Grantseeker Expectations

“I wanted their thinking, not necessarily a proposal.”

  • Grantmakers are frequently in dialogue with nonprofit leaders, trying to develop effective strategies by asking their advice. But because others see the grantmaker’s job as making grants, even casual exchanges of information or ideas are often followed, days later, by an unexpected grant request.

“Applicants are reading too much into my site visits.” For grantseekers, a site visit often signals — whatever the real facts — that the foundation is virtually certain to make a grant.

  • One grantmaker has developed her own protocol: “During site visits, I’m aware of myself, my temperament, what I say, and how I say it. I maintain an awareness of my vocabulary. The more time I spend, the higher I feel their expectations will be.”

“I asked for a lot of revisions to the proposal, but now I can see it’s not going to work.”

  • Some grantmakers suggest sharing uncertainty with a clear message. Instead of the common perfunctory warning — “It’s the board’s decision, not mine” — something that signals the risk will help more, such as: “I’m honestly not sure how much progress we’re making with these revisions. I’m willing to keep trying, but you really have to decide whether you want to keep working on this.”

“The longer I took to do the review, the more they thought we were headed to a Yes.”

  • Some explain the situation to the grantseeker and promise to be in touch at a set time. Others shift the burden to the applicants, suggesting they check in later. A few even opt to decline proposals that they actually see as pending. This eliminates uncertainty for the grantseeker and then, if the grant is approved later, “it’s a pleasant surprise.”

“Our priorities have changed, and I have to reject some current grantees.”

  • Many program officers bear the burden of announcing that new guidelines exclude grantees previously supported by the foundation. “Sometimes people are doing excellent work, and we’ve even nurtured them,” said one grantmaker, “and you feel really bad about having to say No to them.” If the foundation permits transition or “tie-off” funding, this is obviously a place to use it. Short of that, some grantmakers attempt to help grantees identify other funding prospects, and may even help in approaching those other funders — a considerable effort for those who face multiple disqualified grantees.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Saying Yes/Saying No to Applicants.