Selecting Subawardees

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Congratulations! You have designed your program, created an RFP, and solicited proposals. Now it’s time for the real fun: choosing your subawardees. The following chapter will teach you to design your review process, recruit and train grant reviewers, conduct a thorough review process, and notify applicants of your decisions. The prospect of choosing from many deserving applicants may seem daunting, but don’t worry. With good planning and preparation you can transform this challenge into an exciting and rewarding experience for you and your reviewers.

Design your review process.

To make your review process work as smoothly as possible, you should develop standard and impartial review procedures for all proposals.

1. Develop review criteria and a review form.  Refer to your RFP and the points that you assigned to each section. Then create a rating form to guide reviewers. The form should be broken down by proposal section. Each section should list the highest possible points that can be assigned and some criteria for evaluating and assigning points. Include some space for reviewers to make written comments.

2. Develop a procedure for pre-screening proposals. Remember, reviewers are usually volunteers, and you may want your reviewers to participate in future years of your program.  Keep them on your side by screening proposals before they reach reviewers, and eliminating any that are incomplete or are from ineligible organizations.

Log each proposal into a spreadsheet or database. You should include contact information and the size of the request. Having an accurate database will help you greatly in the post-decision period.

3. Design your “decision day.” Consider using a neutral facilitator on this day, and carefully craft an agenda to guide you in making sound decisions.

Implement a formal review process to help you select your subawardees.

Download this sample rating form to help you select your subawardees.

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Recruit and train reviewers.

1. Decide who will review proposals. Organizations often start to look for reviewers among staff members within their organization.  However, you may want (and need) to consider inviting your organization's or your project partners' board members, volunteers, even funders and clients to sit on the review committee. You could also expand your recruitment to include community leaders, social service personnel, and/or faith and religious leaders.   Some funders have rules about who makes decisions; be sure to check with your funding source before finalizing your reviewer team.

Estimate the number of reviewers you will need by the amount of letters of intent or calls of interest made by potential applicants. Ideally, reviewers should be familiar with faith and community-based organizations as well as the overall purpose of your project.  However, the project purpose could be explained to those that are unfamiliar in the orientation session, which is the next step in your process.

2. Train the reviewers. To maintain consistency and standards throughout the review process, be sure to provide an orientation or training to all reviewers.  It is best to offer that training to all reviewers at one time so that they may meet each other, learn from each others' questions, and discuss the process among themselves.   At a minimum, the training should consist of four areas:  1) background on your organization and the project; 2) information on the subaward program; 3) information on the review and selection process; and 4)   information concerning the announcements.  You may want to allow two hours or more for training. 

It is essential to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest between any of your reviewers and the organizations applying for the subawards. It would be improper for an employee, an officer, an "acting officer", and/or an immediate past president/chairperson of an applicant organization to be a reviewer on that proposal.  Therefore, include information on avoiding conflicts of interest in the training. 

Topics you might cover in an effective reviewer orientation are found in the following chart.

Prevent a conflict of interest by utilizing a Confidentiality and Conflict of Interest Form.

Download this helpful sample Confidentiality and Conflict of Interest Form to protect your subaward program from a breach in confidentiality.

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Conduct a thorough review process.

Once the reviewers have rated proposals, the process of making decisions begins. First, be sure that two or more reviewers have read and rated each proposal, so that more than one person’s opinion is brought to bear on decisions. There are many ways to handle this well. Each proposal may receive a score that is an average of the individual reviewers’ score. Or, reviewers may be asked to meet and discuss their mutual proposals, then assign one score for each.

Once you have a score for each proposal, it’s time to make final decisions.  A reasonable way to do this is through a decision meeting (or, if location is an issue, through a conference call). For best results, ask a neutral party to facilitate this meeting, and carefully prepare an agenda in advance.

At the decision meeting, reviewers will share their scores for each proposal, and then proposals are ranked in order from highest score to lowest. You may have many more top scorers than you have grants to award. If so, the group of reviewers might discuss proposals further in order to refine the list. Finally, review the slate of finalists to make sure that the list reflects your program’s goals.

Before closing the meeting, thank the reviewers for their time and, in the interest of confidentiality, collect their copies of the proposals and their rating sheets. The rating sheets and their comments will help you give useful feedback to any unsuccessful applicants.

Announce the decisions.

In the final step in the review and selection process, announce your decision to three critical groups: the subawardees, the unsuccessful applicants, and the community.

Notify successful applicants by telephone and by letter. In the letter you might state the size of their award and invite the subawardees to an orientation session. Your letter should convey warmth along with information, and should let applicants know you are looking forward to working with them as they complete their projects.

In your letter to unsuccessful applicants, invite them to contact you to discuss their proposals and ways to improve for next time. Some intermediary organizations have provided one-on-one technical assistance to non-selected applicants over the phone or in a scheduled meeting at the applicant's request. Working with the unsuccessful applicants takes diplomacy and tact.  It is important to be respectful of their efforts while providing useful feedback that may lead to future improvements. And always be sure to maintain their confidentiality in your communications; only the unsuccessful applicants and the reviewers should know why applicants were not selected.

Once all the applicants have been informed, let the community know about your decisions. Issue a press release to local media outlets, as well as to media contacts with publications and newsletters serving the nonprofit and faith communities.   Consider holding a press conference with representatives from all or some of the successful applicants.   (This is especially effective if your intermediary organization and the subawardees are concentrated in a particular community or area whose local media is eager and open for positive local stories.)  Publish the list of subawardees on your website, and send a copy of the list to your organization’s staff and board of directors. Email a final list to the reviewers and partners, too. It is important that everyone who helped on the process is well-informed about the result and can help spread the word about your program’s accomplishments.