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.
Plan a participatory process: Working backward from the submission deadline, develop a realistic timeline for designing a quality project and writing a responsive proposal.
Project design that is rushed and/or does not include participation of appropriate stakeholders can lead to significant project management challenges. Developing a timeline for project design and proposal development helps to clarify and formalize the steps and the type of stakeholder participation required for quality project design, along with deadlines, roles, and responsibilities. For external funding opportunities, a proposal checklist helps ensure CRS produces a proposal that addresses all donor content and format requirements.
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator
- The proposal coordinator is responsible for drafting and updating the timeline and checklist, and sharing it with all stakeholders involved.
- Others involved: Proposal development team members (see Standard 1, key action 1); partners.
- The CRS proposal development team and partners provide input to develop the timeline and checklist and use these tools throughout the project design and proposal development process.
- For external funding opportunities, develop the timeline and proposal checklist as soon as possible and no more than 3 days after the “go” decision.
- For discretionary-funded projects, develop the timeline as a first step after deciding to develop a new project.
This key action is guided by the following ProPack I “standard of quality”:
- In all circumstances, CRS staff develop a project design timeline when planning project design.
Follow these steps to develop a realistic timeline for a participatory project design and proposal development process (click here for guidance for discretionary-funded projects):
For external funding opportunities (proposal checklist)
Get a jump-start on timelines and checklists during capture planning: For opportunities that CRS is tracking, particularly large, competitive opportunities, the proposal coordinator (if identified and available) and/or the capture planning manager (often a country program business development staff, or the head of programming (HoP)) should prepare a preliminary proposal development timeline and checklist. Drafts can be updated and specific dates added after solicitation release. Use past solicitations from the same donor for guidance, along with CRS proposal development timelines and checklists from past proposal processes with that donor, if available. Check Gateway and consult business development staff to identify the most appropriate starting point documents.
- All members of the proposal development team carefully review the proposal guidelines/donor call for proposals before developing the timeline or updating any preliminary timeline developed during capture planning. This helps to ensure that everyone understands the technical and cost application requirements.
- See ProPack I, pages 24 and 25 for items to give special attention to during review of the call for proposals.
- “Reading an RFA” in CRS’ Technical Application Guidance (TAG), pages 2-4, was developed for review of U.S. government requests for applications (RFAs), but is useful for any call for proposalsA call for proposals is a formal document issued by a funder to request applications, proposals, offers, or quotations. The exact term used will differ by donor and funding mechanism (e.g. grant or contract), but all of the following fall under the umbrella of “call for proposals”: Request for Applications (RFA), Request for Proposals (RFP), Grant Application Request, Annual Program Statement (APS). In some cases, the donor may also initially issue a call for Concept Notes (CN) or Expressions or Letters of Interest (EOI/LOI). .
- The proposal coordinator prepares an easy-to-use proposal development checklist by copying proposal submission requirements from the call for proposals into an Excel file.
- The checklist should include:
- All required proposal sections, appendices, and attachments (with references to the page in the call for proposals detailing the requirements for that section).
- The person responsible for preparing each section or attachment.
- Deadlines for completion of each requirement.
- A column to indicate the status of each section/attachment.
- See pREPARE! (CRS 2015f), Annex 3, for a sample proposal development checklist that can be adapted to specific donor requirements.
- Organize the checklist items in the same order as the donor presents its requirements, not by the chronological order in which each proposal component will be developed.
TIP: It’s often easiest to manage the checklist and the proposal development timeline (often called the “proposal production plan”) as separate sheets in a single Excel file. Create other sheets as needed to specify and track information required from partners; break out details of design process meetings and workshops; and capture other similar planning information.
For all proposals (proposal development timeline)
- The proposal coordinator leads the proposal development team in identifying all the steps required for project design, and proposal development, review, and finalization (per ProPack I guidance). For external funding opportunities, the team also details the additional steps required for timely proposal submission. The proposal coordinator captures the steps, along with the individuals leading and supporting completion of each step, and the schedule for completing each step, in a proposal development timeline.
