Preparation and organization are key to expeditious fund applications
Many nonprofits are unable to turn around a grant application quickly. With a little thought, preparation and organization, any nonprofit can crank out a response and submit a request easily.
Funders can be finicky about the format they prefer for proposals. It’s critical to meet every requirement exactly. Some provide specific forms to insert what might be extensive answers. Others will accept the candidate’s own document, but may still detail the length and other specifications.
Deadlines may be short as opportunities arise; sometimes the cutoff date creeps up. A lot of applicants hate the process and find it grueling. No fear. Help is near.
Here’s how to make the RFP response process easier by taking a little time to craft and organize all the elements of successful proposals. Collect and organize all the materials based on the following sections of a fund request into a library of folders on and offline.
As you get new items, such as letters of praise, new patents, the latest financial statements or links to videos or press that support these requests, you and your team will know exactly where to put them for the next proposal. Then use this collection to prepare a complete proposal to keep at the ready for those opportunities when there are no specifications in length or format.
In general, these are the parts of a professional submission:
- Cover letter
- Executive summary or extract
- Introduction with background and performance
- Needs addressed to which target audience(s)
- Program description
- Execution and evaluation
- Make a good first impression with your cover letter. Keep it to one page, explain the amount required, convey your understanding of the funder and how you can fulfill their needs. Sock a good sample away.
- Bear in mind that some funders won’t read past the summary, so it must be compelling. The executive summary, or abstract, needs to completely persuade readers in one paragraph between 200-300 words, up to 4-5 paragraphs and no more than 10% of the entire RFP. Spell out the amount sought and for what. Convince readers of the market need for your services, why you are the best choice, demonstrate past performance and measurability and make sure to connect to the funder and their statements in the RFP.
- Briefly introduce your organization, provide background including history, with a focus on benefits the funder will receive by working with you. Address your central pain point behind the search for funding.
- State the needs and niche that the organization serves and how its products and services effect successful results. Include strengths and weaknesses of the organization along with innovation and differentiation from competition.
- Describe the program, goals and objectives. Show how the program addresses the target. Include references to funders that show alignment with their focus.
- All funders want to see results for their money. Show how you measure, track and report success. Detail how you would execute and achieve the desired outcome. Share your sales and marketing plans. Then document milestones on a time line.
- Discuss your operations in terms of production, logistics, inventory and supplier management. Delve into quality and customer service practices. Describe processes, including your use of technology.
- Talk about the competition and compare approaches to your target niche. Explain how your services are different.
- Cover the previous successes of your management and partnerships. Remind the reader why you are the best people for the project.
- Prepare a solid, persuasive conclusion, stating the desire, specific experience making this opportunity a perfect fit and next steps.
- Include budgets, financial statements, IRS confirmation of nonprofit status, testimonials from clients and partners, URLs of videos, press pieces, etc.
Prepare both long and short versions of your proposal. Intersperse funder logo, images, phrases throughout to show you “get” them. Highlight areas that would be customized for each version so you don’t forget any of them. Also, remember that there is always a possibility your response will be shared with the competition, so refrain from disclosing any “secret sauce” that might help a competitor or the recipient do it in-house. You may share an NDA and confidentiality agreement, but there is no reason to give anyone ideas unnecessarily.
These same principles apply to a business response to a proposal or a paper, obviously with appropriate adjustments. Those who respond to RFPs often or create business plans, would also benefit from solid pre-planning and the ongoing maintenance of a communal repository for documents needed in most responses.
Did you know that nonprofits could use Salesforce, one of the most popular business CRM software programs, for free? They limit the number of users to ten before any charges. This could be a good place to store and share RFP components as well.