Please don't be the client who is taken aback when the grant writer mentions the need to meet an eligibility requirement or a document need (Surprise! You must submit an independent audit report). Also, don't be the grant writer who misses the one-liner that will make or break your application. Don't find out there is a 50% match requirement the day before submission. Good luck telling your cash strapped client that. Both these scenarios most surely mean the two people who should have surely read the R.F.P or the Request for Proposals, didn't read it.
Clearly, you get the point by now. Whether you are writing the grant proposal or hiring someone else to write it, read the requirements IN FULL before hiring that grant writer or before getting started on that winning proposal. Yes, I mean you need to read all 163 pages of what seems like a word abyss. Read it for your own good. All of it.
Why? Isn't that what you hire a grant writer for? Well yes, a grant writer should be expected to read and understand the requirements of the grant application. However, it is expected that you provide the information (including paperwork and data) they will need to state the best possible case for your potential award. That means you need to have an understanding of how the grantor expects to receive that information (again, including paperwork and data). This should prompt you to look at your information and documents to see if they meet the grantor's requirements. Let's talk hypothetically. Do your job descriptions have language requirements? Are you banking on this grant to cover transportation for clients? Do your employee's resumes convey the required experience? Had you read the requirements, you may not have chosen this grant at all. The RFP states that program staff must be bilingual because they support communities or populations that speak a certain language. They will pay for transportation but only if you use rental vehicles which won't fit into your program plan because you wanted to reimburse volunteers with a stipend for transporting clients.
Every seasoned grant writer knows to read the entire RFP because they have probably, at some point early on, made the mistake of only reading the section that was supposed to outline all the requirements only to be in the middle of the project and find a requirement in the section that explains the formatting requirements (huh?). People who write RFP's are human too. Believe me, I have seen some doozies! They are not always articulate or descriptive. So, it is not unusual to see important things hidden in seemingly irrelevant sections of the document. I'll be sure to make a blog entry on that topic in the near future. It's long overdue.
Reading the requirements is important because you need to know what is required and what you may be getting yourself into. It is also important because believe it or not the RFP could actually become a legal document (say what!). Let me digress for a moment. An RFP or similar document may go by several names/titles. Here are some examples:
Request for Bids (RFB)
Request for Quotes (RFQ)
Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO)
Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA)
Request for Information (RFI)
Request for Applications (RFA)
Despite what it may be called, you will always be expected to follow the instructions and there is always a chance it can come back and bite someone--be it the grantor (them) or the grantee (you). First, the RFP is written to develop a level of understanding--to set an expectation for both parties. It is the foundation for the written agreement that follows notice of award (NOA/NOFA). That agreement will include a statement of work and that statement of work will be aligned with the requirements outlined in the RFP. Should the project or program fail, the RFP will often be revisited to determine where things may have gone wrong (and to figure out who to point the finger at). See the RFP as an extension of the written agreement between you and the grantor.
The moral of this story is the RFP is an important document. You need to fully understand the baseline requirements but you'll also need to read, analyze, and critically think through all of the components of the RFP and how the expectations in it may impact your program and people. Don't see it only as instructions. When you read the RFP you should be thinking about how each requirement (mandatory or not) can be weaved into your programs and processes, precisely as they are stated in the RFP. You may find that you can't actually carry out the activities as expected. You may also find that this process of fully digesting the document gives you more leverage (because you have thought things through) when it comes time to negotiate your contract. You can then have discussions about the [then] seemingly insignificant aspects of the RFP (those that weren't required) that may actually have an impact on the way you provide services.
One more time...read the RFP in full--pre-proposal. Here are a few tips to make that task a little easier.
Give yourself a day or two if you have it. Even if you feel you don't have the time, find the time. It'll be worth it
Schedule a time to read the RFP. Put it on your calendar
Sit in a comfy, quiet place. If that is away from your office, so be it
Get snacks and wine if you need to (check your office policy--don't get fired reading the RFP)
Have a group reading, assign sections to other staff and make time to discuss and cross-reference information in each section. This would also be a good time to discuss how the opportunity fits into your operations, culture and the characteristics of the population you serve
Need more tips or help understanding an RFP? First, reach out to the grantor's contact. They are often open to answering your questions. If that doesn't get you the answers you need, schedule a Pick My Brain session with us.