- Use the Tips for Proposal Development Timelines to develop and review the draft timeline.
- Use the proposal development timeline in pREPARE! Annex 4/TAG Appendix 2 or ProPack I page 28The pREPARE/TAG timeline templates are the same; the ProPack I template includes one additional column, for specifying precise dates or notes. as a starting point for the timeline template.
- For external funding opportunities: Compare the proposal checklist (see step 2) with the proposal development timeline. Plan timelines so that information is available and decisions made in sufficient time for the proposal writer to incorporate that information into the relevant sections of the proposal, per checklist deadlines.
- For external funding opportunities: Check if your region’s business development staff can review the draft timeline. He/she will have good insights based on experience with other proposal processes, including potentially with the same donor.
Don’t rush timeline preparation! Resist the urge to jump immediately into project design activities, even when faced with an extremely short window between making a “go” decision and the donor submission deadline. With shorter timeframes, careful planning of project design and proposal development steps is even more important. Reviewing each project design activity and proposal component can help the team identify ways to expedite certain steps. When time is short, the proposal coordinator can also prepare a draft timeline, then refine with the full proposal development team.
- The proposal coordinator and proposal development team members, including partners, agree on “working norms” for accessing and updating the proposal development timeline, so that all are clear on where and how to access the timeline and checklist. This step is particularly important for external funding opportunities. Norms should include:
- A specific software/platform for maintaining the timeline and checklist (e.g., OneDrive, SharePoint, MS Teams, Dropbox, Google Docs), keeping in mind that some partners and external consultants may not have access to all options.
- An agreed file naming/archiving convention to manage version control.
- The proposal coordinator shares the final timeline (and checklist, if applicable) with all members of the proposal development team and any other staff involved in the proposal development process (e.g., regional reviewers, IDEA staff).
- For complex processes, highlight steps that require feedback from individuals who are not involved in the day-to-day process, and give them a deadline for responding. Include this information in a cover e-mail, and request that they confirm their ability to meet the specified deadline.
- The proposal coordinator uses the timeline and checklist to review progress during regular status check-in meetings; updates the documents as needed; and shares the updated versions with all stakeholders per the agreed norms (see step 4).
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Partner contributions to the proposal development timeline are essential for realistic and participatory design.
- Where possible, develop the proposal timeline—including identification of project design and proposal development steps, responsible parties, and timing/deadlines—with participation from all proposal development team members, including partners.
- For external funding opportunities: When reviewing the proposal development checklist, be sure to highlight needed inputs from partners (e.g., letters of support, past performance or capacity information), and deadlines for partners to send their inputs to CRS.
- Follow the same process when CRS is a sub-recipient. Keep in mind, however, that CRS will only be responsible for certain components of the proposal.
- The CRS proposal coordinator must work closely with the prime to identify all inputs required of CRS. Reach out early in the process, since development of CRS’ timeline and checklist will depend on this information.
- Make sure any project teaming agreement clearly spells out the required proposal deliverables from CRS (see CRS' Proposal Teaming Agreement Guidance and Proposal Development Teaming Agreement Boilerplate as a reference for what CRS typically requires of its subs).
- Submission timeframes for emergency proposals are often extremely tight, especially for rapid-onset emergencies. Telescope design and proposal development processes, and use days—rather than weeks—as the unit for timeline planning.
- Engage members of the Humanitarian Response Department (HRD) in key design steps and as technical reviewers.
Tools and templates
Proposal Checklist (from CRS' PREPARE! Regional Proposal Review Guidance)
Proposal Design Timeline Format (from CRS' ProPack I)
Proposal Development Timeline Example (from CRS' Technical Application Guidance)
Proposal Development Timeline Template (from CRS' PREPARE! Regional Proposal Review Guidance)
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator