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How to Win USAID Request for Proposal Submission Funding in 2024

By Wayan Vota on February 23, 2024

win usaid request for proposal funding

Responding to a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Request for Proposal (RFP) is a complex, detailed process that demands thorough understanding, strategic planning, and meticulous execution. This guide is structured to navigate organizations, especially those new to the arena, through the intricacies of preparing a compelling proposal that aligns with USAID’s goals and requirements.

USAID Request for Proposals Process

USAID is a leading agency of the United States federal government, tasked with administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance. With a mission to promote global stability, foster economic growth, and reduce poverty, USAID partners with governments, civil society, and private sector entities across the world to achieve its objectives.

Understanding USAID’s mission, strategic priorities, and operational frameworks is foundational to crafting a proposal that resonates with its goals in 2024.

When funding becomes available and USAID is interested in making an award to implement an activity, it will issue a solicitation. Upcoming solicitations are listed on the Agency’s Business Forecast. There are different types of solicitations:

  • Request for Proposal (RFP): An official solicitation for acquisition awards (contracts) that tells you what the Agency requires for a specific project or activity and how it will evaluate bids. All RFPs are posted on SAM.gov.
  • Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): An official solicitation for assistance awards (grants and cooperative agreements). All NOFOs are posted on Grants.gov.
  • Annual Program Statement (APS): A “call to action” released by USAID on Grants.gov, usually once a year, that outlines the need for a specific kind of program and encourages the submission of a wide range of concept papers.
  • Broad Agency Announcement (BAA): A competitive and collaborative research and development process used to seek innovative solutions to development challenges from public, private, for-profit, and nonprofit partners. BAAs can result in contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements and are posted on both SAM.gov and Grants.gov.

In this post, we are going to focus on USAID Request for Proposals (RFP). Your response to a USAID request for proposal (RFP) can be an extremely time-consuming and anxiety-ridden process. The typical RFP is a significantly verbose document that looks more like a legal document than anything else, and has some very specific requirements. Here’s how to examine the basic mechanics of the incoming USAID RFP and how you should respond.

Understand the RFP Goals

The introduction or executive summary should give you a basic indication and description of what the project is all about. Toward the back of the RFP, you’ll typically find a section called Project Deliverables, or something to that effect, which specifies what is expected of you. These two sections are the starting points to understanding what the RFP is all about.

The RFP will probably also contain a number of different titles and similar sections that, on the surface, may appear to mean the same thing. Many USAID RFPs are put together by disparate teams of individuals, so don’t be surprised to see repetition in the body of the document. Nonetheless, it’s extremely important to read the RFP from cover to cover.

Be certain to highlight pages for items of note, including items that are not included in the project deliverables list.

You’ll probably also find various inconsistencies and unclear items. The timeline for response is of particular note. Managing an RFP response is the same as any other project, so you’ll need to build a production schedule to properly manage production of the RFP response.

Review components and assess requirements

The first item on your timeline for the RFP response is a review of components and an assessment of requirements. You’ve already read the RFP and have broken out the project description and deliverables, and found various unclear items. List the components and requirements that you’ve found and start assembling content for a response.

Depending on your situation, this strategy can begin with assembling an RFP response team and holding an initial kick-off meeting. You can delegate staff with expertise or knowledge about a specific component or requirement to assemble content for that particular section.

Your RFP response team should have a “whip,” an individual who ensures that everyone is doing what they are supposed to, and an RFP lead/project champion, an individual tasked with putting it all together in its final form.

Or, if your situation is such that you don’t have staff and it’s just you (you’re going to hire after you win), then make sure you clear enough time to properly assemble content on your own. It always takes longer than you expect.

Review the requirements

Before diving into the proposal writing process, it’s crucial to conduct an initial assessment to determine your organization’s fit for the opportunity. This involves a thorough review of the RFP to understand the project’s objectives, scope, eligibility requirements, and evaluation criteria.

Consider the alignment between USAID’s goals and your organization’s expertise, experience, and capacity to deliver the proposed services or projects in 2024. Also think through the following questions:

  • Do the specifications as requested by the RFP make sense?
  • Is the project doable as specified by the RFP?
  • Can you come up with additional items that would add value and increase ROI for the project?

Draft a Proposal Outline

The RFP that you’ve received most likely has a very specific structure. It’s in your best interest to follow the exact structure of the RFP. Take the numbered heading structure of the RFP and use it as the basis for your outline. Your RFP response must deal with each section as required in the same order as the original RFP.

The RFP evaluation committee on the client side will certainly try to match up the components and requirements of their RFP to your response. It’s easier for all involved if you use the same nomenclature and outline structure. It also reduces the risk of information omissions.

1. Executive Summary

Begin with a compelling executive summary that concisely outlines your project’s vision, objectives, and the unique value proposition. This section should grab the evaluator’s attention and summarize why your organization is best suited to implement the project.

2. Technical Approach

This section is the heart of your proposal, detailing your project design, strategies, and implementation plan. It should clearly demonstrate your understanding of the problem, the proposed interventions, and how they align with USAID’s objectives. Include a clear, logical framework that links activities, outputs, outcomes, and impacts, supported by evidence from research or past experiences.

3. Management Plan

Present a robust management plan that outlines the project’s organizational structure, roles and responsibilities, and governance mechanisms. Highlight your team’s expertise and capacity to manage the project efficiently, ensuring timely delivery of milestones and adherence to USAID’s reporting requirements.

4. Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Framework

Develop a comprehensive M&E framework that outlines your approach to tracking progress, assessing effectiveness, and making adjustments as necessary. This should include specific indicators, data collection methods, and analysis plans. Demonstrating a strong commitment to learning and accountability is crucial.

5. Budget and Financial Projections

Prepare a detailed budget that aligns with the project’s activities, objectives, and timelines. The budget should be realistic, cost-effective, and compliant with USAID’s financial guidelines. Include a narrative that explains the budget items, ensuring transparency and accountability.

RFP Questions and Answers

Many RFP processes will allow a period of time for questions. Ensure that you are aware of that window of opportunity and mark the date as a milestone on your RFP response project plan. If there is no such date indicated, then that’s your first question.

Most likely, a number of applicants were invited to tender a response to the USAID RFP. In the interest of fairness, it is customary that answers to all questions are made available to all RFP respondents. Ensure that you are getting those answers and if not, find out why.

The answers to the questions can, in many cases, provide enlightening insight into “what they really want.” It also serves as a benchmark on what the other companies are thinking.

Invest in RFP Presentation

An RFP presentation serves a number of purposes. On a very cynical level, it’s rare that you win a project based on an RFP response alone. On the other hand, the process is certainly used to narrow down the list. Your presentation may take multiple forms; it should always exist in print, but you may also be required to make a formal presentation this year.

Key Selection Criteria

Responding to a USAID RFP is an opportunity to contribute to meaningful change in global development challenges. It requires a blend of strategic thinking, technical expertise, and meticulous planning. By understanding USAID’s objectives, thoroughly preparing, and crafting a detailed and compelling proposal, organizations can position themselves as strong candidates for partnership with USAID.

  • Adherence to Guidelines: Strictly follow the RFP’s instructions and USAID’s policies. Non-compliance can result in disqualification.
  • Evidence-Based Approach: Support your proposal with data, research findings, and case studies that validate your approach.
  • Innovation and Adaptability: While aligning with USAID’s goals, demonstrate innovative strategies and flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Show meaningful engagement with local communities, government entities, and other stakeholders, reflecting a participatory approach to project design and implementation.
  • Sustainability: Highlight how your project will create lasting impacts beyond the funding period, including plans for financial sustainability, capacity building, and integration into local or national systems.

Submission and Follow-Up

After ensuring that all sections of the proposal meet the RFP’s requirements and your internal quality checks, submit the proposal by the deadline. Pay attention to the submission guidelines to avoid technical issues that could disqualify your proposal.

Following submission, be prepared to respond to any requests for additional information or clarifications from USAID. If your proposal is selected, you may enter into a negotiation phase to finalize the terms of the award.

RFP Proposal Evaluation

As a part of the technical proposal review, typical evaluation criteria include the following:

  • Past performance (does not have to be USAID past performance).
  • Technical approach to the RFP objectives.
  • Personnel including Chief of Party.
  • Corporate capability to implement the project.
  • Management plans to show how staff interact.

In each solicitation, USAID provides the criteria it will use to make an award decision (including technical and cost/price factors) and specifies each factor’s relative importance.

Post-Award Negotiation

If you win, your organization may be contacted by a Contracting or Agreement Officer (CO/AO) if your proposal or application is being considered for an award. The CO/AO will be your organization’s key point of contact for doing business with USAID.

If USAID wants to negotiate with your organization before deciding whether to grant you an award, your organization should learn about our policies, which will be a part of the contract or assistance award.

  • USAID executes all direct procurement in accordance with ADS 302, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), and USAID’s supplement to the FAR, the USAID Acquisition Regulation (AIDAR).
  • USAID executes assistance in accordance with ADS 303, 2 CFR 200, and 2 CFR 700.
  • When necessary to implement timely changes prior to a formal amendment of AIDAR, the Procurement/Assistance Executive issues Acquisition and Assistance Policy Directives (AAPDs).

Once these steps are completed, USAID will make the award to the selected organization. In most cases, the organization will be invited to a post-award conference to discuss the project and review the terms and conditions of the award. In addition, throughout the implementation period, the organization may contact the Contracting or Agreement Officer’s Representative (COR/AOR) designated in the award for technical guidance. All matters concerning the award itself must be directed to the Contracting or Agreement Officer.

Next RFP Submission

Often RFPs request the same common things over and over again, Company History, Financials, Background, Staff, Cover Sheet, Executive Summary, etc. the list goes on.  These things are called boiler plate verbiage. These are documents and information that can literally be cut and paste into each successive RFP.  It is important to make sure you have your companies boiler plate prepared and up-to-date in order to make the process go as quickly as possible.

When done properly, responding to RFPs can be a methodical, organized process. My advice is, don’t let the scope or length of the RFP intimidate you. Take it all in stride, answer all sections to the best of your abilities, and, in the end, you’ll not only convince the client that yours is the best shop for the job, you’ll also convince yourself.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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