The Tool I Use to Launch Nearly Every Grant

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Yesterday, I introduced a new series on the tools I use to help me manage the grant writing process. If you haven't read it yet, I encourage you to read it first.

The first tool I want to share is a simple but powerful document I create for nearly every grant I write: the RFP Summary.

RFP stands for “Request for Proposals.” (They are also sometimes referred to as Requests for Applications, or RFAs.) Funders release a Request for Proposals to distribute the details of a grant opportunity. The RFP includes information about the deadline, submission process (electronic or snail mail), application format (page or word limits, required attachments, etc.), the information you need to provide about your organization and program, contact information, and more. Sometimes the RFP also includes a helpful scoring rubric.

Please note that many grantmakers don’t issue RFPs, because their grant requirements don’t change from one cycle to the next, because they have recurring deadlines, and/or because they expect applicants to keep up-to-date on the funders’ websites. Even when there is no actual RFP, I still create an RFP Summary. You'll soon see why.

At the end of this post is a sample RFP Summary for the Oregon Community Foundation’s Community Grants Program. I created the RFP Summary on behalf of a fictional school district that wants to make facilities improvements at several schools so they can be used for summer programming.

But before we get to the sample, let's talk a bit about the Why and the How of RFP Summaries.

The Why

An RFP Summary is a one- or two-page synopsis of a Request for Proposals. The RFP Summary is useful in many ways, for yourself and others.

It’s useful to the grant writer because it can encapsulate a sprawling RFP in the writer's mind.

It is useful to rest of the team, too, because it puts everyone on the same page, right from the beginning. This is critical. I’ve found that many stakeholders don’t read the full Request for Proposals, and so I bring copies of the RFP Summary to distribute in early meetings. In fact, I give an RFP Summary to a superintendent or executive director when we are deciding whether to pursue a particular grant in the first place. By giving a bird’s eye view of the application requirement, the RFP Summary is a great tool to help team members conceptualize the proposal, ask or answer initial questions, and survey the road ahead.

The How

As the writer, it’s your job to be the expert on the grant opportunity. That means you will need to read the full Request for Proposals, probably more than once. As you read, highlight the most critical information. Make notes. Ask questions in the margins and then go back later to see if all your questions were answered.

Then, to create the RFP Summary, compile into a separate document all the essential details you identified during your read-through. Though these will vary from one proposal to the next, your RFP Summary will probably include most of the following:

1. Deadlines

When is the grant due? Include both the date and, if available, the time.

2. Notification Date

Some RFPs give the date the grantmaker expects to notify applicants of its decision.

3. Awards

Depending on how much detail you are given, this might include a range of awards (i.e., $2,500 to $10,000), the average award size, or the maximum award.

4. Eligibility

Presumably your organization is eligible to apply for the grant — why else would you be discussing the grant? But occasionally there are nuances that should be spotlighted. In the example below, the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) will make an award to a school district, but projects in individual schools are “generally not eligible for funding.”

5. Mission & Purpose

Include a sentence or two that will help illuminate the funder’s overarching purposes. This could be a mission or vision statement, or a purpose statement for the grant. Since OCF’s goals were vague, I included in my RFP Summary the grant program’s “guiding principles."

6. Priorities

Which of the grantmaker’s funding priorities will your proposal address? The Oregon Community Foundation has identified four priorities for its Community Grant Program:

  • Health & Wellbeing of Vulnerable Populations

  • Educational Opportunities & Achievements

  • Arts & Cultural Organizations

  • Community Livability, Environment & Citizen Engagement

I describe the priority most relevant to the school district’s plans: Educational Opportunities & Achievements.

7. Other Options

Here are some other things you might consider including, when applicable:

  • Scoring Rubric: Some RFPs give a basic scoring rubric. Adding this to your RFP can help your team see, for example, that the funder is placing extra emphasis on sustainability…or evaluation, or organizational capacity, or whatever.

  • What They Fund/What They Don’t: Most funders have shortlists of things they will and won’t pay for. Include in your RFP Summary any of these that are relevant to your proposal.

  • High-Level Questions: Include some high-level questions — lifted straight from the RFP if possible — to jumpstart your conversations.

