Key Actions by:

Standard 1: Effective planning for quality project design.

Establish a robust proposal development team and a realistic timeline that follows standard CRS guidance for project design and ensures partner collaboration and support in the design process.

Make partnering decisions based on partner capacity and performance, what each can contribute, the proposal guidelines, and the operational and competitive environment.

  • Why

    As highlighted in CRS’ ProPack I (pages 8-9), project partner selection can be a key factor in a project’s ultimate success. CRS project partners include a variety of organizations, from those with which CRS has established a long-term commitment and partnership, to organizations which enter into an implementing or functional partnership with CRS focused on the objectives of a specific project or program. In some project contexts, there may be many organizations with which CRS could partner. In such cases, partner capacity and past performance in light of the project requirements (including donor requirements) become critical factors in partner selection. In other operating environments or with other types of projects (including projects which CRS funds via discretionary resources), project partnerships may be very clear or there may be few potential partnership options to explore.

    Whatever the partnership context, successful project design and implementation depend on a clear understanding of what each organization can contribute, as well as organizational capacities and capacity gaps with respect to project requirements. Making partnering decisions based on CRS partnership principles and an understanding of partner capacity:

    • Enhances CRS’ ability to design and implement projects that truly meet the needs of the people CRS serves.
    • Enables CRS to create an effective project management structure that takes into account organizational capacities and limitations.
    • Demonstrates to any project donor CRS’ strong understanding of the operating environment, the issues, and the relevant actors for the project opportunity.
  • How

    Follow these steps to ensure appropriate partnering decisions that reflect CRS’ partnership principles:

    For competitive funding opportunities (click here to skip to guidance for CRS discretionary-funded projects)

    1. The proposal coordinator or capture planning manager solicits ideas about potential partners from the capture or proposal development team, SMT, and other program, operations, and donor engagement staff (see Questions to Guide Project Partnering Decisions).
    • See ProPack I, Table 2a for a useful checklist on partner collaboration and support in project design.

    Invest time outside of projects to understand the partnering landscape: As highlighted in ProPack I, regular efforts to understand the partnering landscape can result in better informed, more strategic and competitive partnerships that will translate into improved project management as well as positive impact for the people CRS and our partners serve.

    1. For potential new partners, SMT members and designated program and operations staff build relationships and a deeper understanding of the organization by conducting preliminary meetings to discuss both CRS’ and the potential partner’s organizational vision, values, programming and operations capacities, and to identify the strengths, weaknesses, and willingness and interest of each potential partner to engage in the anticipated project.
    1. For potential project partners with which CRS has an existing relationship, SMT and designated staff members discuss with the partner:
    • The anticipated project focus (technical, geographic, and target group), and CRS’ and partners’ respective strengths and weaknesses in designing a compelling and successful project given the anticipated focus.
    • Any likely challenges associated with the specific funding opportunity – e.g., complex donor compliance requirements; programmatic parameters which might limit certain approaches or targeting of certain populations, etc.
    1. For both existing and potential new partner organizations, the proposal coordinator (or capture planning manager) and key program, operations and finance staff review any assessment information currently available regarding partner capacities in organizational and technical areas directly relevant to the anticipated funding opportunity, and work with the organization’s leadership to determine the need for additional capacity assessment.
    • See ProPack I, Table 2a, “Discussing and reviewing partner capacity” section.
    1. If CRS and the potential project partner (existing or new) determine that a capacity assessment is needed or would otherwise be helpful, a multi-disciplinary CRS team of program and operations staff works with the organization to assess their financial, operations, and programmatic capacity.
    • The assessment may be comprehensive (need and time permitting), or may focus on filling specific information gaps to address the context and project requirements.
    • Telescope the assessment as needed given the proposal development timeframe. Focus on understanding the level of risk presented by capacity gaps. This will help CRS and partners develop appropriate project management and staffing plans, oversight arrangements and capacity strengthening plans to effectively manage any risks.
    • See Standard 6, key action 4 for guidance on the partner assessment process (the team may need to adjust this guidance given what will likely be the need to conduct a rapid capacity assessment).
    1. In the case of multiple partnership options, the proposal coordinator/capture planning manager:
    • Leads the capture or proposal development team in an analysis of the potential partnerships based on input from existing sources, preliminary partner meetings and partner assessments. Consider using weighted criteria to facilitate a transparent and objective analysis.
    • Works with other members of the capture or proposal development team to arrive at consensus on the best partnering arrangements.
    • Makes a recommendation to the proposal decision-maker (and CR, if the CR is not the proposal decision-maker), who reviews and approves partner selection.
    1. If potential partnerships are already clear or pre-determined based on donor or CRS requirements, the proposal coordinator/capture planning manager leads the team in reviewing capacity information for each partner, to factor this into the project design.
    2. The proposal coordinator/capture planning manager works with the proposal decision-maker and CR (if not the proposal decision-maker) to confirm and formalize partnering arrangements through Teaming Agreements or Pre-Teaming Agreements.
    • Follow CRS Teaming Agreement Guidance and ensure proper review of the agreement per CRS’ Agreements Policy & Procedure.
    • If partnering decisions are not yet final but CRS would like to have more detailed conversations with the prospective partner about the project, ensure that the prospective partner signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). 
    • Make sure partner leadership understands what an NDA or (Pre-) Teaming Agreement means. Review these documents in detail to ensure clear expectations. If necessary, provide a courtesy translation.
    • For non-traditional partnerships (private sector, universities, etc.), the proposal coordinator or capture planning manager ensures that the proposal development team follows internal CRS vetting protocols or procedures, before confirming the partnership and signing a (Pre-) Teaming Agreement. Contact IDEA (for corporate partnerships) or PIQA (for university partnerships) staff, and see “Other Resources” at right for additional guidance.

