How to Turn a “No” From a Foundation into a “Yes”

If you’ve written several grant proposals in your career, chances are you’ve heard at least one “no.” It’s important to distinguish between a “no” that really mean “no for now” and those that mean “no, never.” It’s even possible to use a “no” as an opportunity to come back stronger next time. Below are practical suggestions to position your organization to turn a “no for now” into a “yes” the next time.

Follow up and listen

Most foundation representatives are willing to have a conversation after declining a proposal. Try to schedule a debrief conversation with your contact at the foundation. Express genuine interest in learning from the unsuccessful proposal, and listen carefully to what they have to say. Be sure to ask follow up questions to uncover what they felt were any weaknesses in the proposal or program design, or if they have any concerns about your organization. The insights you gain can help you re-approach this funder and even other funders.

Respond as promised

Sometimes these debrief conversations spark additional activities. For example, if the funder indicated interest in the program despite the decline, you might offer to keep them posted of your progress throughout the year. Seek permission to add the foundation to your e-update list, or offer to send a personalized update on your progress in several months.

Be relentless (within reason)

Seek the representative’s guidance on whether and when your organization may be eligible to re-apply in a future funding cycle. Do you have to wait 12 months or do they encourage applying again next month or quarter? Is it advisable to submit for the same program, or should it be for something different?

Consider alternatives

Sometimes repeated “no’s” from potential funders can illuminate a bigger issue. If one or more foundation representatives suggest program changes, you may consider adjusting the program or find a way to cover costs without grant dollars.


The next time you get a “no” from a foundation, don’t despair! Spring into action with the recommendations above, and you may be on a path to future funding.


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