This article provides basic information on how the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provides grant funding to NGOs. It covers the areas for which the USAID offers funding, how to start and write your grant application, understanding the USAID terminology, best practices and budget writing.
What are the areas of USAID funding and how and where can I find USAID funding opportunities?
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) releases a wide range of federal grant opportunities for the developing nations with the aim of furthering its objectives of saving lives, reducing poverty, strengthening democratic governance and progress; by means of humanitarian assistance and international development efforts. USAID works in over 100 countries in the areas of – Promoting Global Health, Supporting Global Stability, Providing Humanitarian Assistance, Catalyzing Innovation and Partnerships, and Empowering Women and Girls.
Non-profit organizations in and outside of the US and even local and state governments in the US can apply for the funding. The grant awards are given in a highly competitive manner and understanding the eligibility and capacity of your organization must be the first step towards preparing yourself in pursuit of a USAID funding opportunity.
You may choose to apply for any of the several types of funding that USAID offers: You may respond to a Request for Proposal (RFP), apply for the New Partnerships Initiative (NPI), or submit a proposal for various theme/ project based grant and partnership opportunities, or even submit an unsolicited proposal to the USAID.
Quick Tip: Use Funds for NGO portal for identifying various upcoming funding opportunities as and when they come up. You might also like to use USAID’s Business Forecast to have a glimpse of the latest opportunities, and from here you can download information about these opportunities and can even use filters and sort features to shortlist the ones of your interest.
How and when should I start proposal preparation for a USAID funding opportunity?
Ideally, you must begin the preparation even before the opportunity is released by USAID. To have a good shot at getting shortlisted, the proposal must be of very high quality and stands out from the competition. This can only be ensured by spending time and effort in comprehensively researching, understanding the complete process, onboarding the right staff/ consultants and so on.
Many of the organizations vying for USAID grants and partnership opportunities start working at least 8-12 months in advance in order to put the relevant teams together by finding and recruiting the personnel, gather all the needed documentation for the application, find the right partners (if needed) and build local partnerships, hire grant proposal writer consultants (individual or agency- if needed) and so on.
It would help to keep a regular watch on USAID Business Forecast to understand which opportunities are upcoming in thematic areas, countries, regions or locations. You must also network with the key stakeholders and existing partners in your country or region to gather information around USAID’s goals and strategy for the country in a particular thematic area.
You should also go through the Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) of USAID in your country. This document is a 3-5-year plan that each USAID country mission develops with the U.S. Department of State, and it contains the outlined objectives of the US Government and the strategic framework within the national development plan of that particular country.
USAID’s funding priorities primarily come from this CDCS document and therefore this can be certainly helpful for organizations in predicting the U.S. government funding in upcoming funding cycles. If you have found an opportunity that you would like to apply, you must also network and find information about the previous partners and qualifying proposals in your region and domain
How to apply for USAID funding? Or in USAID terms- ‘What process does responding to a solicitation involve?’
USAID encourages a large number of applications and competition to ensure high-quality proposals and solutions. To this end, USAID issues solicitations and asks the organizations to respond to them. After this, the organizations whose response best meets the evaluation criteria outlined in the particular solicitation, get selected. However, this is not the end of the process. The various types of solicitations by USAID to assess your organizational capacities, select potential partners, and get a detailed understanding of the planned work are (Source: USAID):
- Request for Information (RFI): A call for organizations to share technical or other requested information before issuing a formal solicitation.
- Pre-Solicitation Notice: A notification that the Agency will be issuing a solicitation.
- Sources Sought Notice: A notice to determine the number of organizations interested in a possible funding opportunity, their level of experience and qualifications, and the suitability of activity for a particular type of small business set-aside.
- Draft Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): A draft of the NOFO, released before the formal solicitation is announced; its purpose is to receive feedback and input.
- Draft Scope of Work: A draft of the planned scope of work that enables organizations to provide feedback and to get a better understanding of a planned activity.
The actual funding opportunity solicitations involve the following steps and aspects. Once funding is available and USAID is interested in offering funding to organizations in various domains, the USAID issues a ‘solicitation’. There are different types of solicitations:
- Request for Proposal (RFP): An official call for proposals with complete details about the projects and areas to be funded, evaluation criteria and all necessary information related to the RFP. All RFPs are posted on SAM.gov.
- Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): An official solicitation for assistance awards, also called the ‘grants and cooperative agreements’. All NOFOs are posted on gov.
- Annual Program Statement (APS): A “call to action” released by USAID on gov, usually once a year, that outlines the need for a specific kind of program and encourages the submission of a wide range of concept papers.
- Broad Agency Announcement (BAA): This entails a competitive and collaborative research and development process used to seek innovative solutions to development challenges from public, private, for-profit, and nonprofit partners. BAAs can result in contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements and are posted on both SAM.gov and Grants.gov.
Each of the above have separate application processes and guidelines. So it is important to read the solicitation thoroughly, conduct deep research and also get in touch with the previous USAID partners in the region and domain to understand the best practices, building on past successes and have samples to help you in your application process.
What are the best practices when applying for a USAID funding opportunity?
Here are some of the considerations and tips for preparing your application for USAID funding, or in USAID terms, preparing for a solicitation:
- First of all, go through the solicitation in-depth and detail:
Make sure you go read the solicitation in-depth and detail and make notes of the important points. Some points to be understood well in detail would be the scope of work, evaluation criteria, and eligibility criteria.
- Understand the evaluation criteria of USAID:
Review and understand the evaluation criteria and their order of importance as listed in the solicitation. Some of the criteria may include technical expertise, staffing, experience and capabilities, and past projects and successes.
- Ask questions:
Solicitations will include a point/s of contact at USAID and timelines for submitting your enquiries, if any. If any aspect is not clear, ask your questions well in time, in writing, and in a concise and clear manner.
- Demonstrate your competencies and USPs in the domain and geography:
It is important to make sure your application stands out from those of the competitors. For this, demonstrating your strengths as an organization that is expert in the domain and well equipped in terms of programmatic, financial and overall transparency, accountability and responsibility.
Some other obvious things to keep in mind are:
- Being aware of deadlines and timelines and making sure you keep track of time and submit your proposals/ applications well in time, if possible, ahead of the deadlines.
- Following solicitation/ application instructions: Each solicitation includes specific requirements and instructions for preparing your response. Prepare a checklist and keep striking them off as you complete the steps.
- Understanding of the funder: It is important to demonstrate that your organization has an understanding of USAID’s operations, goals, strategies and priorities. Review the relevant Country Development Cooperation Strategies, understand the work in your country and domain and keep up to date with its latest projects and successes.
Note: There are many resources available online with comprehensive information about working with the USAID. The best resource and the most authentic one would be: USAID itself. Here is the link where you can find the complete training and capacity building material by USAID related to its funding processes. You must also explore Funds for NGOs website for detailed resources and sample proposals as well.
What are the key aspects of preparing a budget for a USAID proposal?
Some of the prerequisites for applying to USAID for assistance grants are:
- Your organization’s mission and capabilities must be aligned with USAID’s proposed program and you must go through the eligibility criteria in detail based on the terms of the USAID solicitation.
- Read the solicitation completely and very closely. Make sure you understand the program description, expected goals, results and objectives, the kind of work and activities that will be or will not be supported, cost implications, budgetary requirements and application formats.
- A USAID assistance implies a binding contract. Therefore, your organization will be financially and programmatically responsible for complying with the terms of the USAID assistance award, and your organization will be accountable for achieving USAID’s desired results in line with your organization’s own objectives if awarded.
We understand that programmatic aspects are directly linked with the budgetary items/ cost implications. Therefore, when you prepare your proposal or application that will outline your programmatic approach, you need to ask yourself certain basic cost related questions. For example:
- Which activities would the program need? What would be the frequency of these activities?
- Would the program staff need to travel? If yes, will it be national or international travel?
- What capital costs might the program incur?E.g. What might be the costs of the equipment or supplies needed to implement the program?
- What might be the additional costs?
All of these questions are important for you to ask yourself as you determine your program’s costs. Every USAID solicitation would need you to complete a budget in predefined formats, which will include a ‘Standard Form’ format, an additional budget with more detail, and if needed, additional formats for sub-contracting or sub-awarding.