Managing unsuccessful applicants actively and well can reduce disappointment and anger, provide opportunities for improvement, and encourage ongoing involvement in your grants program. It can also promote transparency and encourage trust, relationship building and capacity building opportunities.
Communicating with, and making public announcements about, successful applicants is relatively easy (and pleasant) - it's about delivering good news and building positive working relationships. Delivering bad news, on the other hand, can signal the end of an existing relationship. It's common for unsuccessful applicants to ask "why?" and to express disappointment and anger.
The challenge for grant program managers is to explain clearly why an applicant has failed to win funding, and to encourage them to try again when the right opportunity arises.
The process is not without its risks:
- When announcing grant winners, grantmakers can be seen to be grandstanding and making additional mileage out of the success of a few while others miss out
- Assessment and decision-making processes can be challenged as unfair and lacking objectivity, or can be seen as open to political interference by decision-makers
- Unsuccessful applicants may want to know their score and ranking in comparative assessments
- Unsuccessful applicants may want to appeal to a higher decision-maker to have the decision altered.
For these reasons, it is important for you the grantmaker to decide before launching your program:
- How unsuccessful applicants will be informed
- When unsuccessful applicants will be informed relative to successful applicants
- What information will be provided
- What appeal mechanisms will be offered, if any
- What feedback will be given, when, how, and by whom
- What future capacity building support will be offered, if any.
To create a clear strategy for advising and supporting unsuccessful applicants, you'll need to consider these questions:
- What is the purpose of advising unsuccessful applicants? Is it only to let them know they failed to make it this time; to give feedback to improve their capability; to demonstrate transparency; to confirm the use of a fair and objective assessment and decision-making process?
- How will unsuccessful applicants be advised? By standard letter or email; in a phone call; via an assessment outcome report; via lessons learnt and tips for next time on a website; in a group or one-on-one debrief?
- Will unsuccessful applicants learn of the outcome at the same time as successful applicants - e.g. via a website?
- Will unsuccessful applicants be offered a contact person or number for further information or feedback? What level of detail will be provided in any feedback given?
- Is it clear that applicants are entitled to know only about their own application, and that comment on other applications will not be provided?
- Would a script or FAQs be useful to cover issues such as appeals?
- Do staff need to be provided with training on giving feedback?
- How will out-of-scope applications be dealt with? Will information about more appropriate grants programs be offered?
- When and how will unsuccessful applicants be informed of any appeal mechanism?
- What records will be kept of verbal advice given and who will do this?
You may also wish to develop a form letter for unsuccessful applicants, an FAQ document, and a script for debriefing unsuccessful applicants, including advice regarding any appeal or review process.
- The Australian Institute of Grants Management's annual Grants in Australia Survey shows that unsuccessful applicants crave feedback - they want to know why they missed out and what they could do differently next time. Providing such feedback is not only good for them, it can be good for you too, helping to raise the standard of applications in your next round.
- Providing your applicants with access to information about other grant opportunities, and other helpful tools and resources, such as a subscription to the Funding Centre website can also help take the sting out of a rejection. The Funding Centre (another Our Community enterprise) is the best place to go to get information on grants and fundraising in Australia.