It happens to the best of us. You think you’ve got a handle on your to-do list until you glance at the calendar and realize you’ve missed a deadline.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. There are plenty of reasons grant writers miss deadlines.
- A funder changes the deadline, and you miss the notification.
- You’re waiting to receive data from a colleague or partner agency.
- Someone else in your organization drops the ball on an approval.
- Procrastination and overconfidence you can write the grant quickly.
- Too many grant deadlines in the same week.
- A traumatic event or illness prevents you from working on the application.
What happens if you miss a deadline? Here are some ways to respond and ways to avoid missing deadlines in the future.
Do funders give extensions for grant applications?
Sometimes, but not usually. In other words, do not assume an extension will be given.
Extensions are granted completely at the funder’s discretion. If they’re sympathetic to your circumstances, you may receive a couple of days or a few more hours to submit your application. Even if the funder is understanding, extensions may be prohibited by the funder’s bylaws or rules. Them’s the breaks.
Private vs. governmental grant extensions
If you have an existing relationship with the funder, especially a private foundation or trust, you may be better positioned. For example, if your agency has received funding from a private family foundation for years and is in good standing, your request has a better chance of being granted. If you’re a new applicant, don’t expect the same treatment.
Governmental agencies have less leeway to grant extensions, but it’s not impossible. Some agencies publish extension policies and procedures on their websites.
For instance, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration lists reasons you can request an extension waiver:
- A FEMA-designated natural disaster on the day of the deadline.
- A validated power or internet service disruption in a specific area.
- A validated technical issue on federal government side that prevents applicants from meeting the deadline.
- Incorrect Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) instructions.
- Sudden acute severe illness or death of the Authorized Organizational Representative (AOR) or immediate family member.
Others, like the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, says it will consider extensions only if there’s documented evidence that grants.gov was down or malfunctioning.
But the agency cautions that grants.gov has a “wealth of technical assistance information available” and suggests you plan for at least 48 hours to resolve any technical problems. Technical issues on your end are up to you to fix in a timely manner. Reading between the lines here, something catastrophic would have to occur to grants.gov before an extension would be considered.
When it comes to federal and state agencies, we suggest meeting deadlines. In our experience, extensions just aren’t the norm.
Ask for an extension
If you need an extension, falling on your sword is the best approach. Be gracious and self-effacing. Contact the funder, explain what’s going on and hope for the best. You may get lucky. (If you do, a hand-written thank you letter is very appropriate.)
And while we all love the convenience of email, this isn’t the time for it. Pick up the phone and call.
The timing of your ask is important to consider.
There are two possible scenarios.
- You know you’ll miss the deadline before it passes, and
- Whoops, that deadline flew right by.
Before the deadline passes
If you know you’ll miss the deadline, contact the funder as soon as you can. Don’t wait until the day of the deadline, if possible. If you know three days before the deadline that you may not make it, call the funder and explain. The more notice you give, the better your chances of securing an extension.
After the deadline has passed
If you whiffed and completely missed a deadline, call as soon as you realize what’s happened. Ideally, it will be a day or two after the deadline passes. Waiting much longer probably won’t buy you much sympathy from the funder.
If a timeline changed on the funder’s end and it wasn’t communicated effectively or timely, you may have a case for an extension. If you just forgot about the deadline, don’t hold your breath. You’re basically saying you didn’t prioritize the funder, and they’ll return the favor.
Tips to avoid missing grant deadlines
Extensions aren’t the norm in the grant world, so make every effort to meet deadlines. Here are some tips to help.
Don’t wait until the last minute
Grants take longer to write than you think they will. Period. Plan for adequate time to gather materials, write the narratives, get organizational approvals and manage technical issues. Depending on the grant, the size of your organization and the scope of your project, you may need to plan for a months-long project,
Mark everyone’s calendar
A shared calendar is a great way to keep everyone in your organization aware of grant deadlines. If you know a grant is due Oct. 10, create an event using a program like Google calendar. Create milestones for the grant application process. For example, you could create “budget figures due” event for Sept. 1 or a “partner agency letters of support due” for Sept. 15.
Shared these events with your team so everyone stays on the same page. It’s easy to lose track of dates when they’re buried in an email you sent months ago. Project management systems like Asana, Basecamp or Trello are also highly effective ways to keep everyone organized, but shared calendars work if you don’t have access to these programs.
Don’t miss deadline changes. Follow funders on social media for updates and keep an eye out for emails on the regular. There’s a good chance emails could wind up in a promotions tab or spam folder so add the funder’s address to your contacts list.
Know your limits
It would be great is funders spaced their deadlines out, but there will be times when multiple grants are due the same month or even the same week. Don’t take on more work than you can realistically do well. Discuss your capacity with your organization and prioritize the grants you’ll seek.
Maintain a good relationship
Stay in your funders' good graces. Submit reports in a timely manner, be respectful and courteous, sing their praises when appropriate. Not only is it professional, but you never know when you may need to ask for a favor.
More grant-writing resources
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