4 tips for developing a USAID proposal

21 February 2019
Author: Mike Shanley

Securing funds from USAID, the US government’s development agency, can be resource intensive and highly competitive. At Konektid, we want to make it easier for NGOs to access and manage USAID funding. We want NGOs to spend less time on USAID business development, administrative, and management tasks, and more time delivering life-changing work globally.

We regularly work with organisations outside of Washington, D.C. to help them assess and enter the USAID funding market. To make this easier, we recently released a white paper on USAID proposal development best practices. Drawing on decades of expertise and experience in securing USAID funding, the paper shares the best practices we have learned, developed, and honed.  

Begin before the call for proposals is released (capture phase)

It is important to start your proposal development process well before the call for proposals is announced. This is especially important for partnering and recruitment activities. 

Your potential competitors and partners will likely begin building their consortium and team months before a call or solicitation (as USAID calls it) goes live - sometimes up to a year in advance. It is very important to be having partnering conversations at this time. 

Also, if you plan on including consultants who are not part of your full-time staff, you can begin recruiting those consultants during this phase too.  

Create a proposal development calendar

Have your proposal manager or coordinator develop the proposal calendar the day the solicitation is released. It is always best to “work backwards” from the submission date. Identify the day you want to submit, then build the calendar from there, noting key deadlines, reviews, and check-ins. 

This is also the time to establish clear expectations with team members, including how problems or potential delays should be handled and communicated to the proposal manager and proposal lead. It is important that all team members understand their deadlines, from the recruiter, section writers, and editor, to the lead technical writer and cost proposal preparer. Whenever possible, engage your editor in developing the calendar, especially if the turn-around time for submission is tight.

Identify your proposal development team before the solicitation goes live

Before you begin thinking about your proposal, you must identify experienced in-house staff and/or external consultants who have experience developing USAID prime proposals to lead your proposal development team. Otherwise, you will spending valuable time scrambling to build your proposal development team after the call for proposals is released. 

Some of these key roles include proposal lead, proposal manager, recruiter, and cost preparer. The proposal lead is usually responsible for making the final decisions about the technical approach, staffing, and partnering under the senior management team. The proposal manager is the operational lead to ensure a compliant, timely, and (we hope) winning proposal delivery. 

In smaller organisations, one person may have to assume several of these roles. When this is the case, it is important to establish and clearly communicate roles as soon as the solicitation is live. 

Clearly define your partners’ roles

Have in-depth conversations with all partners about their anticipated roles in the project. A best practice is to engage with potential partners to understand what they believe will be the key elements of project (and proposal) success, and what role they can play in that process. It is best to focus on what partners have actually done/achieved, not just what they say they could do. To this end, it is vital that partners can demonstrate their achievements with past performance documentation.

If you want to learn more about partnering with USAID or discuss how Konektid can optimize your proposal development team’s surge support needs, please email us at [email protected].

The Bond Conference features several sessions on the latest trends in funding, alternative financing and diversifying income from donors and government. Book your place now for 18-19 March.

About the author

Mike Shanley
Konektid

Mike Shanley is the founder and CEO of Konektid International, a consulting firm that advises clients on partnering with USAID.