  • Trustees: If you are applying to a local grantmaker, consider looking up the names of the funder’s trustees in Foundation Directory Online, your state’s DataBook, or on the funder’s website. Include them in your RFP Summary on the off-chance that someone on your board or staff recognizes a name. They may be able to leverage the relationship on your behalf.

  • Page Numbers: For easy reference, use page numbers that point you back to the original location in the Request for Proposals. (I usually do this only with long RFPs.)

  • Observations and Recommendations: What are some things you noticed? Did you pick up on any recurring words and themes that haven’t been highlighted enough yet in the RFP Summary? What are you recommending to the team? What is your instinct telling you about this grant opportunity?

  • URL: Where can they find the full RFP online?

The What (Sample RFP Summary)

Here is an RFP Summary for the Oregon Community Foundation’s Community Grants Program. To create it, I imagined I had been asked to write a grant that would help pay for some modest capital improvements at four rural schools in the fictional Little Pudding School District (LPSD). These upgrades would allow the district to provide STEM summer programming for its students. You can also download a Word or PDF version of the RFP Summary using the links below.

OCF Community Grant Program
RFP SummaryApplication

Deadline: January 15, 2016
Notification Deadline: May 2016
Range of Award: $10,000 to $50,000
Average Award: $20,000
Eligibility: LPSD is eligible to apply. However, OCF says that projects in individual schools are “generally not eligible for funding.” About 850 applications are received each year; approximately 300 grants are awarded. Most awards go to small- and moderate-sized nonprofits.
Mission & Purpose: It’s worth quoting OCF’s Guiding Principles in full:

  • We believe that creative and sustainable solutions come from people who work in partnership to address common needs and aspirations.

  • We give high priority to investments that create positive, substantive change and attempt to resolve problems at their source.

  • We recognize and respect Oregon’s diverse regions and populations, and we seek to advance equity, diversity and inclusion through our programs.

Priorities: OCF has four top priorities. They are Health & Wellbeing of Vulnerable Populations (30 to 40 percent of awards); Educational Opportunities & Achievement (30 to 40 percent of awards); Arts & Cultural Organizations (15 to 25 percent of awards); and Community Livability, Environment & Citizen Engagement (10 to 20 percent of awards). The most relevant priority is Educational Opportunities & Achievement, which has the following objectives:

  • Promote social, emotional and cognitive development of young children, including programs that support and educate parents and efforts that engage volunteers

  • Expand academic support, mentoring and recreational programs for children and youth, particularly to close the achievement gap

  • Broaden workplace, career and postsecondary experiences and opportunities for youth

  • Improve adult literacy, skill development, education and workforce training

Capital Projects: OCF does support capital projects. But we have to demonstrate how the capital support will improve the quality of life for the larger community. There are other considerations for capital requests here (PDF).
Observations: Not surprisingly, given the name of the grant program, the focus of this grant is on the “community.” OCF wants to award grants that will have a broad community impact. They want to fund projects that address “a significant community need” (p. 1). They want to support organizations that can demonstrate community support, through local contributions and volunteer engagement (p. 3). When evaluating our budget, they will look for signs of “broad-based support, including funds from the local community” (p. 4). In other words, we will need to make the case that there is strong local enthusiasm for our efforts.
Initial Questions: The following high-level questions are inspired by OCF’s application guidelines:

  • Who will directly and indirectly benefit from our project? What is their ethnicity, income, education, age, gender? Are there any other defining characteristics we should describe?

  • What is our relevant track record serving this community? What are two or three facts or accomplishments that best define us?

  • What critical community need will our project address?

  • What is our plan for addressing this need? What is our goal? Be as specific as possible!

  • What are the specific activities that will be supported by this grant? How long will those activities take?

  • Who are our collaborators in this project?

  • Who will be ultimately responsible for the project? Will we have a program or project leader? If so, what will their role be? What are their qualifications? How do our leaders reflect the population or community that we serve?

  • What is our evaluation plan? What are some of the measurable objectives we have identified for our project? How will we measure success?

  • How does our project fit the objectives of the OCF Community Grant Program?

URL: http://www.oregoncf.org/grants-scholarships/grants/community-grants

Sample RFP Summary (Download)

To download this RFP Summary as either a PDF or Word document, right-click either of the links below: