The Challenges of Saying “Yes”

  • The premature "Yes": Wanting to share good news, grantmakers sometimes give grantseekers a "Yes" without indicating that a negotiating process will follow. “They hear the 'Yes' and not the ‘let’s negotiate,’” said one grantmaker. “It’s better to warn them early on where you think the limits are, by saying ‘I like this and I’m going to recommend it. We can negotiate the details later, but you should know right now that I won’t be able to fund what you requested. Here’s my limit.’ Then they’re not blindsided down the road.”
  • The vague "Yes": It’s helpful to put in writing the expectations that grantor and grantee have agreed to during the negotiations. The written grant award will of course include the critical facts — the size, length, and terms of the grant — but any important expectation or issue the two have negotiated should be included in the letter....what could the grantmaker address or emphasize now that might save trouble later?
  • “Yes, but …” Grantmakers can create trouble when they provide too much feedback and too many suggestions for improving a proposal that they’ve indicated they will recommend for funding. “At a certain point, you have to stop and ask, ‘Whose proposal is this?’ You have to keep the negotiations bounded. You have to respect that the idea belongs to the grantee." "The grantmaker needs to listen deeply…and to validate grantee ideas,” said another grantmaker. But he also describes a balance he tries to strike between affirming grantees and yesing them: “People are not just looking for ‘yeah, you’re doing everything fine.’ They need their ideas to be criticized, they want a genuine relationship, they want to hear.”
  • The reluctant "Yes": Several grantmakers confessed to something that many surely have done — given a "Yes" because giving a "No" is too complicated. Some, for example, found that their work with grantseekers had advanced to the point where they could see that the prospects for success looked shaky, yet they felt the time for saying "No" had simply elapsed. Grantmakers run the risk that they will have to see the full proposal later, and may have succeeded only in deferring the "No" to an even later stage.

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.