The email of doom: Deciphering your AFG grant application rejection notice

How to determine how far your application proceeded in the process so you can improve future applications


For weeks every year, I would get calls and emails from clients asking if I knew the status of fire department’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) applications. And then, as it happens every year, the dreaded emails of doom – the turndown notices – would start to appear in inboxes.

Just like clockwork, the calls and emails would pick up again, with remarkably similar comments from people showing their confusion and frustration: “This email doesn’t tell me anything” or “My turndown is exactly the same as the one the XYZ Fire Department received.”

Because FEMA receives nearly 9,000 AFG applications, it is impossible for them to send out thousands of emails detailing exactly why your application wasn’t approved for funding. However, there are clues inside your notice that will allow you to understand the general reasons that your application didn’t get funded – clues that will help your department better plan for the next grant application.

There are clues inside your notice that will allow you to understand the general reasons that your application didn’t get funded – clues that will help your department better plan for the next grant application.
There are clues inside your notice that will allow you to understand the general reasons that your application didn’t get funded – clues that will help your department better plan for the next grant application. (Photo/Getty Images)

Computer review rejection

Some rejection letters read, “Regrettably, and after careful consideration and review, your application did not score high enough to receive further consideration through the panel review process. We regret that the news could not be more favorable.” This means that your application was turned down during the initial grant review conducted by FEMA, which is commonly referred to as the computer review.

Some reasons for rejection at the initial/computer review phase:

  • Your department was not eligible to apply.
  • Your application was for items that were not a priority for AFG.
  • Your answers to the Request Details section of application were not in line with AFG priorities.
  • The cost for your requested items was out of line with industry standards.

These are the most common reasons, but there many others that can disqualify an application at this stage.

Peer review dismissal

Some rejection letters read, "The peer review panel scores indicated that your application was generally good; however, there were areas for improvement." This indicates that your application made it through computer review with a sufficient score to be sent to panel review. In panel review, your application is independently read and scored by three reviewers.

If you find yourself in this situation, then it is likely that the narrative sections of your application did not provide reviewers with enough clear data to score your application in the competitive category. If this is the case, the best route to take is to conduct an evaluation of your last application to determine ways to make it more competitive.

An evaluation provides an efficient and logical method to study a program, practice or initiative to understand how well it achieves its goals. Evaluations help determine what works well and what could be improved in a program or initiative. Some items to consider:

  • Did we have enough time to plan and develop our last application?
  • Did we encounter problems securing data and information for our narratives?
  • Did we face delays getting accurate cost estimates?
  • Were our coverage area demographics up to date?
  • Was alarm data readily available?
  • Did we have time to have the application reviewed before it was submitted?

The final reason for rejection

Finally, some rejection letters read, “The peer review panel scores indicated that your application was generally good; however, there were areas for improvement. After awarding applicants with scores higher than the scores your application received, we regrettably do not have enough funding award your department at this time.” This one is pretty clear. The application made it through peer review but other applications that were scored higher got the funds. Certainly for some grant writers, this is the worst reason to be turned down. However, I see it as a reason to sit down with your grant writing team and see where your application can be improved for higher scores in the future. Then make those changes and submit it for the next round of funding.

Look to the future

The latest AFG grant application period will open soon.

If you applied this round and didn’t get funded, please review your turndown letter and take the necessary steps to develop a stronger application for AFG 2020.

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