The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is one of the largest state-sponsored aid agency in the world. It is funded by the United States Government and it has an independent administrative body and uses its financial and human resources to assist developing nations to grow economically and technically.
For the FY 2020, the President’s Budget Request for the State Department and USAID is $40 billion, which includes $19.2 billion for USAID to support “stable, resilient, and democratic societies that are self-reliant, capable of leading their own development journeys.”
USAID actively involves NGOs in program development and implementation processes. It keeps seeking applications from them under a wide range of solicitations. This guide provides insights on how to plan, prepare and respond to these solicitations.
This is the first stage when the RFA /RFP has not yet been issued and your organization is contemplating whether to approach USAID or not. During the planning phase, your organization will explore and analyze whether USAID is the right fit for your organization or not.
Also, you will be conducting an internal check to assess if your organization has the required capacity to write the proposal and is eligible for applying to USAID for a grant. Some tasks that should be performed during the planning stage include:
You can also go through past projects that have been supported in your region to get an idea of the kind of projects that are most likely to get awarded by USAID.
Go through the Country Development Cooperation Strategy
Once you are aware of how USAID works and the kind of programs its supports, go through your Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS).
This document outlines the strategic framework and objectives of USAID for supporting a particular country. RFPs issued by the USAID will come from the CDCS and therefore any organization planning to approach USAID for funding should surely go through it.
Reading the document will help you to find out if your program areas are in line with the Country Development Cooperation Strategy or not.
Assess your organization
Before you start the application process for a USAID solicitation, it is advisable that you conduct an organizational capacity assessment to see if your organization has the required capacity to implement a project if awarded.
USAID provides an Organizational Capacity Assessment (OCA) tool that can be used by organizations to help with the process. While assessing your organization make sure you go through all your financial systems, past audited reports, governance reports, third party evaluation reports etc.
Also, assess if you have the technical expertise and internal processes to implement the project. If you find certain gaps/issues, resolve them before applying.
Once you are sure that your organization will be applying for a USAID grant, you should start your proposal development process. The preparation stage also starts much before the solicitation is published.
Keeping everything ready before the issuing of the Request for Proposals (RFP, will reduce the last-minute rush and you will be able to respond to the solicitation effectively.
Identify your proposal development team: You must identify experienced staff members to be part of the proposal development team. Make sure that one of the team members has experience in developing USAID proposals; in case your organization does not have in-house expertise then you should hire an external consultant to lead your proposal development team. An ideal proposal team should have a proposal lead, proposal manager and budget preparer.
Develop a proposal calendar: Most RFPs issued by USAID give the organizations a period of 30-45 days to prepare their application and submit it. Make a calendar for your proposal development team, starting from the day the solicitation is released.
Establish clear and practical deadlines for the team, so that the proposal can be drafted, edited and submitted timely. The calendar should have all the necessary details that are required for submission. Given below is an example of a proposal calendar.
|1. Read the solicitation||Day of release (DAY 1)||Proposal development lead.|
|2. Proposal kick-off meeting||Day 2||Proposal manager|
|3. Complete Registration||DAY 3, 4||Proposal Manager|
|4. 1st draft of the proposal||DAY 12th||Proposal Development Lead|
|5. Budget complete||Day 12th||Budget preparer|
|6. Review of Proposal||Day 15th||Senior Project staff|
|7. Editing||Day 20th||Editor|
|8. Completing necessary forms||Day 25th||Proposal Manager|
|9. Proof Reading &final review||Day 26th , 27th||Proposal development Team|
|10. Proposal submission||At least 2 days before the deadline||Proposal Manager|
Identify partners: If you plan to submit a joint proposal with multiple partners, it is advisable that you speak to your partners about their roles/expectations in advance. While identifying partners focus on organizations which have a good track record and can demonstrate their past performance.
Keep all documents available: During the application process you may be required to submit several documents as part of your application. Make a folder containing scanned and attested copies of necessary documents (Registration certificate, tax exemption certificates, audited reports, FCRA, Bank details, past performance record etc.)
Go through the past RFPs/RFA: To be fully prepared for the application process, you can go through the past RFPs/RFA for your program area. This step will give you an idea of the application process, requirements, evaluation criteria, submission procedure that is used by USAID.
Review available announcements: The best website to learn about upcoming USAID Request for Proposals is Grants.gov. You can visit Search Grants and under “Agency”, select “Agency for International Development” to learn about opportunities from USAID,
Responding: This is the stage when the solicitation has been published by USAID and your organization is applying for a grant.
