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May 26, 2018

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After The Awkward Decline

 

"It's a real pleasure to be here. I've been looking forward to this," the foundation trustee said, shaking our hands. "Before we start, I want you to know the Board thinks so highly of your organization. We are real fans of what is happening here."

 

"Absolutely awesome," I thought. We just welcomed him. He's going to present us with the grant check right here and now. Right here in the lobby.

 

This was the moment we had waited for. Worked so hard for. Of all the grant requests submitted in the last few years, this was one of the more complex application processes we had gone through. We had painstakingly crossed every "t" and dotted every "i" to make sure this proposal was persuasive, precise and just plain perfect. Every supporting document was filed in order. On top of that, a network of very influential advocates for our mission had championed the proposal, lending their endorsements.

 

Knowing that our request had been reviewed at their recent Board meeting, we were thrilled that the trustee asked to make this site visit. Surely he was coming to personally share the good news. Waiting for his next words, confident and anticipating the best of outcomes, we smiled at the trustee.

 

The trustee smiled back.

 

"Unfortunately, we will not be funding your grant request," he said matter-of-factly. Offering no elaboration or explanation. And without a pause or skipping a beat he continued: "Now, let's get started. I can't wait to take the tour of your programs."

 

Stunned, I glanced at my colleagues. To say we were caught off guard is an understatement. It was more like a punch in the gut. Yes, along with successful grant awards, declines are part of Development work. A well-prepared, well-aligned request can be declined for understandable reasons: stiff and steep competition for available funding, shifts in giving interests by a foundation, a sudden hiatus due to unforeseen economic downturns or addressing community emergencies. All understandable. But this decline was awkward. A bit mysterious. Its delivery by the enthusiastic trustee left us dumbfounded.

 

Nevertheless, duty and decorum called. "Well, we certainly were hoping for a different response. But we thank you for considering the request." We kept smiling and, without skipping our beat, we took the trustee on the grand tour of our programs. We hosted him for lunch. We had stimulating table talk. We bid him farewell at the end of the site visit.

 

Back at our office, the postmortem began. How on earth did this happen? What could we have done better? Why did the foundation really decline our request? Who could find out for us? Where did we get the idea that this was a slam dunk? When can we resubmit? On and on we went, until it was time to call it a day, and call it a week.

 

That weekend I went to a department store and bought five ties. All in exquisitely bright hues. Bracingly bright as the sun that came up the next Monday morning. I wore those five ties in sequence that week. A new tie each day. It seemed to cheer up my colleagues. Without skipping our beat, we kept writing and submitting proposals. The years rolled on. Sometimes the responses were what we worked, hoped and prayed for. Sometimes not. For understandable reasons. For unexplainable reasons. And, along the way, I accumulated quite a collection of ties. With the stories to match.

 

Follow @JoeMazzu3 on Twitter and Instagram. To learn more about Joe's consulting business serving nonprofits, visit intentionalconsulting.com.

 

 

 

 

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