"Unsuccessful funding bids – how fund-seekers differ from job applicants" by Emma Beeston

Jul 16, 2017

"Imagine that you are applying for a job you really want.

You make a strong application and perform well at interview but you don’t get the job.

The employer explains that they had another candidate who had more skills and experience than you had.

Now, of course, you are disappointed or frustrated.

But unless you have reason to doubt their professionalism, you probably thank them for considering you, for letting you know the outcome and ask for feedback to see if there are ways you could strengthen any future applications.

It would not be wise at this point to tell them that their job description was wrong and they clearly did not understand the experience and skills you would bring to the role.

So let’s extend the analogy to applying for funding.

Funders have criteria and will take a view on how well applications fit with these and how strong the organisation and project is compared to others.

In the funding organisations I have worked in there is never sufficient money to fund every application and so I spend a lot of my time having to say 'no'.

Some unsuccessful applicants deal with this bad news well. Yes they are disappointed, but they ask for feedback in order to learn where they could improve and whether it would be worth applying again.

But a surprising number challenge the decision. suggesting that our criteria is wrong and we clearly misunderstood their work.

I do appreciate that this is born out of frustration and sometimes desperation but it is also difficult to respond to.

I am sure we sometimes make mistakes just as sometimes the wrong applicant gets hired.

Questions are fine but hostility is not the answer.

Why do feelings run so high?

I think the difference is the passion and commitment that people in the non profit sector have for their cause.

This drive is fantastic but it can sometimes be a hindrance if it leads to a defensive response.

It can stop you listening or being open to learning.

There are lots of reasons why we say 'no' a lot – high demand from some areas, poor fit with criteria - and sometimes we say 'no' because other applications were stronger than yours.

In that case, don’t shoot the messenger, but ask for feedback on ways to improve."  

Emma Beeston Consultancy advises funders andphilanthropists on giving strategies and processes; selecting causes and charities; assessments and impact monitoring. Services for charities include external perception reviews; bid reviews; training for fundraisers and non-fundraisers involved in bids. For more details visit Emma's website or

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