A primary goal of USAID's New Partnerships Initiative (NPI) is to capitalize on good ideas, and the NPI team is working to make it easier for partners to present them to the Agency and apply for funding. In order to streamline the process, under NPI awards, applicants submit a three- to five-page “concept note” detailing the scope of the proposed concept and responding to questions in the solicitation. USAID uses these responses and the evaluation criteria outlined in solicitations in the selection process.
Lowering barriers to entry puts the burden on applicants to develop effective responses. Here are three keys that apply to a two-page concept note, a 50-page proposal, and everything in between:
- Read the entire solicitation carefully. Solicitations—for a grant, a cooperative agreement, or a contract opportunity—give you not only the requirements but also the language and rhetoric you need to use in your response. Doing so will facilitate the evaluation process.
“I feel bad that we tell partners that they have to speak our language, but that’s what it is. It’s a bias and behavior that we have internally,” said Arjun Tasker, NPI Portfolio Manager.
“We are still working to make solicitations clearer and embed more links into solicitations to point potential partners to information that helps them learn what we are trying to achieve. It’s a work in progress.” Tasker advises to “sell the technical experts on what they will get out of working with you.”
- Do the research and respond to the entire solicitation. “Please follow the directions,” Tasker said. “I cannot tell you how many concepts I’ve read that had a great idea but were missing a key component or requirement. If you don’t respond to everything the solicitation asks for, the technical review people won’t even get to read it. Your great idea will be out the window because we never even saw it.”
Organizations that are new to USAID should take the time to understand Agency compliance requirements and guidance on such issues as gender, environment, and fraud prevention. USAID country development strategies, policies, regulatory chapters, and internal regulations are all publicly available, Tasker said. “Research technical information, but also why we are doing the work at USAID. All that needs to go into your response—but be kept short and sweet, of course.”
There are several places to learn about USAID solicitations. Start here.
- Talk about partnerships. Responses often omit positive factors, such as past performance and especially the organization’s approaches to learning and partnerships. NPI considers partnership an essential factor in deciding on awards—specifically because the team wants to support sub-partners and ensure that prime partners are treating their subs well and maintaining mutual transparency and accountability.
Here’s the big picture: USAID wants to know what it will learn from doing this work with you that will improve future work: How do you interact with other organizations? What is your partnership philosophy, and do you hold yourself to that?
If organizations take the time to follow these simple guidelines, their chances for success will improve.
Remember that USAID solicitations come in different forms—a request for proposal (RFP), a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), an Annual Program Statement (APS), and a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). Find all USAID solicitations at:
- USAID’s Business Forecast (for all USAID opportunities);
- SAM.gov (for contracts and consultant opportunities); and
- Grants.gov (for grants and cooperative agreements).