Use the pre Opportunity Posting time strategically—plan and prepare.
Develop a proposal content library with known standard/required documents.
Plan with anticipated collaborative partners in advance to facilitate development of collaborative documentation.
Many of us have experienced that high-pressure time-sensitive window of opportunity from when a funding notice is posted to the proposal response submission deadline. Sometimes this timeframe can range from four to eight weeks depending upon the funder.
So, in the event of funding opportunities that are annual, or whenever you are aware of a potential opportunity, there’s an opportunity to prepare as much as you can in advance to maximize the time you have available to plan a responsive application after the notice is posted. Here are the top five things you can do to prepare for an anticipated notice of funding opportunity (NOFO).
Make sure all required registrations are current AND you can easily retrieve log-in and password information
By a show of hands, who has experienced that awful moment when you have completed preparing your proposal application and are getting ready to submit and find out either your registration has lapsed or it’s not current due to changes in staff roles? It’s a most unpleasant feeling, and usually one time is enough to teach folks not to do this.
Because registrations can take as long as two weeks to process, it’s a good idea to check well in advance of the Notice of Funding Opportunity drop.
For example, for both of the highly anticipated Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living (ACL) opportunities, 2023 Empowering Communities to Deliver and Sustain Evidence-Based Falls Prevention Programs and, 2023 Empowering Communities to Deliver and Sustain Evidence-Based Chronic Disease Self-Management Education Programs, you’ll need the following current registrations to apply: www.grants.gov and a Unique Entity ID (UEI).
The unique entity identifier used in SAM.gov has changed. On April 4, 2022, the unique entity identifier used across the federal government changed from the DUNS Number to the Unique Entity ID (a 12-character alphanumeric ID assigned to an entity by SAM.gov).
In addition, it’s a good idea to “subscribe” to opportunities forecasted on grants.gov to receive opportunity updates in “real time” as they are released/posted.
Review the Opportunity Forecast and the previous NOFO and/or your previous application
The opportunity forecast will give you an idea about the anticipated or intended “release” date that the opportunity will be posted and will provide general ideas about the opportunity timeline.
For example, a review of the opportunity, Opportunity Number: HHS-2023-ACL-AOA-CSSG-0003; Opportunity Title: 2023 Empowering Communities to Deliver and Sustain Evidence-Based Chronic Disease Self-Management Education Programs, indicates that the planned release date is Nov. 30, 2022 with an application deadline of Jan. 31, 2023. That means there would be just over eight weeks to apply, BUT that timeline includes at least three holidays (e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day), which likely would impact both office closures and some staff being out on Paid Time Off (PTO). It might be a good opportunity to look at proposal team roles, outages and internal proposal workplan timelines accordingly.
Looking at the previous NOFO can help with developing a plan regarding content that can be developed in advance of the actual release of the NOFO—with an understanding that often there are updates in new opportunities (i.e., new target populations and/or required outcome measures, etc.).
Develop content library with “boilerplate” documents
One tip that many grant-seekers have already experienced is to assess their organizational “grant readiness” to identify and shore up gaps in readiness. Typically, organizations will use a “Grant Readiness Checklist” that include items like key applicant registrations for federal government grants and also key documents that are required on a regular basis by funding agencies and organizations (both public/government and private foundation).
Grant-ready organizations may have developed “content libraries” in centralized cloud files where items are easily retrievable for proposal teams and/or singular grant writers. These files might contain IRS letters as proof of not-for-profit designation, organizational charts and lists of key management and program staff along with their biographical summaries and/or resumes. Using “downtime” or pre-RFP drop time to assemble these files really help to prepare for future opportunities.
Identify target service area and populations, research gaps in services
Conducting or researching community needs is a task that can take considerable time and effort. To the extent possible, it helps to accumulate existing current needs assessments that may have been conducted by organizations in your service area as well as to conduct some research of your own.
At the very least, conduct an assessment of community assets, e.g., identifying organizations in your service area that provide a defined scope of services to the same target population that you do. This helps determine what the gaps in services are as well as identifies potential collaborative partners who may be able to provide resources and/or services that are complementary to yours.
Identify key strategic collaborative partners and their roles in collaboration
Most funders like to see project collaborations among more than one organization to:
- Maximize access to resources
- Maximize efficiency and efficacy
- Minimize duplication of effort and/or services
Funders often require demonstration of collaboration through description in project narratives and other application documents and required documentation of commitment through letters of commitment. Many applicant organizations may have found responses to requests for these letters take on average two to three weeks. A great strategy for shortening the turnaround time on these requests is to start collaboration conversations early to define potential project roles and responsibilities (including commitment of resources and/or in-kind support).
Often funders even define the types of collaborative partners that need to be a part of the project team.
Reading a previous NOFO may give ideas about who needs to be at the table.
For example, the ACL 2022 Empowering Communities to Deliver and Sustain Evidence-Based Chronic Disease Self-Management Education Programs identified at least four types of required and/or suggested partners in a collaboration. A careful read or scan of the NOFO will also identify expected roles of strategic partners, such as key partners in the dissemination of the proposed programs and sustainability partners.
In addition, there are times when the funder will require a funding match in the proposal request. For example, an opportunity announcement may require that the applicant organization provide a confirmed match of in-kind and/or non-federal cash support for 25% of the total project cost. When a match is required, collaborative partners may provide useful in-kind support (e.g., access to meeting and/or training space free of charge or project personnel free of charge).
Since defining, clarifying, and coordinating the roles and responsibilities a collaboration involving multiple partners can take time to negotiate, it can be ideal to begin that process in advance of the posting of the opportunity. Many applicant organizations find this can be done through a series of 1:1 and group meetings with key partners and that the development of a singular collaboration matrix, listing all partners by name, “type” of organization, project roles/responsibilities, etc., is helpful in understanding project structure or how project resources and services are coordinated.
A grant forecast provides information that can help you plan and prepare for an upcoming opportunity. And as Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” So, I bid you good luck!
This project was supported, in part by grant number 90CSSG0048 and 90FPSG0051 from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.