Tips for Stronger INVEST Proposals
Hello USAID INVEST network members! INVEST was designed to connect USAID with the technical experience it needs, on-demand. We are working to break down barriers between USAID and the right firms for the job.
Many firms in the network are new to working with – and writing proposals for – USAID projects. Based on the proposals we’ve received, we put together some additional tips to help make your proposals stronger. Our goal is to improve future INVEST proposals, especially for firms that are new to the space, by being transparent about what we are looking for. Here are some tips:
Treat each proposal as a separate effort
We write each RFP and SOO deliberately with details and objectives meant to guide you in your response. Please read each SOO carefully to understand the objectives of the activity and the components we are looking for. Use the evaluation criteria in the RFP to structure and organize your proposal, ensuring that you address each element of the evaluation criteria. This helps the evaluators understand your approach and ensure that you have responded to each of the requirements. You will also notice that the number of points assigned to each section changes between RFPs – this reflects what is most important to the evaluators when they review proposals.
Don’t just tell us, show us
Demonstrating your institutional capacity is crucial since we need to see that you’ve worked in a particular sector or geography or technical area before. But don’t stop there. In your technical approach, be specific about how you will reach the objectives outlined in the SOO. Whether or not you have done a similar project before, we need you to articulate how you will approach the SOO this time, for example, providing a clear management plan, information on data collection and metrics, and details on how you will reach the technical targets. Reviewers need this concrete information to evaluate proposals fairly. Get creative with how you showcase your overall approach, innovative ideas, and new perspectives on how to achieve the objectives in a more effective way.
Trim the fat
You have limited space to describe your technical approach, institutional capacity, and staffing plan. That means it’s crucial to trim unnecessary language and avoid repeating language from the RFP/SOO. That will free up space to lay out your unique perspective on the context of the work, offer up a hypothesis based on your experience, and describe your technical approach.
Partnering can help, but only if it really makes sense. INVEST RFPs often identify specific requirements like niche technical expertise or deep relationships in a given country. In some cases, your firm may have a lot to offer, but you may lack specific technical or geographic expertise. At times like this, partnering can be a good option. But, if you decide to partner, remember: Once partners submit a proposal together, we cannot decouple them. Each partner must provide a strong technical value-add and the firms must truly complement each other. Be explicit in your proposal’s staffing and management plan section about the role each firm will play and how you will work together seamlessly to highlight the strength of each firm without duplicating efforts or creating a complicated management or staffing structure. If you have worked together before, tell us about your shared track record in the “Institutional Capacity” section of your proposal. To help firms identify potential partners, we maintain a list of partner network members here. There is also a partner network members’ LinkedIn group where members can share news, familiarize themselves with other firms, and connect. You can join it here.
Be clear on staffing
For many INVEST RFPs, the evaluation rubric sets aside 20 to 30 points for staffing and management plans. Don’t skimp on this section. The technical evaluators want to understand the expertise of the staff you have proposed and how that staff will work together. Detail roles and responsibilities so we understand who will be doing what, and who is ultimately responsible for the activity’s success. We are interested in overall management capabilities and also technical or country/regional expertise that will support the work. Consider adding some consultants to your staff if you need to boost your firm’s expertise to conduct the work. If your firm doesn’t have the institutional capabilities we’re looking for, proposed staff can help fill that gap.
Consider some graphics
We don’t want you to spend a lot of time writing up novel-length proposals. That’s why we put out short RFPs and typically ask for 5-10 slides in response. But we know it can be challenging to convey layered or complex information concisely. If you are struggling with a particular section, consider using a graphic to get your point across.
If you’re unsuccessful, try again
We often are faced with difficult decisions on which offeror will provide the best value to USAID for a particular activity. We are thoughtful in our decisions and take note of both the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal. We provide each unsuccessful offeror with the opportunity to request a post-award evaluation summary of their proposal, writing detailed summaries that can boost your firm’s proposal-writing capabilities for future RFPs.
##Be strategic about what you bid on
INVEST sometimes receives dozens of responses to an individual RFP. We are excited about the engagement from new firms and have seen firms join the network and win their first work within a couple of months. However, the competition is strong, so firms should be strategic when deciding what to bid on. For example, if you don’t have geographic or technical qualifications that are laid out in the RFP or scope, you are unlikely to be successful. Consider waiting for another RFP, or look at the list of partner network members here and identify a partner that will close those gaps.
##If you get a phone interview with INVEST…
INVEST typically uses telephone interviews to gather further information from a small group of short-listed firms during the proposal review process. During a telephone interview, use your time strategically.
- Make sure you have the right people on the call. We want to hear from the technical experts that “own” the program design and implementation. Having senior management on the phone does help to show your firm is serious about its offer, but those personnel often do not provide better answers about a country context, institutional experience, or new approaches than the technical staff who will be running the project.
- Answer the question. Keep your responses concise and to the point. If there’s something you don’t know the answer to, let us know and follow up with an email response – e.g. “I’m not sure at this moment. I’ll have to look into it or talk to my colleague who is not on the call then I can follow up with an email.”
- Demonstrate confidence in your abilities and technical approach.
- Demonstrate your willingness to be a partner alongside the INVEST team and the USAID team.
- Allow for members of your team, if they’re on the line, to respond when appropriate so that the TEC can hear from the various team members. However, keep in mind that you should keep your responses concise, so don’t throw the same question to five different members of the team when the first two already answered it.
- If you are including partners in the interview, plan ahead of time so there is a lead person who will “receive” each question and then invite partners to provide additional responses. By demonstrating a coordinated approach to the telephone interview, you demonstrate the ability of your team to work together seamlessly during implementation.
- Think of this as a job interview. We’re trying to get to know you a bit better and understand better your capabilities, your staff’s expertise, and your technical approach.
What to expect if it’s a cocreation
- Initial EOI responses are typically very short, so use the limited space to highlight your new, innovative idea and get us excited about it! Also highlight your firm’s experience in the country/region and technical area to show your ability to implement and achieve the goals of the project. EOI instructions vary, but if evaluation criteria are included, please be sure to speak to all of those points while showcasing your concept.
- For a co-creation workshop, send the right people, namely technical staff that understand the technical area and proposed concept. Partnerships form and change during co-creation workshops so we also recommend sending someone empowered to commit the company to partnership arrangements.
- Typically, following a co-creation workshop, some firms are invited to submit final proposals based on concepts developed at the workshop. USAID and INVEST staff work collaboratively with all of the partners to get their concept to the most fully-developed stage possible. As you develop your proposal, feel free to reach out to INVEST to discuss the technical development of the proposal, ask questions, and get more insight from INVEST and USAID on the direction of the work. This collaborative process in itself will not affect the evaluation of your concept, but be sure to incorporate the feedback provided into your final proposal and make sure your proposal is responsive to the specific goals USAID has articulated. Proposals are typically evaluated using broader evaluation criteria that do not encompass the organization’s participation throughout the process from workshop to final proposal.
Give us feedback!
We are always looking for ways to improve the RFP process. If there are aspects of the process that could be streamlined, or requirements that do not make sense to you, we want to hear about it. Please reach out to the INVEST team at INVEST_Procurement@dai.com with any ideas or recommendations.