I recently attended a training session focused on responding to the newly implemented Short-Form Requests for Proposals (SRFPs; 2-page short form for procurement of services used by the BC Government for selected projects). During the session we had the opportunity to read a sample SRFP, collectively compose/submit a proposal, and review another submission. It was a very insightful process, similar to mock interviews that career practitioners often recommend for clients. Playing the role of the reviewer really highlighted the importance of integrating key words, addressing requested information, and avoiding non-essential information. I expand on each of these elements, below:
Integrating Key Words: Just as a job seeker would review a job posting for key terms (e.g., “self-starter”) for his/her resume or application, proposal writers should identify key terms in the RFP. Look for clues throughout the proposal, ask questions for clarification, and refer to the funder’s website. Address relevant industry terms; remember, if you’re responding to the RFP, you’re positioning yourself as the expert so you should know what else is essential (e.g., “cost-saving measures,” “stakeholder engagement”). However, avoid simply copying and pasting; this can result in an awkward end-product that is hard to read. Instead, strive for a careful and thoughtful integration of key terms into your own writing style.
Addressing Requested Information: First, ensure you can meet all mandatory minimum requirements stipulated. If not, your proposal won’t even be reviewed. Consider this: If a job advertisement requested a Bachelor’s Degree and you either didn’t have that, or forgot to mention it, it’s highly likely you will be screened out; your application never reviewed by a hiring manager. Some requirements will be explicit, but others may be more cryptic. Any time you read that something is preferred, or that preference will be given to those demonstrating something, take this as a clue that extra points will be given for those components. If two – four examples are requested, write four. Include your most relevant items. If you aren’t sure about requirements, ask for clarification to ensure you are on the right track.
Avoiding Non-Essential Information. Proposal reviewers have a structured process for evaluation and are looking for very specific items. If these items are not addressed, points cannot be awarded. Stay focused in your response, strive for concise writing, and direct your energy towards areas that are evaluated. For example, a corporate profile or executive summary may be requested but not evaluated. Allocate your time based on importance; if it wasn’t requested or won’t be evaluated, it likely should not be your primary focus. Lastly, ensure that page limits are adhered to as reviewers cannot review content past the page limit.
The reality is that some RFPs, just like job advertisements, may not be well written or thought through completely. It may be challenging to adequately address each component if the RFP is unclear or contradictory; however, a poorly written RFP does not excuse a poorly written proposal. It is your responsibility to submit a well written proposal that clearly addresses requests; ask questions if you are unclear.