When does it make sense to hold a grant competition or use an RFP? In addition to looking at management issues to consider along the way, this guide explores how grantmakers shape competitions to serve larger strategic goals, communicate with wider audiences, create a learning community, and find ways to work with those who are not selected.
What's in the Guide?
- Deciding whether to use an RFP
- Shaping the competition so it serves your goals
- Managing the process and other issues to consider
There are many ways to communicate about grantmaking goals, to solicit proposals, and to ensure that grants are awarded fairly. Holding a competition, with a written solicitation of proposalsand a formal process for selecting grantees isn't the only way to achieve these things, but it can be a highly effective one.
- When does it make sense to hold a grant competition or use an RFP? Competitions are sometimes the best way to organize a program and select grantees -- but not always. They're useful, for example, if you're entering a big and unfamiliar field, or trying to enlarge your circle of grantees, or concerned about making decisions in an especially transparent and evenhanded way. Here, grant makers reflect on the circumstances that made competitions a good choice for what they wanted to achieve.
- How can you make the component parts of an RFP process or competition serve your program goals? If it's set up wisely, the very act of holding a competition can contribute to the field you're working in. The contents of your RFP, your selection criteria, the things you ask applicants to consider proposing -- all these things can send a message to the field and elevate issues you consider important. The process by which you solicit grants and interact with applicants can be a learning experience for you and them. Several grant makers offer experiences with competitions that show how this can work.
- Management and administrative issues to consider. If you take on a competition, be sure you're ready for the administrative and procedural workload. To be effective, a competition takes careful planning and execution, and it poses a number of out-of-the-ordinary administrative responsibilities. It's sometimes useful to enlist an outside organization to manage part or all of the process. In this section, grant makers reflect on what it takes to set up and administer an effective competition.
- Working with advisers. Outside experts, working individually or as a panel, can help guide you through the planning of your competition, the scoring and selection of applications, and the implementation of the proposals that are selected. It helps, though, to be clear about exactly how you would like these advisers to work, in what roles, at what stage. Here, grantmakers describe how they used advisers to get better results.
- Using the competition or RFP process to create a learning community. Holding a competition can help in forming a "learning community" in your field. Sometimes, people working in a field gain insights or focus their discussions as a direct result of a grant competition. Soliciting a number of proposals that are organized to address the same set of issues, and then convening those who apply (or those who are selected) for ongoing discussions can advance that process. Grantmakers reflect on how that has worked in different cases.
- Ways to work with those who are not selected. It helps to have a plan for how you'll deal with the applicants you don't select for funding. At a minimum, grantmakers feel it's important to give them early notice that they weren't selected, and to try to explain how the decision was made. But in addition, some grantmakers try to do more for the unsuccessful applicants. Here, they offer thoughts on how to make competitions useful even for those who don't win.
- Communicating with wider audiences about the competition. When you first start planning a competition, it's not too soon to begin thinking about ways to tell a wider audience about the competition's purposes, progress, and results. Sometimes, the ideas in an RFP, or just the fact that an RFP has been issued, constitute important information that might interest a broader public. In this section, grantmakers describe how they approached communication as part of organizing a competition.