“This is more important than just saying no nicely?” Grantmaker and grantseeker communications at the point of grant refusal
Harrow, Jenny; Bradburn, Anton (2008)

By Anton Bradburn and Jenny Harrow, Cass Business School, City University

This paper reports progress in a collaborative research project, examining communications between grantmakers and grantseekers, at the point of grant refusal. Minimal research and practice attention, has been given hitherto to such events and experiences. Yet these are often milestones in organisational lives, with implications for grantmaker accountability, grantseeker skill and capacity, and inter-organisational relations within and across the sector.

We began this work asking whether we could identify such a construct as “grant rage” among grant-seekers, on receiving news of refusal, as resource pressures continue to grow. If so, how might this affect their subsequent organisational learning, and grant seeking behaviour? Conversely, we reflected on the ways in which grantmakers transmitted their refusals, and how they responded to any subsequent inter-organisational discord. Initial pilot field work with three grant -makers in SW England during 2006 encountered a range of organizational coping mechanisms for expressions of “grant rage” by failed grantseekers; describing aggressive public criticism, and problems for some grant maker employees. Public seminar scrutiny of this work in December 2006 however, emphasized the importance also of those failed grantseeking organizations which, far from expressing public anger, and direct or implied criticism of fellow (funded) organizations, simply suffered in silence.

The research is now a collaborative project, funded by the Charities Aid Foundation, to examine and learn from the experiences of both grantmakers and grantseekers in this encounter of grant refusal; and to do so via a wider review of communications strategies among both groups. Our funder is clear that this project must be far more than a study of “how to say nicely”. We are working with the Association of Charitable Foundations, and grant seeker organizations, to take an opportunity-based as well as problem-based approach to this research. We do so however against a background of recent public reports of ‘grant rage’ where grant-maker (Arts Council) professionalism as well as judgment has been called theatrically into question, not least in the South West, expressed as almost community participative event, with grant refusals apparently overturned. This approach may well hinder reflective opportunities for organizational learning but may also bring a community dimension to the notion of grant rage.

Anton and Jenny’s presentation is available here (Powerpoint format).

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