Hi. I’m Ellen Wilson. I worked for two decades at RTI International in North Carolina, doing public health research and evaluation, after which I started my own consulting business, Insight Evaluation. I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) lately, as I work through what lessons from my previous experience carry over to my consulting life, and what my approach should be. Below are some thoughts.
Some questions to consider before investing your time in a proposal:
- When is it due, and how extensive are the application requirements? I.e., will it be feasible to pull together a proposal before it is due? If not, and it is an opportunity you would really like to pursue, you could always ask the funder if they might be willing to extend the deadline. Sometimes they say yes!
- Is the work something you are interested in doing? Considerations include how much you care about the topic, how much you enjoy the kind of work required, whether it provides an opportunity to learn something new, and how you feel about working with this client.
- When would the proposed project start and end? How does this fit with your availability?
- What are the specific qualifications the RFP is asking for? Do you have those qualifications, or can you assemble a team that does?
- How competitive might your proposal would be? How well-qualified are you for the job? Are there likely to be many applicants? Is there an incumbent?
Some general tips for writing a strong proposal:
- Follow the RFP’s instructions. Make sure you provide everything it asks for.
- Tailor your text. Don’t rely on boilerplate.
- Avoid fluff and hyperbole. Use plain language to make your case.
- Check a draft of your proposal against the RFP to make sure you addressed all key points. Better yet, have someone else review it as if they were scoring it.
What to include varies somewhat depending on the RFP, but in general, key topics to cover include:
- Background. Demonstrate your understanding of the subject matter, the program to be evaluated, and what the funder hopes to accomplish through the evaluation. Google the information if you need to. Citations aren’t a bad idea.
- Approach. Describe in detail how you will carry out each aspect of the project. This is where you can demonstrate that you know how to do this project. It is also helpful contractually to lay out in detail what you are offering for the budget.
- Timeline. Present a timeline showing when each activity will occur. This makes it concrete for the funder and will also help you to think through what is realistic.
- Your organization. Briefly describe your organization, and how this project fits into the kind of work you do.
- The team. Describe the people you are bidding on this project, the roles are you proposing them for, and their capabilities for those roles. Include brief blurbs on each person in the body of the proposal and CVs in an appendix. Both should be tailored to this specific opportunity to highlight relevant expertise for their roles on this project.
- The budget. Map out your budget in detail, even if you don’t present the details in the proposal. Think through each step of your approach, how many hours you expect it to take, and who will be doing it. Also consider other direct costs such as travel, incentives for study participants, or IRB fees.
What other tips would you suggest?
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