About Proposals and the Proposal Process

Your proposal is your formal offer to the funder (donor), and it begins the process of negotiating an award agreement.

Proposals may be either solicited or unsolicited, as follows:

  • Solicited proposals are submitted in response to a formal request published by the funder;
  • Unsolicited proposals are submitted "cold" (not in response to a formal request), although such proposals are frequently informally invited by the funder.

Obviously, your proposal must describe the work you propose to undertake and the amount of funding you require to do that work. But your proposal also begins the process of negotiating the specific terms and conditions of the award agreement that you hope to win. So, in addition to describing a project that the funder will like at a cost the funder can afford, your proposal should clearly state the administrative terms and conditions you will expect in a resulting award.

With solicited proposals, this statement of the terms and conditions is usually initiated by the funder in its solicitation document. And by submitting a proposal in response to the solicitation, you agree (up front) that your project and its budget are based on conducting the project in compliance with those terms and conditions.

But with unsolicited proposals, it's always a good idea to state the terms and conditions that you expect to accept in the hoped-for award. Otherwise, you'll have no strong basis for negotiating terms and conditions if the funder accepts your proposal.

Thus, while your program staff are busy designing the program and estimating its cost, your finance and admin staff need to be equally busy evaluating the solicitation so that you understand the administrative requirements of any resulting award. Complying with federal requirements can be costly, and it is vital to your organization's survivability that your proposal budget estimates the full cost of conducting the proposed project in accordance with the terms and conditions of the agreement.

The OMB's Uniform Guidance (see About 2 CFR 200) tells federal awarding agencies what they must do regarding solicitations in ยง 200.204 Notices of funding opportunities through 2 CFR 200.212. In addition, Appendix I Full Text of Notice of Funding Opportunity lays out the full content and format for solicitations.

If you're responding to a formal solicitation, you will want to compare the contents of the solicitation to the requirements in 2 CFR 200, just to make sure the funding agency hasn't left anything out. If you find discrepancies, you should ask about them, AND you should note them (along with any response you may have received prior to submission) in your proposal, so that you're on record regarding your understanding of the terms and conditions you expect the final award agreement to contain. See also my Brief Checklist for Reviewing Proposal Solicitations.

Similarly, if you're submitting an unsolicited proposal, your proposal should state your expectation that any resulting award agreement will contain all (and only) those terms and conditions required by the funding agency's implementation of 2 CFR 200. (Note that it's likely that the agency implementation will expand on the Uniform Guidance in certain areas. An example of such an expansion is found in USAID's 2 CFR 700. See Notes on 2 CFR 700.)

See also: About USAID Certifications and Assurances

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