Read the Solicitation Very Carefully: The solicitation provides important information such as the scope of work, evaluation criteria, eligibility information, and activities that the USAID wants to fund. Be sure that you understand all of the requirements included in the solicitation.
Once you have gone through the solicitation, go through it again and mark key information, so that you do not forget important things while developing the proposal and completing the application process. You can also make small notes/hints in the margins to help you while drafting the proposal.
- Outline the solicitation: Review the section that tells you how to prepare and organize the various sections in your proposal. This section can be called ‘Technical Proposal Guidelines/application format’. The technical section of the application will have several sub-sections which need to be completed by you. Some of the important subsections that you will have to complete are:
- Problem Statement
- Justification of Intervention (Why/What/Where)
- Program Description
- Goal and Objectives
- Beneficiary Details
- Critical assumptions
- Program Strategy
- Management Structure
- Institutional Capacity
- Past Performance
- Work Plan
- Cross cutting sector
- Result Framework
Read the instructions properly to understand how each section has to be written and the information that USAID requires in each section/sub-section.
Review the Evaluation Criteria: The solicitation clearly describes the evaluation criteria for assessing your response. Study the order of importance and point scale given to each criterion and develop your response to suit the criteria. Typical evaluation criteria include Technical Expertise, Staffing, Experience and Capabilities, and Past Performance. Some other factors that can be considered while evaluation of proposals include:
- Innovation & Impact
- Evidence & Evaluation
- Sustainability and Pathway to Scale
- Project Team
Ask Questions: If you face any doubt or query during the application process, feel free to contact the point of contact. Be sure to contact only those persons who have been mentioned in the solicitation and not anyone else. Also, keep in mind that the questions should be submitted in writing.
Have a Proposal Kick-off Meeting: Once you have gone through the above-mentioned sections of the solicitation, organize a proposal kick-off meeting. This meeting will be attended by your proposal development team, decision-makers, and senior team members to finalize the project theme, roles, and deadlines.
Register timely: Register your organizations on grants.gov timely. Do not wait for your solicitation response to be completed, register yourself well in advance to avoid last-minute hassle.
Assign a proper task to the Proposal Development Team: Make sure that your project team has been allocated all tasks properly. To develop an efficient response, it is advisable that you divide the application among your staff, depending on the expertise of people. As there will be several people involved in writing the proposal, make sure that the solicitation response has a cohesive voice and flow. The team should follow the calendar diligently and the deadlines should be strictly followed.
Proposal Drafting: While drafting the technical proposal to follow the format that has been requested in the solicitation and write the details for each section as has been asked. Try to get used to the terminology used by USAID and use it while drafting the proposal; this will make your solicitation response stronger. If you are not aware of the terms that are used by USAID, refer to its website or reports to get well versed with the terminology.
Review the draft: Have a senior person review the draft response. The role of the reviewer will be to make sure that all sections of the solicitation response have been completed and fit together. The reviewer will also ensure that basic grammatical, technical and budgetary errors are removed from your response.
Budget: Strictly follow the template for cost proposal including budget narrative. The cost application budget is generally presented in three basic ways:
- Summary Budget
- Detailed Budget
- Budget Narrative
Make a rough budget that you may feel will be required to carry out the required activities. For making the rough budget you may use your organizations standard budget format. This rough budget can then be translated to the template required in the solicitation. Some of the most common categories used in the budget are:
- Other Direct
Your cost estimate should be competitive and should be in sync with the project activities. Make sure that you include the program team, HR, Procurement and Finance department while developing the project budget so that you do not miss any important cost. Also, remember that all the three budget formats (summary, detailed and narrative) should match with each other and all calculations/estimations should be accurate.
- Check the Solicitation Requirements: Once you have completed the solicitation response, go through the solicitation requirements once again to ensure that all sections and requirements have been completed by you. See for information related to the following:
- Page Numbers
- Font size and font
- Completion of all sections and subsections
Make sure that you have followed the solicitation instructions properly.
Submission of Appendices: If you wish to submit additional reference material/ documents to support your response, you can submit the same in the form of Appendices. Even though appendices are not part of your main response, make sure that you are consistent, accurate and professional when submitting appendices. Examples of documents that can be included in the appendices are:
- The CV of program team members
- Letters of Support
- Organizational chart
Remember not to provide unnecessary information to the reviewed, share information that is required to support your response or has been asked in the solicitation.
Respect the Deadline: Make certain that your solicitation response is prepared timely and is submitted within the deadline. Consider the international time or differences in time zone when looking at the date and time.