Overcoming the Sting of Constant Grant Rejections: A Guide for African Startups and NGOs

April 10, 2024
min read

The sting of grant rejection can be disheartening, especially when it becomes a recurring pattern. We've all been there – pouring our hearts into a proposal, only to face the bitter disappointment of rejection. For African startups and NGOs, this experience can be particularly demoralizing, leaving even the most resilient founders questioning their vision. But, fear not. In this post, we'll delve deep into the common reasons behind these setbacks and share practical strategies to help you bounce back and emerge victorious.

Common reasons behind constant rejections

1. Capacity Building: A Crucial First Step

One of the biggest hurdles startups and NGOs face is a lack of capacity. Ambitious ideas often outpace the organization's ability to manage substantial funding. Funders understand this dilemma – entrusting a hefty grant to a fledgling organization can feel akin to handing a toddler a car key. While the vision might be grand, the practical execution falls short.

Imagine Kilagbe Startup, a three-month-old venture with an innovative solution to combat youth unemployment in rural communities. Despite their groundbreaking idea, their relatively inexperienced team might struggle to convince funders to entrust them with a $500,000 grant. The potential is there, but the capacity to execute is the missing piece of the puzzle.

2. Rightsizing Your Ambitions

Another common pitfall is an overly ambitious scope or budget. We've all been there – fueled by passion, we dream up grandiose projects that promise to solve every problem under the sun. But funders are pragmatic creatures, and proposals that promise to change the world with a shoestring budget are often met with skepticism.

Picture a proposal aiming to provide clean water to rural communities across three African countries and 50 communities, in 1 month, with a mere $10,000 budget. As noble as the cause might be, grant reviewers would likely view such a project as unrealistic. A modest budget simply cannot achieve meaningful impact on such a broad scale within the proposed timeline.

3. Staying Relevant in a Changing World

Finally, let's address the challenge of adapting to changing trends. Some funders allow resubmitting the same idea or a tweaked version in subsequent funding rounds. However, if your proposal fails to evolve with shifting priorities, it may face repeated rejections.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, proposals focused on health and disease prevention were highly coveted. But as the world's focus shifts, these ideas may lose their immediate relevance. Resubmitting without adapting could be a futile endeavor.

Proven Strategies for Navigating Constant Rejection

1. Collaborate, Partner, and Synergize

When a lack of experience or capacity is the root cause of rejection, forming strategic partnerships can be a game-changer. By joining forces with established entities sharing similar goals, startups and NGOs can bolster their collective expertise and demonstrate a combined ability to execute the project successfully.

Imagine PaySlice, a fintech startup, teaming up with the Goliath that is First Bank of Nigeria. This partnership not only combines their complementary strengths but also instills confidence in funders. Together, they can leverage First Bank's decades of experience and PaySlice's fresh perspectives, creating a synergy that amplifies their chances of securing funding.

2. Adjust, Scale Down, and Realign

If an overambitious scope is the culprit, scaling down is imperative. Startups and NGOs can align their aspirations with practical realities by refining the scope or breaking the project into manageable phases. This approach not only enhances the project's viability but also increases the likelihood of securing funding for an initial phase, laying the groundwork for future expansion.

Take Epower.ng, a startup tackling cyberbullying across all levels of internet users. Instead of attempting to tackle the entire scope at once, they focused their initial efforts on a specific community. Upon demonstrating successful implementation and measurable impact, they applied for additional funding to gradually scale up their operations, expanding to other cities and leveraging their lessons learned.

3. Learn, Change, and Adapt

Priorities of funders are seldom constant, shifting with global and regional trends. In the face of these evolving tides, startups and NGOs must remain agile and adaptable. Before resubmitting a rejected proposal, subject it to a relevance test. Exploring new avenues and aligning with emerging trends is often wiser than stubbornly clinging to outdated notions.

KiaKia Health exemplifies this adaptability. Rather than clinging to an idea that repeatedly failed to secure funding, they pivoted to address the realities on the ground. This timely adaptation has since paved the way for the health startup, which has gone on to win several grants. Remember, adaptability is the cornerstone of resilience in the ever-changing world of grant funding.


While constant rejection can be demoralizing, African startups and NGOs can overcome these obstacles and secure the funding that propels their impact to new heights. By forging strategic partnerships, scaling down ambitions, or embracing adaptability, you can turn setbacks into opportunities for growth and refinement. Incorporate these strategies, and you'll emerge stronger, better equipped to create lasting change in the communities you serve. So, dust off those rejection letters, and let's get back in the ring – because the only true failure is giving up on your vision.

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