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Decoding Donor Agency Project Proposal Rejections


Writing project proposals to donor agencies remains a crucial avenue for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Faith-Based Organisations (FBOs), and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs) compared to other fundraising methods due to several key reasons: access to substantial funding, long-term sustainability, wider reach, technical and capacity-building support, among others.


These organisations often encounter a common challenge – the rejection of project proposals by donor agencies despite being essential forces in driving impactful changes at the community level. The rejection of a project proposal by donor agencies has significant repercussions, impacting both the individual responsible for crafting the proposal and the organisations themselves.


Understanding the reasons behind these rejections is imperative to unlock the doors of donor agencies. Having written numerous proposals while working with Caritas Scotland and World Vision and supporting various NGOs, FBOs, and CBOs across Africa and Asia, I've studied the main causes of rejection and will share key findings here to help avoid these pitfalls in future proposals:


☀    Mismatched projects with donor agency priorities and objectives.

☀    Inadequate understanding of donor agency expectations, compliance, and requirements.

☀    Insufficient identification of the community or target group's real needs.

☀    Attempting to address too many community’s needs within a single project.

☀    Unrealistic project plans or lacking sustainability measures.

☀    Absence of a robust monitoring and evaluation framework.

☀    Non-compliance with donor agency project proposal deadlines.

☀    Incomplete or poorly written project proposal sections.

☀    Incompatibility between project activities and budget.

☀    Lack of awareness about contemporary development trends such as advocacy, human rights, food security, gender equality, ecological sustainability, and climate change.

☀    Overemphasis on construction rather than addressing people's needs.

☀    Projects that don't align with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

☀    Staff and volunteer turnover affecting project continuity.

☀    Communication gaps between leadership and grassroots staff.

☀    Prioritising other work over the project, causing delays.

☀    Lack of active community participants in the project.


While it's acknowledged that rejection rates for project proposals from donor agencies are substantial, obtaining current and accurate data on this matter remains challenging due to project diversity and varied donor agencies. However, general insights into project proposal rejections include:


  • The highly competitive funding landscape resulting in significant rejection rates due to limited available funding.

  • Donor agencies' increasing emphasis on accountability, impact measurement, and sustainability in proposals.

  • Variation in rejection rates based on region, project type, and specific donor agency requirements.


Studies, such as the European Commission's evaluation of project proposals, revealed average success rates and primary reasons for rejection, including inadequate research, insufficient impact demonstration, and poor implementation plans.


The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report by Development Initiatives highlighted the intense competition for official development assistance (ODA) and the importance of strong proposal-writing skills to access these funds effectively.


While these statistics might not directly represent rejection rates for community and faith-based organisations in Africa and Asia, they emphasise the competitive nature of accessing donor funding and the necessity of crafting high-quality, targeted proposals.


This insight underscores the importance of refining project proposal expertise to secure funding for catalysing positive change within communities. Understanding the reasons for proposal rejection is pivotal for self-reflection. Stay tuned for a subsequent blog post on 'Navigating Project Proposals for Success', focusing on organisation-specific strategies to address donor agency expectations.

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