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.
Ensure that the project activities schedule, staffing plan, and budget take into account the donor's decision-making processes and timelines, as well as compliance considerations.
Just as CRS has internal processes, rhythms, and requirements, so do donors. Donor processes, requirements, and preferences—e.g., proposal review procedures, and timelines for negotiating agreements, approving awards and/or approving requests or deliverables—can have a significant impact on the timing of project activities. This in turn affects when CRS should recruit project staff, plan for budget expenditures, and set programmatic targets, etc. Complying with donor requirements can also impact travel costs, CRS operations staffing needs, and other inputs. Identifying and factoring in donor timelines, compliance requirements, and preferences in proposal activities scheduling, staffing planning, and budgeting:
- Creates a more realistic and feasible budget and activity schedule.
- Helps CRS to staff the project appropriately to meet donor expectations and requirements.
- Adds to the credibility of CRS’ proposal by demonstrating our understanding of donor needs and requirements.
- Demonstrates to donors CRS’ thoughtful approach to project management and our commitment to accountability.
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator
- The proposal coordinator is responsible for ensuring that the proposal development team has information about, and understands, the donor’s processes, timelines, and requirements and incorporates these into project design and proposal documents.
- Others involved: Proposal development team (technical, human resource, and budget leads); field and headquarters (HQ) procurement and supply chain management staff; field and HQ risk and compliance staff; IDEA staff
- The proposal technical lead drafts the proposal activities schedule based on this information;
- The proposal budget and human resource leads ensure appropriate budget and staffing planning based on donor considerations;
- IDEA staff and field and HQ procurement, supply chain management, and risk and compliance staff provides any additional information on donor processes, timelines, and requirements.
- During 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. and project design
This key action complements Standard 2, key action 3 (on appropriate project scheduling), Standard 3, key action 2 (on budget and activities schedule and staffing plan alignment), and Standard 3, key action 4 (on partner sub-award arrangements).
Follow these steps to ensure development of a realistic project activities schedule, staffing plan, and budget informed by donor processes and requirements:
Gather information on donor processes, requirements, and preferences
- Early in the design process (ideally during capture planning), the proposal coordinator leads the proposal development team in gathering information about the donor’s processes, timelines, requirements, and preferences in key programming and operations areas.
- Include this information-gathering step in the proposal development timeline.
- The Donor Reality Check(list)The Donor Reality Check(list) includes a series of questions to help the proposal development team identify and analyze issues related to donor processes, timelines, requirements and preferences. Questions are included for the donor proposal review and award process, and for requirements, processes, and preferences in the following categories: financial management; audit; human resources; procurement; commodity and supply chain management; and programmatic. provides a list of information categories and questions and a format for summarizing information and analysis.
- Review donor background information and funding-opportunity-specific documents (e.g., USDA 101) to answer Check(list) questions.
- Consult widely with IDEA, procurement and supply chain management staff, risk and compliance staff, and others to obtain the most up-to-date donor information.
- Work with IDEA staff as needed to reach out to the donor to clarify requirements.
Analyze implications and plan accordingly
- The proposal development team analyzes how the donor’s processes, timelines, requirements, and preferences impact project activities scheduling, staffing, and budgeting.
- Do this as early as possible in the project design process.
- Consult with HQ and regional staff on appropriate strategies and actions to manage these implications (e.g., in an emergency response setting, request a pre-award letterA pre-award letter is a letter issued by the donor prior to the signature of the award. PALs are used in situations where the project must commence immediately and all programmatic and technical issues are resolved. Typically, a PAL will set forth the date from which an awardee will be reimbursed for program costs prior to the signature date of the award. For USG funding, the PAL is generally no more than 20 percent of the total program budget. Per 22 CFR 226.25(e) (1), PALs enable the recipient to incur allowable pre-award costs for up to 90 calendar days prior to award.
Per the CRS Agreements Policy and Procedure, a PAL issued by a donor or other organization (prime) requires the regional director’s (RD) written approval. The approval of the RD means that the CP/RO have provisioned discretionary funds to cover for any spending under the approved PAL, in case the agreement does not get signed. ; propose an activity start date that aligns with the school year or agricultural calendar as applicable, and craft an appropriate justification).
- For donors with particularly complex funding or compliance requirements, identify a compliance-focused reviewer to review all drafts (see Standard 2, key action 5 on proposal review).
- For projects with complex compliance requirements, the proposal development team, including the decision-maker, consider including a grants manager or risk and compliance position in the project staffing plan (see Standard 4, key action 1 on determining an appropriate project staffing structure).
Request feedback on how well the project design reflects donor realities, and finalize plans accordingly
- The proposal team explicitly seeks feedback from reviewers, including any compliance-focused reviewer(s), on how well the project activities schedule, staffing, and budget incorporate considerations related to donor processes, preferences, and compliance requirements. Do this in all stages of proposal review.
- Identify reviewers with strong knowledge of the donor.
- Share the information and analysis compiled in the Donor Reality Check(list) for reviewers’ reference.
- At early draft stage, request suggestions from reviewers on ways to more effectively address donor considerations while maximizing resources and time available for programming.
- The proposal coordinator ensures the final proposal incorporates reviewer feedback.
Build CRS’ knowledge base about how to design for donor realities: Document key issues and learning for the benefit of future proposal development teams; save this information to the proposal opportunity record and share with IDEA and regional staff.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Review with partners any donor processes and timelines that will affect the overall project implementation timeline, especially those related to the anticipated timing of donor funding. These may in turn affect the timing of partner activities, and partner human resource and budget planning (see Standard 2, key action 2 for guidance on including partners in decision-making).
- While compliance-related activities are typically included mainly in CRS’ portion of the budget, ensure partners are aware of compliance requirements that may affect the overall budget and allocation of resources between CRS and partners.
- The prime should provide guidance and instructions for any donor-related considerations that CRS needs to consider when planning and budgeting for activities. If the prime does not provide this information, request it.
- In some cases, CRS may have equal or greater knowledge of donor processes, timelines, and requirements. If this is the case, CRS should discuss these insights with the prime to ensure that the overall project activities schedule and budget take these into account.
- See below for considerations when CRS is a sub or receives pass-through emergency funding.
- Emergency project designs must also factor in any donor processes and requirements, though emergency donors typically make decisions more rapidly and provide more flexibility.
- Telescope use of the Donor Reality Check(list): focus on the critical questions for the emergency; as needed, prioritize questions requiring follow-up with the donor.
- CRS may work with new donors during emergency projects, and/or receive funding from back donorsWhen funds are passed on from one organization to another, the original donor is sometimes called the ‘back donor’. (Mango) For example, if CRS receives emergency funding via a European Caritas partner, a European government organization may be the back donor. with which CRS has less experience. Reach out to primes, Humanitarian Response Department (HRD) staff, and IDEA staff to clarify any new or back donor requirements as early as possible in project design.
Tools and templates
Donor Reality Check(list): A tool for proposal development teams to analyze donor requirements that impact project management
U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) Donor Profile and other resources
- Primary responsible: Proposal coordinator