Request for Proposals:
How to Read Between the Lines

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Reviewing a Request for Proposal (RFP) can be a tedious process. An RFP is often filled with technical jargon, an endless list of requirements and repetitive and sometimes contradictory information. Your ability to ferret out critical details, however, can determine the outcome of your efforts. Consider these key areas:

  • Funding opportunity description. Most solicitations provide background information that explains why the funding opportunity is being offered. It may focus on a priority of the funder, address a current issue or problem or seek evidence-based solutions.

Why this information is important: The funding description helps you quickly decide if the grant opportunity is a good match for your organization. In particular, consider if the funding request fits your mission, focuses on your target audiences and includes an approach that your organization can support. Pay close attention to issues that warrant further investigation and buzz words that should be included in your proposal.

  • Award information. Look for how much funding is being distributed overall, how many grants will be offered and the funding range for individual grants. Be aware of the service period of the grant and how soon your organization must begin implementation if your application is successful. 

Why this information is important: Funding information provides you with insight as to how competitive a grant is and the ability of your organization to deliver programming at the desired financial level. If a grant is highly competitive, you need to weigh the investment your organization will make developing the proposal versus your chances of success.

  • Eligibility information. Most applications are very clear regarding eligibility. If collaboration is a large part of the desired proposal, consider who your partners will be and how strong those relationships are. 

Why this information is important: If your organization is not eligible to apply for a grant, clearly it is a waste of time to do so and hope that the requirement will be overlooked. If an established partnership is required, your organization will start out at a disadvantage if you begin pulling together that group mere weeks before the application is due.

  • Application submission information. Pay close attention to deadlines and directions for submitting the proposal. If you decide to submit a grant application, give yourself plenty of time to write, edit and submit your proposal, whether electronically or in paper form. Understand the required format, including the length of the narrative, whether pages should be double-spaced or single-spaced and if there is a preferred typeface. 

Why this information is important: In almost all cases, application formats and deadlines are non-negotiable. If you do not submit your application in the desired format by the required deadline, you have wasted your time and resources. As you consider whether or not to apply for funding, determine if you have enough time to prepare a solid proposal.

  • Application criteria. Before you begin writing your application, understand all of the information that is requested and how your answers will be evaluated. Answer each section in its entirety, including multiple questions within a section. Include all required attachments. 

Why this information is important: If the application criteria includes a point system for the various sections, use this to determine how much detail you should provide for each area. For example, if the need section is worth 10 out of 100 points, but the goals and objectives section is worth 25 points, plan to provide more detail for the latter section. Be sure your application is complete. Your application may be judged “unresponsive” if you fail to include a required attachment.

  • Award information. Look for information regarding when awards will be announced and how award agreements will be finalized. Understand clearly what your obligations entail. 

Why this information is important: This is critical information that will help you manage and administer grant funds appropriately while fostering a positive relationship with the funder.

© 2012 Joan B. Marcus Communications LLC

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