Standard 5: Early engagement with donor to inform design.
Engage donor prior to and (as possible) during project design and proposal development to encourage a manageable and realistic project scope, budget and timeline in line with donor priorities.
Take advantage of opportunities to influence, clarify, and provide feedback on the donor’s priorities for a specific funding opportunity.
Engaging a donor to understand the donor’s priorities for a specific funding opportunity, both before and after formal release of the funding opportunity, helps CRS to:
- Share CRS’ knowledge of on-the-ground realities.
- Highlight capacities relevant to the funding opportunity.
- Deepen our understanding of what the donor seeks to achieve.
- Make a more informed "go/no-go" decisionA “go/no-go decision” is the decision whether to pursue a specific funding opportunity. Go/no-go decisions may be made at multiple points; a preliminary go/no-go decision may be made based on a draft solicitation or intelligence such as information in a forecast of upcoming funding opportunities. The go/no-go decision is often revisited after the formal release of a solicitation. and avoid a situation where CRS designs an unrealistic project with inherent project management challenges.
- Primary responsible: Pre-solicitationA solicitation 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 (assistance or acquisition), but all of the following would fall under the umbrella of “solicitation”: Request for Applications (RFA); Request for Proposals (RFP); Grant Application Request; and Annual Program Statements (APS).
: Country representative (CR) or delegate (often country program business development staff, if the position exists); Live solicitation: Proposal coordinator
- The CR or delegate leads the process of analyzing and potentially responding to any pre-solicitation donor request for feedback or information.
- For a live funding opportunity, the proposal coordinator leads the process of preparing CRS’ feedback or questions.
- Others involved: Head of programming (HoP); IDEA staff; proposal development team members; regional and country program business development (BD) staff; project managers/chiefs of party (PM/CoP); country program, regional and/or HQ technical advisors, as applicable; partner leadership and partner proposal development team members.
- The HoP; IDEA staff; regional and country program BD staff;
- PM/CoP; HQ, country program, and regional technical advisors;
- Proposal development team members (for live solicitations) and partners provide inputs and review CRS’ feedback and/or questions to the donor;
- For centrally managed donor relationships, IDEA staff lead the communication with the donor.
- Throughout the process of preparing for a specific funding opportunity, including after any donor request for information or feedback before the release of a formal funding opportunity
- During proposal development (as permitted)
Note: There are many ways to engage donors as they develop funding ideas. This key action focuses on donor engagement around known funding opportunities, and particularly, optimizing CRS’ response to formal requests from donors to provide feedback or ask questions about planned or live funding opportunities. For guidance on other activities to influence donors, see Standard 5, key action 1 (focused on engaging donors prior to their identification of a specific funding idea), and Standard 10, key action 4 (focused on using existing projects as a platform for donor engagement).
Follow these steps to ensure that CRS optimizes opportunities to influence, clarify, and provide feedback on the donor’s priorities for a specific funding opportunity (click here to see guidance for live opportunities):
Before the donor issues a formal call for proposals (“pre-solicitation”)
This guidance applies to intelligence (intel) gathered from:
- Donor funding forecasts (e.g., USAID Mission forecasts), donor country strategies, general donor intel, site visits, etc.
- Official public requests such as Requests for Information (RFIs) and draft Requests for Application (RFAs), draft Requests for Proposals (RFPs), or equivalent information exchange requests from non-U.S. government (USG) institutional donors.
- Specific requests from private institutional donors for feedback on potential funding ideas.
- If CRS becomes aware of a likely funding opportunity of interest, for example from something noted in a funding forecast or obtained through intel gathering efforts, the CR or delegate:
- Works with country program staff to gather information to assess whether it is a new funding opportunity or continuation of a current program. If the latter, consider the performance and reputation of those implementing the original program.
- Works with the HoP to determine whether the opportunity is a good fit for CRS.
- If country program analysis leads to an initial “go” decision at this stage, the CR identifies a capture planning manager (see Standard 5, key action 2 for guidance on capture planning).