    For discretionary-funded (“1550”) projects

    Although discretionary-funded projects are usually smaller than externally-funded projects, they often offer more flexibility. Often, ideas for discretionary-funded projects relate to projects CRS is already implementing and evaluating with an existing partner. In this case, the potential partner is already known. In the case of new project ideas, or follow-on projects expanding to technical or geographic areas where CRS does not have obvious partners, follow these steps:

    1. The HoP or PM solicits ideas about potential partners from programming staff, the SMT and others. When assessing partnering options, the following questions may help in determining how to make the most of the greater flexibility of discretionary funds (including the flexibility to incorporate significant capacity strengthening):
    • Is there an organization with which CRS has been wanting to explore a project partnership and potentially a longer-term organizational partnership?
    • Is there an existing partner with which CRS has been interested in expanding collaboration to a new geographic area, target population, programming sector, or programming methodology?
    • Are there existing partners or other organizations CRS has been interested in working with who could significantly benefit from the opportunity to bring current capacity to the “next level” of effectiveness, sustainability, or competitiveness?
    1. The HoP and PM, with support from SMT members and other program and operations staff as needed, meet with potential project partners to discuss the possibility of collaboratively developing and implementing a new project.  
    • With potential new partners, be sure to explain CRS’ mission and approach while also giving space for the organization to share its mission, vision for the future, and current capacity.
    • With organizations with which CRS has an existing relationship, without raising expectations, solicit partner leadership and staff’s thoughts on how they might best contribute to and benefit from the possible project opportunity.
    • With both potential new and existing partners, review available information on organizational or programming capacities related to the anticipated project focus areas, and determine if additional partner capacity assessment is needed to inform design.
    1. The HoP, PM, and CR (with other SMT members as needed) discuss the partnering options and confirm final partner selection and any capacity assessment next steps (see Standard 6, key action 4 for guidance on conducting partner capacity assessments).
  • Partnership
    • This action focuses exclusively on partners; see the "how" steps above.
    • See also “When CRS is a sub-recipient” for additional considerations related to project partnership.
  • When CRS is a sub-recipient
    • As a sub-recipient, CRS must confirm with the prime if there are restrictions on entering into sub-recipient relationships with partners, as this creates a sub-sub arrangement for the prime.
    • The prime may seek CRS’ assistance in establishing a direct sub-recipient relationship with CRS’ partners or may ask CRS to consider alternative partnership arrangements – i.e. contracts for services. These options have significant management implications for CRS, and partnering decisions need to be considered carefully with the CR and discussed transparently with the potential partner (see Standard 3, key action 4 for more guidance on sub-awards versus contracts). 
    • If there are no restrictions on sub-recipients, follow the process above.
  • Emergency projects
    • If you are responding to an emergency where the Caritas Internationalis Protocol for CI Coordination in Emergency Response has been activated, ensure partner selection and communication around partner selection follows the guidance under the "Partnerships" section of the Protocol. If you are not registered on the CI Baobab site, please register here in order to access the protocol. If you have any questions, please contact CRS’ Humanitarian Response Department (emergencies@crs.org). 
    • In rapid‑onset emergency situations, partnering decisions may need to be made based on existing relationships with organizations or an organization’s access to affected populations, in the absence of time for wider review of potential project partnership options. 
    • In some emergencies, particularly rapid onset emergencies in areas not prone to disasters, some organizations with the best access to affected populations may need significant emergency response capacity support. In such cases, CRS should:
      • Consider partner accompaniment, secondment arrangements at various levels, or service agreement arrangements for project implementation;
      • Allow flexibility for adjusting partnership arrangements as the situation evolves; and
      • Build options for partner support/oversight into the design and budgeting of the project.
    • In emergency response contexts with extremely limited partnering options or partner capacity, CRS might determine that direct implementation is the best approach to provide life-saving assistance in the initial emergency phase.