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How to Read an RFP

May 1

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Wednesday, May 1, 2013  RssIcon

Even if you've been successful at obtaining grants in the past, the prospect of poring over a federal or state grant guidance document may still rate right up there with oral surgery.

The good news though is that these large documents (often 100+ pages in length) actually follow a fairly consistent format, and with a few tips from Grants Office’s reserve of hard-earned experience, you can approach new grant programs much more confidently.
 

Put yourself in their shoes
Imagine you are the person responsible for writing a grant guidance document for a medium sized federal program. You have several stakeholders you will want to accommodate and a few parameters you'll have to meet.

First off, you'll need to follow the statutory requirements that are stated in the authorizing legislation and any directives that were included in the appropriation for that year.


Appropriation vs. Authorizing Statute: Time for a Little Public Policy 101?

Federal grant programs are created in two parts. First, Congress creates the program by passing an authorizing statute. The authorizing statute defines the program’s intent and describes who is eligible to receive funds, defines how the funds should be distributed, and explains any priorities for the use of funds. In some cases, the authorizing statute is buried in a larger piece of legislation (as the Homeland Security Grant Program was part of the larger PATRIOT ACT). Although the authorizing statute “authorizes” funding for the grant(s) it creates, the actual amount of funding that is made available from year to year is determined entirely by the federal appropriations process.

The appropriation for a program comes as part of the federal budgeting process. Funding for each grant program is included, either individually (a line item) or part of a larger amount, in one of the (usually 13) appropriations bills that make up the federal budget each year. Because it has to do with all the money the federal government spends, the appropriations process is rife with political wrangling.


Once you have all the legal bases covered, you'll need to articulate the program in a way that serves a number of stakeholders, including:

  • potential applicants looking for a quick assessment of their eligibility
  • grant seekers who are familiar with the program and want to know what's changed from the prior year
  • grant seekers who are new to the program and need to know enough to develop a compliant application on equal footing with everyone else
  • grant writers who need to know what is required and how the grant will be evaluated
  • agency legal advisors who want to ensure that the document references the legal requirements of the grant recipients and protects the agency from future liability
  • mid-level and junior agency staff who need to be able to answer questions and speak intelligently about the program
  • senior agency executives who interpret the statutory requirements of the program and may add a few of their own


In the end, you'll probably produce a document that looks very similar to other grants - not because you lack creativity, but the stakeholders in the process are best served by the tried and true format.

A Typical Format

For all these reasons, the typical grant guidance includes the following components, usually in this order:

Summary information
- a cover page with the program title, funding agency, Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number, program contact, and deadline
- background on the priorities and legislative basis for the program
- a summary of the program parameters
- a summary of relevant changes from the prior year
- a checklist of what is required for a complete application

Program details
- narrative guidance by section
- scoring and proposal review information
- further information on allowable uses of the funds
- Additional forms instructions
- further reading bibliography

5 tips for digesting an RFP

  1. Read the summary information twice before you read any further
  2. Use the proposal checklist (not the table of contents) to guide your reading
  3. Re-read the scoring criteria until you know it well - It may be the most valuable piece of intelligence in the document
  4. Take notes as you read - there's too much information to remember it all. Be sure to use a note taking format you can easily refer back to. Ideally, create the following headings first, then (rfp review pad) fill in your notes below each section:
  • Deadline
  • Submission method
  • Project ideas
  • Forms
  • Program priorities
  • Program narrative
  • Budget
  • Potential collaborators
  • Next steps
  1. Develop your own presentation based on the guidance document to present the program to colleagues and potential collaborators.

    Pursuing grants takes resources - internal staff time at the least, and often outside grantwriting support and cost- sharing funds - but a thorough understanding of your potential funders based on the official guidance will help ensure you use these resources most efficiently and effectively.
     


 

Identity Crisis
Grant application guidance comes under many names:

  • Request for Proposals (RFP)
  • Request for Applications (RFA)
  • Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA)
  • Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)

Don’t be confused by the alphabet soup – these are all common terms for Grant Guidance documents when they are issued by a grantmaking soliciting applications for a grant program.

