Some Reasons Proposals Fail

  • The application is outside the purview of the funding agency. The applicant either failed to learn about the agency's restrictions or areas of interest or misunderstood them.

  • The subject is not relevant to an issue of regional or national importance or lacks sufficient scientific significance. Most funding agencies seek to fund projects which offer the prospect of replicable solutions to societal problems or that will make a significant contribution to knowledge in a particular field.

  • The methodology appears to be flawed. A proposal may address a problem of significance which is important to the funding agency, but it may be rejected because it approaches the problem in a way that the reviewers do not believe adequately tests its own assumptions or because it fails to ask the right questions.
  • The applicant has not included measurable outcome indicators in the proposal. Without some means of measuring success of the project, funding agencies will not invest their resources.
  • The funding agency is not the most appropriate source of funds for the proposed project. If reviewers believe another government program or private foundation is a more appropriate source of funding, they may decline a proposal regardless of its merits. In some cases, they will refer the grant seeker to the more appropriate source.
  • The funding agency has already funded a similar project. It is rare that a problem of regional or national and sometimes scientific significance is perceived in only one place at one time. If the funding agency has already funded someone else who has approached the same problem in the same general way, a turndown is likely.
  • The funding agency's priorities and interests may have changed. Because both governmental agencies and foundations are concerned with addressing changing societal problems or advancing technology, their priorities and interests are constantly evolving. What was a priority a month ago may now have been replaced by an emerging issue.
  • The proposed project does not allow for the highest and best use of the agency's funds. Most funding agencies do not consider charitable effects of a proposed project as a major decision factor. Instead, they have goals of putting in place programs which can be self-sustaining and can be replicated or which will have a major impact on a discipline.
  • The applicant has failed to demonstrate fiscal accountability. Funding agencies will make grants only to those organizations which have demonstrated ability to manage the funds. Failure to provide sufficient detail regarding fiscal systems and experience can result in a turndown.
  • The applicant has used the "shotgun" approach. It is clear to reviewers when the applicant has not read or understood the agency's interests and application procedures and has instead forwarded a generic proposal to many funding sources at the same time. Lack of "match" with the agency's priorities and criteria ensures a turndown.
from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 1998