- If CRS receives notification of an official donor request for information/feedback, or learns of an opportunity to provide such feedback, the person who receives the notification or identifies the opportunity—generally a country program or regional BD staff, or IDEA staff—reviews the donor’s request and shares the information. Typical distribution lists for such requests include:
- Any country program BD staff, CR, and HoP, plus regional BD staff.
- IDEA staff (e.g., business development specialists; USG/non-USG public donor/foundation and corporate engagement leads).
- Technical experts (e.g., regional technical advisors, HQ senior technical advisors).
- The country program team determines who needs to participate in analyzing the donor request for information/feedback and preparing the response; and who will coordinate the process. Strong collaboration between technical programming and BD staff is essential.
- For funding opportunities that CRS has been tracking, the capture planningCapture planning is the process of identifying particular funding opportunities, assessing the environment, and implementing strategies for increasing the chances of winning a specific opportunity. Capture planning occurs before release of a funding opportunity. manager or proposal coordinator (see Standard 1, key action 1), if identified, coordinates the process.
- For new or unexpected opportunities, the country program identifies the most appropriate individual to coordinate the response. This is typically a country program BD staff, the HoP, or potentially the CR.
- Telescope the process as needed for multi-country opportunities, and actively engage regional staff (for global opportunities, HQ coordinates the process).
Responding to direct requests from private institutional donors for inputs and feedback: CRS always prepares feedback in response to direct invitations for pre-solicitation information or feedback from private institutional donors, even if CRS does not view the opportunity as a potential fit with our capacities and priorities.
- For public donor RFIs, draft RFAs, or the equivalent, and for widely-disseminated requests for information from private institutional donors, the team identified in step 3 uses CRS’ FAQs document on donor Requests for Information (adapt as needed for other donors) and meets to:
- Review the documents shared by the donor.
- Decide whether CRS will submit a formal response.
- Develop a timeline and process for drafting the formal CRS response (if applicable). This includes soliciting inputs from strategic partners or key stakeholders, as appropriate and feasible.
If the team determines that it is not in CRS’ best interest to respond, the process ends here.
Communication is positioning: Every contact with a donor, including prior to proposal submission, is an opportunity for CRS to demonstrate its expertise and capacity, and build a relationship with a donor. If there is not sufficient time to prepare a thoughtful, strategic, professional response to an RFI or equivalent, it may be better not to respond.
- The response coordinator follows up with the team to compile inputs, ensure appropriate review, and finalize CRS’ formal response (see example RFI response and draft RFA questions example under “Other Resources”).
- Ensure the response is complete; adheres to any donor format; and highlights CRS’ knowledge, experience, and capacity.
- If what is known about the potential funding opportunity seems to indicate an unrealistic project scope, budget and/or timeline, be sure to seek clarification from and provide constructive feedback to the donor.
- Determine if further communication with the donor is advisable, particularly with private institutional donors. Informal follow up calls or emails can be helpful; document them.
Know your audience: Prepare your written response with your audience in mind. Seek guidance as needed from regional BD staff and IDEA (see also Other Resources for donor information).
- After submitting CRS’ response to the donor’s request for feedback, the coordinator or IDEA staff saves the response submission to the Gateway opportunity record, along with any further correspondence with the donor regarding CRS’ feedback.
- If the information about the possible funding opportunity indicates a potentially good fit for CRS, CRS may decide to initiate a capture planning process. If capture planning for the opportunity was already initiated, the team adjusts the capture plan to reflect new insights based on the donor’s information request.
This guidance applies to responses to:
- Formal, public opportunities to ask questions about, or provide feedback on, a solicitation.
- Informal, private opportunities to ask questions about, or provide feedback on, a funding opportunity.
Respect differences in donors’ approaches to engagement: Some donors, particularly public donors, follow strict communication protocols regarding solicitations. Others are less formal and have fewer restrictions. For example, with a private institutional donor with whom CRS has a close relationship, CRS may be given the chance to share drafts and/or seek clarifications throughout the process, and may even develop the proposal together with donor staff.