Even if you've been successful at obtaining grants in the past, the prospect of poring over a federal or state grant guidance document may still rate right up there with oral surgery.

The good news though is that these large documents (often 100+ pages in length) actually follow a fairly consistent format, and with a few tips from Grants Office’s reserve of hard-earned experience, you can approach new grant programs much more confidently.
 

Put yourself in their shoes
Imagine you are the person responsible for writing a grant guidance document for a medium sized federal program. You have several stakeholders you will want to accommodate and a few parameters you'll have to meet.

First off, you'll need to follow the statutory requirements that are stated in the authorizing legislation and any directives that were included in the appropriation for that year.

Appropriation vs. Authorizing Statute: Time for a Little Public Policy 101?

Federal grant programs are created in two parts. First, Congress creates the program by passing an authorizing statute. The authorizing statute defines the program’s intent and describes who is eligible to receive funds, defines how the funds should be distributed, and explains any priorities for the use of funds. In some cases, the authorizing statute is buried in a larger piece of legislation (as the Homeland Security Grant Program was part of the larger PATRIOT ACT). Although the authorizing statute “authorizes” funding for the grant(s) it creates, the actual amount of funding that is made available from year to year is determined entirely by the federal appropriations process.

The appropriation for a program comes as part of the federal budgeting process. Funding for each grant program is included, either individually (a line item) or part of a larger amount, in one of the (usually 13) appropriations bills that make up the federal budget each year. Because it has to do with all the money the federal government spends, the appropriations process is rife with political wrangling.

Once you have all the legal bases covered, you'll need to articulate the program in a way that serves a number of stakeholders, including:

  • potential applicants looking for a quick assessment of their eligibility
  • grant seekers who are familiar with the program and want to know what's changed from the prior year
  • grant seekers who are new to the program and need to know enough to develop a compliant application on equal footing with everyone else
  • grant writers who need to know what is required and how the grant will be evaluated
  • agency legal advisors who want to ensure that the document references the legal requirements of the grant recipients and protects the agency from future liability
  • mid-level and junior agency staff who need to be able to answer questions and speak intelligently about the program
  • senior agency executives who interpret the statutory requirements of the program and may add a few of their own


In the end, you'll probably produce a document that looks very similar to other grants - not because you lack creativity, but the stakeholders in the process are best served by the tried and true format.

A Typical Format

For all these reasons, the typical grant guidance includes the following components, usually in this order:

Summary information
- a cover page with the program title, funding agency, Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number, program contact, and deadline
- background on the priorities and legislative basis for the program
- a summary of the program parameters
- a summary of relevant changes from the prior year
- a checklist of what is required for a complete application

Program details
- narrative guidance by section
- scoring and proposal review information
- further information on allowable uses of the funds
- Additional forms instructions
- further reading bibliography

5 tips for digesting an RFP

  1. Read the summary information twice before you read any further
  2. Use the proposal checklist (not the table of contents) to guide your reading
  3. Re-read the scoring criteria until you know it well - It may be the most valuable piece of intelligence in the document
  4. Take notes as you read - there's too much information to remember it all. Be sure to use a note taking format you can easily refer back to. Ideally, create the following headings first, then (rfp review pad) fill in your notes below each section:
  • Deadline
  • Submission method
  • Project ideas
  • Forms
  • Program priorities
  • Program narrative
  • Budget
  • Potential collaborators
  • Next steps
     
  1. Develop your own presentation based on the guidance document to present the program to colleagues and potential collaborators.

    Pursuing grants takes resources - internal staff time at the least, and often outside grantwriting support and cost- sharing funds - but a thorough understanding of your potential funders based on the official guidance will help ensure you use these resources most efficiently and effectively.
     

Identity Crisis
Grant application guidance comes under many names:

  • Request for Proposals (RFP)
  • Request for Applications (RFA)
  • Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA)
  • Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)

Don’t be confused by the alphabet soup – these are all common terms for Grant Guidance documents when they are issued by a grantmaking soliciting applications for a grant program.


 

 

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Categories: Proposal Development
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