What to Look Out for in a Request for Proposal (RFP)

December 1, 2022
min read

Reality check: Grants might look like free money, but they are not. Every organisation or individual that provides grant funding has a definite purpose for doing so. I mean, it's their money. And grant makers are not merely "doing charity", they want to ensure that they are able to achieve a definite outcome as a result of giving a particular amount of money to a person or an organisation – NGO or social enterprise. This is why Requests for Proposals (aka RFPs) exist.

What is a Request for Proposal?

A request for proposal is that document where the grant maker says, "here's what I want to put my money into!". In today's world, you would often find requests for proposals on the funder's website along with the call for applications. Nonetheless, not all RFPs are separate documents: except in more elaborate grants, the RFP is usually embedded in the call for applications.

One of the most important aspects of grant writing is to understand what the funder wants to fund, as this informs how you will position your organisation and communicate the impact you are making. That is why the first step to writing a winning grant proposal is to study the request for proposals.

In this article, I will guide you through four areas that you must be on the lookout for when studying RFPs, using practical examples.

Read More: Act like a CEO, think like a Funder

Eligibility Requirements

Think of eligibility requirements as a compass: they guide the scope of a particular grant. They would usually include details on the type of organisations a grant maker would be funding, such as the number of years the organisation has existed, gender of the founder/co-founders, geographic location, industry category, et cetera.

These are what the funder will consider as non-negotiables for the kind of proposals or applications they are seeking. Your organisation might be a "ten"; however, if any of these eligibility criteria are missing, that would be the "but".

For instance, Women Who Tech recently launched a Tech Startup Grants program for a specific purpose: "to fund women-led tech startups focused on solving big problems." And here's one of their eligibility criteria:

"Your startup must be a woman-led startup, defined as having at least one woman founder or cofounder on the team."

This is a typical gender criteria. By paying attention to the wordings, you would find that a woman founder or co-founder is compulsory. Your startup might have an amazing innovation BUT will be automatically disqualified if none of the founders identifies as a woman.

It is necessary to look out for eligibility requirements because they are foundational: grant reviewers first weed out proposals that don't meet their criteria before even checking out the content. It will be a waste of time and resources to write a great proposal that doesn't fit the bill.

Funder Priorities

As expected of rational spenders, grant makers have their scale of preference. It is based on this preference list that they make their choices on whom to fund. Funders are often clear about their priorities to simplify their reviewing processes. While these priorities are not compulsory like eligibility requirements, they are an important factor in how your proposal will perform – especially if the grant is competitive.

For instance, this U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) 2022 Grants Program puts their priorities like this:

"Funding Priorities: AFCP projects promote specific U.S. policy goals. The Center will give preference to projects that do at least one or more of the following:
a) Directly support U.S. treaty or bilateral agreement obligations;..."

To increase your chances of getting grants like that, it will be wise to show that you meet more than one of those priorities listed.

Funder Objectives

Nowadays, grant makers adopt a project-based approach to grant making to be able to better track impact and increase their own chances of securing funding. As such, many social impact grants are part of a larger programme with their own statements of need and objectives. In writing for such grants, you must be mindful of these objectives and be able to show how your project aligns with them.

Funder Expectations/Scoring Criteria

This encompasses what a funder will like to see in your grant proposal for that project or programme that needs funding. It is usually explicitly stated in the RFP with the wording "successful applicants must…". These expectations are the benchmarks that the reviewers will use to judge the quality of your proposal, and you must do well to pay attention to them.

For instance, take a look at this screenshot from the RFP of the USADF and Stanbic Kenya Foundation "Accelerate your Biashara” Program 2022:


Grant writers than write winning proposals understand that they have just one all-powerful audience: the grant maker or funder. Requests for proposals are vital as they clearly express the desires of the grant maker. As such, knowing what to look out for in an RFP, such as the eligibility requirements, funder objectives and funder priorities, would help you to come up with a grant proposal that wins the heart of your sole audience and find the funds you need.

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