Develop a Request for Proposals

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Based on the purpose, the targeted groups, the number of awards, the amount per award, and the length of the grant period, you are ready to begin to develop your Request for Proposals. To start, determine what information about and from the applicant you need in order to make effective subaward decisions. In most cases, you will want to request information about the organization itself, its proposed project, the budget of the organization and the requested budget for the project; and any compliance requirements concerning the subaward. Keep in mind that you are seeking proposals to help you choose the organizations that can best make use of your awards. Therefore, carefully decide which information from applicants will help you make effective and informed decisions.

Provide information about your program.

Start your RFP with a page or two of pertinent information about your subaward program.

  • Include an overview of the grant, and the purpose of the subawards.
  • Provide a timeframe for the subaward grant process with deadlines.
  • Clearly list eligibility and funding criteria.
  • Describe the size of grants.
  • Describe the purpose of the grants.
  • Provide a brief description of their responsibilities for completing and submitting reports.
  • Describe restrictions on the use of subaward funds (this will be discussed further in this section).
  • Identify any workshops, technical assistance, or support available to applicants.
  • Provide contact information for your organization.
  • Let applicants know when you’ll make decisions, how you’ll make decisions, and how you’ll notify them about the results.

Request contact information.

Ask for a) the name of the organization’s leader; b) physical and mailing addresses for the organization; c) the leader’s phone number; d) and the leader’s e-mail address.

Request qualifying information.

Qualifying information will tell you whether an organization is eligible for your subaward program. To decide what to ask, return to your eligibility criteria and formulate questions about them. Use the following table as a guide.

If it is important that organizations have nonprofit status, you might request a copy of the letter from the IRS with a determination of that status.

Request information about the proposed project.

You will need a description of the proposed project – the project that your funds will support. This project information should include:

  • The project’s purpose
  • The problem to be addressed, or the goal to be achieved
  • The outcomes they expect to result from the project, or what will change and how
  • Activities that will help the organization reach those outcomes
  • A timeline of when major activities will take place
  • How the applicant will measure success or achievement of outcomes

You might ask applicants to include their reports to you in the timeline.

Ask the organization to provide a budget for the proposed project. To maintain consistency across proposals, you might create a budget form for them to complete. The budget should list key costs, their importance to the project, and the amount of money allocated to each cost. The proposed budget should not exceed the amount of your largest grant.

Applicants can itemize their proposed project budget.

Download the sample proposed budget form to include in your RFP process.

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Include information about restrictions and requirements.

Based upon your funding source and the purpose of your program, you may have to impose restrictions on the use of your grants. For example, the Federal government has guidelines prohibiting the use of Federal funds for religious purposes. There are also restrictions against using Federal funds for direct fundraising.

You might have other requirements of your subawardees. For example, you may require them to attend monthly training sessions. Perhaps they must participate in your organization’s evaluation of your project by participating in focus groups or completing a survey. Be sure to list these restrictions and requirements in the RFP. Give as much detail as possible, and where you can, estimate the time required to complete the required activity.

For example, New Roots Providence, an HHS-funded intermediary program in Providence, Rhode Island lets applicants know that they can expect to undergo an organizational assessment requiring 10 to 20 hours of agency time. Further, New Roots warns applicants that these mandatory assessments are likely to take place in summer – a busy time for many nonprofits – so that they will plan accordingly.

You will certainly require regular reports from subawardees so that you can monitor progress toward outcomes, as well as the management of their subaward funds. Therefore, you might let applicants know how frequently they will be required to report if selected for a subaward, and give them some idea of the information you will collect.

A written list of restrictions and requirements could be a part of your RFP, with the instruction that the organizational leader sign the document as a condition of applying for the grant. This serves two purposes: 1) it informs the organization of the restrictions and requirements, and 2) a signature helps ensure future compliance from organizations receiving awards.

Consider requesting letters of intent.

If you would like to gauge how many proposals you are likely to receive so that you can better prepare, you may want to request letters of intent or calls of interest from potential applicants as a part of the RFP process.  Letters of intent or calls of interest help you determine the level of applicant interest so that you may plan the number of staff/volunteers needed for the selection process, or determine if you need to engage in further solicitation to boost the number of proposals coming in. They also may help screen out applicants that do not meet your eligibility requirements.   These letters or calls of intent should be submitted before you receive any proposals.

To require a letter or call, be sure to put information in your RFP packet or in your announcements asking that potential applicants contact you by email, mail, or phone by a date prior to your proposal deadline.

In fact,  you might consider several steps in your application process (a letter of intent, to which only selected organizations may apply; then only selected/screened organizations may move on to the second round). Just be sure to check with your Federal Program Office or other funding source to ensure that your multi-step application process is in compliance with program requirements.

Other considerations.

In designing your RFP packet, be sure to put it in a format that is user-friendly and accessible for your specified audience. You might target the writing to an eighth-grade reading level; many word processing programs will give you a sense of the reading level of your document. If you are targeting organizations created by and for people who speak a language other than English, you may want to translate the packet contents into the appropriate language. Just be sure to decide whether or not you can manage proposals written in those languages, and state that in the RFP.

Finally, provide guidance for completing the proposal. Include clear directions and specify any requirements, such as length of proposal (number of pages to be submitted), deadline for submitting the proposal, need for supporting materials or information to be included with proposal, and the address to which you want the proposal sent.