others are persistent. A few of the more salient trends in the 2010s are explored here.


Trend: Partnerships

Most sources of discretionary funding – private, state, and federal – expect grant seekers to form partnerships with other organizations. They often specify which kinds of organizations they want to see as partners in the application. They also require signed agreements and other documentation of the partnership.


Partnership Strategies:

  • Network with counterparts in other organizations
  • Affiliate with consortia of agencies to seek funding and solve a problem
  • Participate in regional associations having diverse memberships
  • Notify other agencies of your interest in working with them


Trend: Collaboration

Government agencies, in particular, expect grant seekers to work with other related programs in order to leverage, but not necessarily to match, the funds sought from a particular government grant program. If matching is required, a grant’s fiscal agent must collect and maintain accurate records of actual cost sharing.


Collaboration Strategies:

  • Network with counterparts in other programs within an agency
  • Exchange personnel with other programs
  • Share databases with other programs while preserving confidentiality where needed
  • Conduct briefings or training events for staff of other programs
  • Coordinate with leadership of other programs


Trend: Austerity

Many grant makers place ceilings or maximums on the amounts a grant seeker can request. An applicant’s disregard for such limits is one reason not to review a submitted proposal. Federal proposal solicitations often publish estimates of ranges of awards and maximum requests for budget periods. Private grant makers often publish similar data in annual reports and/or in instructions for applicants.


Austerity Strategies:

  • Study grant solicitations for statements of maximum requests and award ranges
  • Observe funding limits and ranges wherever encountered
  • Review foundation’s 990-PF filings and annual reports for data on award ranges
  • Review Foundation Center or other directories for summaries of grant ranges


Trend: Scarcity

Federal discretionary grant programs are being consolidated and reviewed for duplication and waste. Competition is intensifying among a steadily shrinking pool of surviving programs. New regulations, designed to ensure fairness of outcomes and equality of funding opportunity, are appearing in both public and private grant programs.


Scarcity Strategies:

  • Work with other organizations to try to ensure win-win outcomes among local grant seekers
  • Strive not to overwhelm local grant makers with shotgun funding requests
  • Avoid insisting on being the fiscal agent for absolutely every grant opportunity
  • Work with start-up, grassroots organizations trying to win initial grants


This is one of a series on trends in grant making. As a grant writer and/or a grant seeker, you may discern others, or you may discern counter-trends. If so, don’t hesitate to comment.

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