When to Say “No” to a Grant Pursuit

Cutting Your Losses
When to say “no” to a grant pursuit

By Dr. Lori Brown

Perhaps you know this scenario well…

You’re a project lead on a grant-writing effort, possibly with the agency preparing the application or a grant writer hired to help develop the proposal. You invest weeks of effort into a large grant, reviewing data, dialoging with stakeholders, and brainstorming solutions to real-world problems. Only then do you discover that the partners you’re working with aren’t ready to partner or to handle a fiscal award, or the solution you’ve been designing isn’t feasible.

After much time and effort, the grant project is called off before you can submit, and you’re left trying to figure out why it took so long for the group to pull out of the project.

The decision to stop or delay a submission is ultimately the responsibility of the applicant agency. If you’re acting as a grant-writing consultant, your responsibility is to look for red flags and advise the agency accordingly.

A Difficult Call
It’s a challenging decision, and it’s painful to see planning and design efforts yield nothing. To avoid the sickening feeling of pulling out of a grant at a late stage after much of the work is done, you should constantly monitor the situation and help your planning team decide whether to pull out of a project – well before the submission date.

Below are five tips to help your grant team make the tough decision about when to call it quits.

  1. Realize that it’s never too late to pull out of a grant pursuit for which your designed project is absolutely a poor fit. Ending one pursuit to initiate a later pursuit that’s a better fit is a wise use of time and energy. It also increases your chance for a win. Quitting is not a bad mark on your character.
  2. If your team is having trouble getting all partners to the table on a consistent basis and the partners seem disengaged, advise your team to end the partnership and the grant pursuit, or find a way to move ahead without partner(s) that won’t engage. Disengaged partners in the planning stage often lead to disruptive and dysfunctional relationships if/when a grant is awarded.
  3. If your team drastically changes the grant project design midway through and decides to move in a direction that differs from the funder’s vision, make your point that this may not be a good direction, and/or advise closing down the effort and or trying another funding source. Mismatched visions result in no awards.
  4. If you sense infighting among the planning team members, talk to them one on one to determine if broken relationships can be mended or if you need to call it quits on the grant. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
  5. Finally, realize that pulling out of a grant before submission doesn’t necessarily equate to lost effort. Use the time and effort you put into the canceled grant pursuit to inspire or expand the next grant project.

The most important caveat: The grant writer or project lead must make sure the planning team thoroughly understands the funder’s vision and can clearly articulate how the project promotes that vision. Learning early about any disconnect between project and funder is key, as you want to spend your time and effort on projects that are winnable.

Listen, reflect, and encourage your team members to undertake successful pursuits, but be bold enough – and realistic enough – to know when to say “NO!”

Dr. Lori Brown is Senior Proposal Writer at Pearson. You may contact her at [email protected]