“Are you sure?’
“Didn’t see that one coming!’
Silence, followed by the muttering of unrepeatable words.
“Give me that letter,” I scanned the sheet of paper like a heat seeking missile.
“They must have sent this to the wrong Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer.”
Everyone waited patiently, bracing themselves for aftermath to fizzle into an afterthought.
The Look of NO
Yes, dear reader. This is what NO looks like when it lands in your mailbox.
Actually, this is what everyone sounds like when NO lands in your mailbox.
I did not get this grant and just like you, it is not a happy face occasion when you get turned down. In fact, it is downright impossible to smile convincingly when you are gritting your teeth.
Disbelief stiffens into denial which can’t help itself and eventually gives in to the temptation of curiousity. If not me, who? And why?
“Get me the grantee list!” I barked over my shoulder as I punched the number of the grant officer on my phone – to thank her for all of her help first – of course. And then to get the panel comments.
Getting to YES
Yes again, dear reader. This is what the journey from No to YES looks like.
“Who are all these people? And just look at these projects!”
“I can’t figure it out. Did we answer the same questions?”
I waited for my grant officer friend to pick up the phone, questions carbonating in my mind, my fingers drumming impatiently.
“Oh hello, I know why you’re calling,” she said, her words sliding with practiced ease and just a touch of well worn courtesy for probably the millionth time since the grant announcement. “I want you to know that your proposal was ranked very highly in this year’s pool which was very competitive.”
“Let’s see, you ranked very well in meeting the first criteria standard, an impressive 76. Considering the scoring break was 83, that put you in the top percentile. Where you fell behind the other applicants was in giving the grant panelists more context around the outcomes you describe which dropped your overall average below the funding cutoff.”
I scribbled her recitation of the panel comments pausing only to ask for clarification around their arcane scoring system. “Now going forward, your scores could improve significantly with more detail in your deliverables and consequent impact…”
“So, what you’re saying is that I should give more detail for panelists who don’t know me from Adam,” I asked. “About who we are and why what we do is so important.”
“That is what the panel comments come to in a nutshell,” she said. “Especially if you want to go in a new direction which you say you are. How do we know you are going to be successful? What does that look like?”
Are you sure you want to get to YES?
And that, ladies & gentlemen, is where NO began to veer away from NOT YET and eventually land at NOT FOR ME.
It is perfectly alright to end up at any one of these points as long as you keep moving forward. This, for me, was a NO that became a NOT FOR ME.
As I look back on this, I see that was the best choice because she and the panel could see we were moving in a new direction which is fine, but the lack of compelling detail forced me, the dragon lady of compelling detail, to realize that there was an undeniable reason why.
We were not the perfect fit for this grant. For this funder’s mission, goals & outcomes and success.
That is why we could not describe the outcomes or the impact convincingly. We could not describe what success looks like because we could not envision it. It was impossible for us to make the overwhelming case why we were the best candidate for this grant.
We were a square peg in a round hole and the panel picked up on that.
Not getting this grant meant a major upheaval in our budget and our programming plans.
But I knew we would emerge from this experience feeling lighter and less stressed about doing things in a space where we are new and not quite at the top of the leaderboard.
“Thank you for sharing these comments with me,” I said, noticing how much more relaxed I felt.
I was actually relieved not getting the grant.
Choosing your NO
Here are 3 crucial mindsets you need when dealing with a NO:
Sometimes NO is a NOT YET.
Some funders have an unwritten policy about never funding a first time applicant, preferring to observe you for a while before actually cutting you a check.
Sometimes NO is a NOT FOR YOU.
You may have written a grant proposal to a foundation that truly has no interest in you or what you do.
Yes, there are people out there like this.
This is valuable information coming via process of elimination. A time consuming one to be sure but valuable over the long run. Move on quickly.
Sometimes a NO is really a NO THANK YOU. REALLY.
This is your call. To know when to walk away from something.
I have been turned down by foundations who keep inviting me to reapply and then turn me down again.
My thinking, based on 15 years of being on grant review panels and listening to the chatter around the watercooler, is that some funders like to say, “We got over 300 applicants this year!”
If your gut is telling you that you are more valuable to a funder as applicant pool wallpaper, walk away.
I am walking away from this one.
Are you ready for your next big grant? Let’s talk about it. I have more ways to help you get grants to create your rich life here.
About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Sign up to download her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.