How to write 100 percent compliant proposals

Janet Arrowood

Whether you’re responding to commercial, educational, government or international requests for proposals (RFP) or grant requests for applications (RFA), your success depends on 100 percent compliance. Almost is simply not good enough.

Writing a proposal or grant is time-consuming. The effort, time and money aren’t recoverable as costs under your proposal or grant. They’re overhead costs or the costs of doing business. The time and resources you spend pursuing contract or grant opportunities are essential, but also time and resources you can’t take back.

To avoid wasting valuable time and resources pursuing unsuitable or unwinnable opportunities, consider several key steps.

First, develop an overall winning strategy. This strategy can be as simple as listing three or four differentiators that set you apart and above your competitors. Then review the RFP or RFA to make sure you can meet the requirements and showcase your differentiators. If you aren’t going to stand out, it’s usually better to stand down. Bidding everything that looks remotely suitable is not a winning strategy.

Closely review the RFP or RFA and create a requirements compliance table. This table is simple, but incredibly powerful. The RCT has at least four columns. Column 1 is numbers, starting with one. Column 2 is the verbatim requirement, no matter how trivial it seems, from the RFP or RFA. Column 3 is the specific location or document where you found the Column 2 requirement. Column 4 is the section or heading where you will address this requirement in your proposal or grant. You can add as many columns as you wish, including responsible persons, due dates, word counts and more.

Make sure you put similar requirements next to a single number in Column 1, noting the exact wording and including the applicable RFP or RFA section. This will draw attention to inconsistencies and potential questions for the RFP or RFA issuer as well as ensure you only address a requirement once — in one section — in your proposal or grant. You’ll avoid redundancies in your proposal or grant and show the RFP or RFA issuer you’ve read their solicitation carefully.

The RCT ensures you’re 100 percent compliant. It also stops you in your tracks if you encounter a requirement you can’t meet — before you start actually writing your proposal or grant.

Next, make sure you use RFP or RFA issuer words and terms — not your jargon. Issuers often conduct a keyword search of your proposal. If they don’t find their keywords and terms in your proposal or grant, they could reject your document as non-responsive. Remember: RFP and RFA issuers have the money, so they get to make the rules. If you aren’t responsive when you seek their money, they wonder how difficult you’ll be to deal with once you have their money.

Finally, learn and follow all the administrative requirements. Don’t even think about turning in your proposal or grant after the deadline. Follow the stated formatting and length requirements: margins, font type and size, line spacing, justification, page counts, section numbering and so forth. If there are no specific guidelines, follow the formatting used in the RFP or RFA.

Following these steps is time-consuming the first few times. But once you get used to this structured approach, your process writing the RFP or RFA becomes quicker, simpler and more successful.