Why Grant Applications Are Not Funded

June 20, 2024
min read

As a newbie grant seeker, you've probably heard a lot about grant funding and how applications are often rejected en masse. What you might not know is why over 90% of submitted grant applications get rejected. This critical information is often hidden or overlooked, leaving many in the dark and discouraged. But should you abandon your impactful project idea or viable business concept because of these daunting statistics? Absolutely not. This blog post will arm you with the knowledge you need to approach your next application with confidence. Before you pour your heart and soul into grant applications only to receive a rejection letter, read this to the end.

1. Ineligibility

Imagine a fintech startup applying for a grant intended exclusively for health startups. The result? Rejection or disqualification. Many grant applications are rejected simply because applicants fail to thoroughly review the eligibility criteria. Some Request for Proposals (RFPs) provide summarized details on advertised platforms but offer full details on the funder’s website or in downloadable documents (typical of grant opportunities from AfDB, USAID, and other multinational organizations). Many applicants often base their eligibility test on that summarized information without going deeper. 

2. Use of False Information

Imagine buying a product labeled "plantain chips" only to find pepper inside. You'd feel disappointed and angry. That’s exactly how reviewers feel when they encounter false information in grant applications. Many applications are rejected because they contain inaccurate or misleading data. Grant reviewers act like detectives, scrutinizing every detail to ensure accuracy and legitimacy. Honesty is crucial in grant applications.

3. Failing to Show the Problem

Another common reason for grant application rejection is failing to demonstrate the existence of the problem you intend to solve. Asking for funding to address a non-existent issue is like raising a false alarm. Remember the boy who cried wolf? He didn’t get help when he needed it because he had raised false alarms before. Similarly, submitting an application without sufficient data to show the problem can get your organization blacklisted from future opportunities. You must demonstrate a clear need for the grant, supported by data and evidence.

4. Unreadable Applications

Imagine being a grant reviewer and encountering an application full of typos, grammatical errors, and unclear sentences. Frustrating, right? That’s exactly how reviewers feel when faced with poorly written applications. Even if the application has a strong case, it will be meaningless if the reviewer cannot understand it. Clarity and readability are critical for making a compelling argument and ensuring your message gets across effectively.

Practical Tips to Overcome Common Pitfalls

1. Review the eligibility criteria

Carefully review the eligibility criteria before applying. Read the RFP from the first word on the first page to the last word on the last page. Pay attention to bold or italicized words, if any. Ensure your project aligns with the funder's goals and priorities. 

If you want to go further, you can also do these: 

  1. Research the funder's previously announced grant opportunities and past funded projects. This will give you a clear idea of what the funder wants. 
  2. Every grant opportunity has a contact point for more information or inquiry. If you have any questions, reach out to the funder's contact person for clarification. 

2. Verify all information

If you are not eligible, do not apply. If you want to apply, double-check and verify all information before submitting. It is that simple. If you scale through the first review process, you will get caught during the due diligence process. Do not risk it as it is not worth your reputation. “What if it was a mistake or oversight?” Yes, that is possible but it can be avoided. 

Here is how you can avoid any possible mistake:

  1. Have a team member not part of the application writing process review your application. The best thing to do is to have a professional grant writer look at your application before submission if you cannot hire one for the entire process. 
  2. Only use data and statistics from credible and reputable sources. For example, in Nigeria, the best source for poverty data is the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, and globally, it is the World Bank. If you are using data from other sources, make sure you fact-check and validate them. 
  3. Do not lie about your organizational capacity. Avoid the urge to inflate your traction to wow the funder and stand shoulders high above other applicants. 

3. Demonstrate and Justify the Problem

The sole purpose of grant funding is to support a cause, whether profitable or charitable. Your first step should be identifying a problem to solve, not the urge to request funding. When you are done with that, search for relevant data and strong evidence to show the problem’s existence and the urgency to solve it. 

If you are a new founder, the tips below can help you. 

  1. Carry out research by yourself (including your team if you have one) to have primary data. You can back it up with secondary data. 
  2. If possible (or allowed by the respondents), document their thoughts and experiences about the problem. Interview them and record them with their consent. Tell them the purpose of your research. 

4. Use simple language

You do not need to know every word in the dictionary to write a good sentence. A basic command of the English language and choosing the right word combination is what counts. Write a clear, concise, and compelling application. Your should seriously consider hiring a professional to be on a safer side. 

If you want to DIY, make sure you do the following: 

  1. Avoid using jargon or technical terms unprovoked. Try to be as simple as possible with your explanation. Use simple language even if you are a technocrat.
  2. No matter how you submit your application—whether by typing it into a document for upload or entering it directly into a text box on a portal—use bullet points and clear headings. This technique makes your application easier to read by breaking up large blocks of text into smaller, more digestible sections.
  3. Doubt yourself to avoid rejection. Read your entry or draft more than thrice before submitting. 


As a newbie in grant seeking, you'll encounter a flood of information—some of it inaccurate or unfounded—about grant funding. This can be discouraging, and you might feel tempted to give up due to the negative stories from others whose applications were rejected. Yes, grant funding is complex and competitive, but you can succeed.

First, understand the common pitfalls that lead to rejection. Second, apply the practical tips shared in this blog post to avoid these pitfalls. Winning a grant isn't just about applying because it's free; it's about being strategic and informed. Let this blog post be your guide to navigating the grant application process with confidence and clarity.

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