- The proposal coordinator circulates the solicitation, highlighting any deadline for submission of questions to the donor, and convenes the proposal development team, including the technical, budget, and MEAL leads, to review the solicitation and identify any questions.
- Regional BD and IDEA staff may also review the solicitation.
- Many donors have tight deadlines for question submission; be prepared to move quickly but professionally.
- If solicitation review reveals significant concerns about CRS’ ability to design a quality project and responsive proposal, the proposal development team may reconsider its preliminary “go” decision, and/or wait for a donor responseThe donor Q&A response may not be released until the proposal development process is well underway. While waiting for the donor’s response, use your best judgment and adjust as needed once the Q&A response is available. to CRS’ concerns to make a final “go/no-go” decision.
- The proposal coordinator compiles the questions and comments shared by the proposal development team and other reviewers, following any donor guidance or format (see example questions).
- The proposal decision-maker (typically the CR) and any other reviewer (e.g., IDEA staff) review the final draft questions and comments. They work with the coordinator to revise as needed, submit to the donor, and share with the appropriate CRS colleagues including the proposal transition managerThe proposal transition manager is the individual responsible for ensuring that proposal documents, supporting documentation, and relevant background information are captured, compiled, and handed over to the project start-up/implementation team. .
- The proposal transition manager includes the document in the proposal handover file and uploads it to the Gateway opportunity record.
Public sessions: Some donors organize in-person public sessions such as bidders’ or pre-award conferences. Prepare questions for these conferences; identify appropriate CRS representative(s); and listen carefully to presentations, questions, and donor responses.
- Once the donor issues responses to the Q&AAs noted above, the actual Q&A response from the donor may not be released until the proposal development process is well underway (e.g. midway or later in the process). , the proposal coordinator shares them with the team for review.
- If the donor is open to receiving questions or feedback through less formal processes, the CR or IDEA staff contacts the donor to set up a meeting or call. Keep in mind that:
- Informal meetings may be substantive, even to the point of shaping the solicitation itself; use them strategically and prepare for them carefully.
- Informal discussions must also be documented, shared with the full proposal development team, and saved in the proposal handover file.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- For feedback before release of a funding opportunity (pre-solicitation): If CRS and certain partners have agreed to work together on an expected funding opportunity, review the draft solicitation or other initial description of the funding opportunity with these partners and other relevant stakeholders, such as key government officials. Make every effort to incorporate their questions into CRS’ follow-up with the donor.
- For live funding opportunities where the donor invites questions: Make every effort to review the call for proposals with confirmed partners before submitting questions.
- As applicable, translate key parts of the call for proposals or pre-funding opportunity request for feedback for partners, if helpful.
- The CRS proposal coordinator leads CRS review of any draft or live funding opportunities documents and shares with the prime any questions or concerns. Respect any procedures and deadlines set by the prime.
- It is particularly important that CRS carefully review and identify any questions related to aspects of the solicitation that concern CRS’ anticipated role in the project.
- Engaging with the donor(s) during the call for proposal phase is particularly important for emergency projects, especially complex emergencies where donors may not have access to the affected areas. Use these opportunities to share information with the donor(s) about the field reality.
Tools and templates
Example draft RFA question submission (USAID Food for Peace draft RFA for Development Food Assistance Projects)
Example RFA question submission (USAID Feed the Future Senegal RFA)
Example RFI and response (USAID Citizens for Healthy Communities Project RFI and CRS Guatemala response)
Technical Application Guidance (TAG) section on reading an RFA and appendix 1 on Question and Answer Amendment Example
U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) Donor Profile and other resources
- Primary responsible: Pre-solicitationA solicitation 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 (assistance or acquisition), but all of the following would fall under the umbrella of “solicitation”: Request for Applications (RFA); Request for Proposals (RFP); Grant Application Request; and Annual Program Statements (APS). : Country representative (CR) or delegate (often country program business development staff, if the position exists); Live solicitation: Proposal coordinator