Unit 2: The Request for Proposals (RFP) or Request for Application (RFA)
In this unit, we examine key features of grant funding announcements. Most funding agencies issue a formal announcement – a request for proposal (RFP) or request for application (RFA) – to advertise their readiness to receive applications from organizations seeking funding.
Many organizations have a grant administrator, such as a grants manager, grant writer, grants coordinator, development officer, or fundraiser on staff to research opportunities and apply for grant funding. They need to be prepared to respond quickly since the deadline for the receipt of proposals is typically 4–6 weeks after the funding agency releases its RFP. It takes time to gather the information and support materials for a comprehensive proposal. Note that many funding agencies and foundations have the same annual deadline for the programs they administer, but you may need to respond to guideline changes.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.
2.1: RFP Guidelines
The RFP should include all of the components the grant-funding agency wants you to address – from the format your proposal should follow to the selection criteria they will follow in choosing the best projects. The RFP will help you determine whether a particular grant is right for your organization – it will help guide the grant writing process and provide a framework for your proposal.
Some funding agencies do not provide an application for you to complete. In these instances, you must present your case for funding in a clear and concise letter proposal. Be sure to include the same grant components you would include when responding to a typical RFP. In Unit 3, we detail how you should present these key required elements of any grant proposal.
Here are two examples of RFPs that demonstrate how agencies follow their own format, make different requests, and offer different information.
2.2: Submission Deadlines
Submitting your proposal before the deadline is critical. Many funding programs are awarded on the same date every year. Others rely on the political objectives of Congress or their respective state government. Some change their grant opportunities every year depending on the priorities and financial health of their organization.
Many of today's grant proposals are submitted electronically, but you should still determine whether the submission deadline indicates the date when the funding agency needs to have received your proposal or refers to a postmark date.
2.3: Fiscal Year (FY)
The fiscal year in an RFP describes the 12-month period the funding agency follows for its financial reports and administrative operations. For example, some organizations follow the calendar year (Jan. 1 to Dec. 31), while the U.S. government operates from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Most funding agencies offer grants according to the fiscal year they follow and require reports on the grant projects they administer according to that schedule. Some of the reporting requirements can be detailed and arduous to follow. Make sure you clarify these deadlines so you can plan your project workflow, budget, spending, and reporting deadlines accordingly.
2.4: Grant Application Review Process
Many grant programs assemble a cadre of volunteer or paid grant reviewers to read through each proposal the funding agency receives to determine how well each applicant meets the grant program's funding criteria and other objectives. Usually, several reviewers read each proposal to provide a more balanced opinion.
This group of grant reviewers is typically composed of experts in the field. For example, the U.S. Department of Education recruits college administrators who have technical expertise in online learning to review their distance education grant proposals. The readers or reviewers are knowledgeable about the field, and they can spot unreasonable claims or discrepancies that may undermine the credibility of a grant proposal.
The grant reviewers score each proposal based on how well the candidate meets the criteria the funding agency has established and whether they believe the candidate will meet the project's goals and objectives. Since these reviewers typically score many proposals at one time, they compare and contrast each proposal. They will penalize proposals that are written sloppily and include grammatical errors. They believe these errors indicate project administrators will be equally careless if they receive funding and are required to implement the project's goals.
2.5: Scoring Matrix or Rubric
Grant reviewers frequently use a scoring rubric to evaluate their proposals, making their judgments according to a common set of benchmarks and minimum standards. The funding agency assigns a certain point value or range to each question, based on the relative importance of these elements for the proposal as a whole. The reviewer scores each response you provide to each RFP question and awards points based on the benchmarks your response meets. This helps grant readers evaluate each proposal fairly and ensures each applicant covers all of the necessary components.
For example, if an important goal of the grant program is to support higher education institutions that serve low-income students, a proposal from a college that serves students living in a poverty-stricken community will receive more points in that particular section of the rubric than one that serves a wealthy district. Similarly, a proposal that partners with a specific type of entity, or several other organizations, may receive more points than one that only has one partner.
According to the scoring rubric the funding agency has provided, the grant reviewer assigns a numeric value. Each proposal receives a final "grade", which makes it easier for the funding agency to compare all applicants' scores.
These rubrics are often publicly available, so be sure to ask the funding agency for a copy of this scoring rubric to ensure you address all of the required questions appropriately. A winning proposal earns more points and prevails over applicants that fail to properly address all of the questions, even if everything else in the other proposal is perfect. Be sure to respond to every question, so you do not fall short in one area, compromising your overall grade.