Why Winning Grants Isn't Guaranteed: A Reality Check for Grant Seekers

May 2, 2024
min read


Getting grants can be a big win for start-ups, SMEs, and nonprofits. With the right funding, you can scale programs, hire staff, and make a bigger impact. But the truth is, winning grants is never a sure thing, no matter how good your proposal is. The grant-seeking process is super competitive, with priorities changing, budget limits, and other factors affecting funding decisions.

In this guide, we'll look closely at the realities of grant-seeking. We'll share proven tips to help you tackle the challenges and boost your chances of success.

Understanding the Competitive Landscape

1. Fierce Competition

There are hundreds of businesses across the African continent alone, all going after limited funding pots. Even an amazing proposal might not get picked due to the huge number of applications. On average, less than 5% of grant proposals succeed.

To stand out in this fierce competition, it's key to:

  • Tell a clear, compelling story highlighting what makes your organization's work unique and impactful. For example, a job training nonprofit could share powerful stories of graduates who secured life-changing careers through its training. Read more here.
  • Make sure your proposal is professional, well-researched, and aligned with the funder's goals.
    Highlight your strengths like a proven track record, strong partnerships, and ability to execute the proposed project effectively. Share data showcasing your past successes.

2. Shifting Priorities

Funding priorities can change yearly, making it tough to predict which proposals will fit a funder's current focus. A foundation supporting environmental work one year could pivot to education or health the next. To stay ahead of this shift:

  • Keep close tabs on funding trends and priority changes in your field. Subscribe to relevant newsletters like Grant Master
  • Attend industry events and join professional groups to stay in the loop.
  • Be flexible with your programming and proposals to adapt to new priorities as they emerge.

3. Budget Constraints

Economic downturns, budget cuts, or changes in funders' income can drastically shrink the funding pie, heating up the competition. During lean times, funders may have to scale back how many proposals they can support.

To navigate tighter budgets:

  • Don't rely just on grants. Diversify by seeking individual donors, corporate partners, and other funding sources.
  • Team up with other organizations on joint proposals to combine resources and strengths.
  • Highlight your program's cost-efficiency and long-term positive impact to underscore the smart investment funders make by supporting you.

4. Intangible Factors

While proposal quality matters greatly, it's not the only factor funders weigh. An organization's reputation, previous funding history, and relationships with funders play a big role too.

To leverage these intangible pluses:

  • Build strong relationships by attending funder events, keeping an open dialogue, and consistently demonstrating your impact. Establish yourself as a trustworthy, accountable partner.
  • Cultivate a positive community reputation through transparent operations, promoting success stories, and aligning with respected partners.
  • Highlight your track record managing past grants effectively and executing projects successfully. Share outcome data showing responsible stewardship of funds.

Strategies for Improving Your Grant Seeking Success

1. Targeted Research

One of the best ways to improve your odds is identifying funders perfectly aligned with your mission and programs. Look for those whose priorities match your work, and make sure you check all their eligibility boxes first.

To do targeted research:

  • Use online grant databases and search engines like Grant for me, and Grants.Gov to find opportunities fitting your criteria like location, cause area, and project type.
  • Subscribe to grant alerts and newsletters from relevant organizations to hear about new funding as it's announced.
  • Attend grant workshops like CWF to learn insider tips on trends and strategies from the experts.

2. Compelling Proposal Writing

A well-written, compelling proposal is key for grabbing funders' attention and convincing them to invest in your work. It takes strong storytelling, clear goals, and understanding the funder's priorities.

To sharpen your proposal writing:

  • Study successful proposals from similar organizations to understand what works in terms of structure and content.
  • Spell out the specific need your program addresses, its objectives, and measurable impacts you aim for. Use concise, compelling language.
  • Include hard data, statistics, and real examples to back up your claims and show your potential for impact.
  • Make sure your proposal follows all guidelines and formatting requirements to a tee.

3. Building Relationships

Having good relationships with funders can pay off hugely in the grant process. By opening lines of communication and demonstrating your commitment to mission and impact, you're more likely to get their support.

To build and nurture those relationships:

  • Attend funders' own events like conferences or webinars to network and learn about their current focuses and processes.
  • Reach out to program officers to introduce your organization and ask for guidance on potential grant opportunities.
  • Share regular updates, success stories, and impact reports so funders stay looped in on your latest work.
  • Express sincere gratitude when awarded a grant, and maintain contact - this can open doors to future funding.

4. Continuous Learning and Improvement

Don't let rejection derail you. Instead, use it as a tool for refining your strategies and levelling up your grant game over time.

To embrace continuous improvement:

  • Don't take rejection as a personal slight. View it as a chance to gain invaluable feedback and insights.
  • Actively seek out funders' perspectives on why your proposal missed the mark and how to improve going forward.
  • Analyze successful proposals to identify best practices and areas where your approach could be stronger.

Read more on how to overcome grant rejection here 

5. Collaboration and Partnerships

Joining forces with other organizations or building strategic partnerships can make your grant proposals way stronger. Pooling resources, expertise, and networks helps demonstrate greater potential for impact.

To make the most of collaborations:

  • Seek out groups with synergistic missions, offerings, or audiences that could produce powerful joint initiatives.
  • Clearly define each partner's roles, responsibilities, and shared goals to enable smooth teamwork.
  • In proposals, highlight the collective strengths, resources, and proven results of all partners involved. Read more here
  • Foster clear communication and effective project management for seamless collaborative execution.


Grant-seeking is a competitive field with lots of challenges, but success is totally possible with the right mindset and approach. By understanding the grant landscape, doing your research, building relationships, and constantly working to improve, you can secure the funding needed to increase your organization's impact.

Just remember - grant seeking is a marathon, not a sprint. Stick with it, celebrate wins big and small, and keep refining your strategies. With persistence and a commitment to excellence, you can master this game and position your organization for long-lasting grant success.

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