When I started writing education grants nearly 20 years ago, many funders would hold Request for Proposals (RFP) workshops. During these workshops, they would review the RFP for a grant program and answer questions from potential applicants. (I remember a few workshops where program officers read the RFP word-for-word. As you can imagine, these were pretty hard to sit through.)
For federal grants, these workshops usually were held in three or four locations in the United States; one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast, one in the Midwest, and maybe one in the South. Rarely were questions taken from the audience during these workshops; in many cases, questions had to be submitted in advance. So, if you thought of a question while you were there—or an answer to a submitted question sparked another question in your mind—too bad!
Today, it is more common for funders to hold Technical Assistance calls that include PowerPoint presentations and chat boxes that allow attendees to type in their questions during the call. And, even better, many of these sessions are archived for a specific amount of time (usually right up until the proposal deadline) so you can listen to them several times to hear comments and answers to questions. Some funders turn the questions and answers into FAQ pages that are then posted to a website.
Although the method of providing information to potential applicants has changed dramatically, the benefits of attending such training sessions remain unchanged. Here are five potential benefits you can get from these sessions.
- Sometimes funders will offer additional comments or insight as they review the RFP document or grant guidance. For example, they might provide examples of potential partnerships or even sample project ideas that fit into the parameters of what the program will fund.
- Some potential applicants will identify their organization when they pose a question, or you might meet other applicants during the workshop. This enables you to get a sense of who the other applicants could be and the kinds of organizations that are interested in applying for the grant. As a side benefit, you might be able to identify a possible collaborative partner for your project, especially if someone discusses a project that is similar to the one you plan to implement with grant funds.
- Funders might mention other sources of funding for the types of projects they are looking to fund. Or, they might mention an upcoming grant opportunity that you should be looking for.
- Funders sometimes use these calls or workshops to correct mistakes or even change information contained in the RFP or grant guidance. When this happens, the RFP often is not rereleased, and so this might be the only way a potential applicant would know of the corrections or changes.
- Participating can be a great way to find out if you have a situation that requires further discussion with a program officer after the call or workshop is over. I have heard potential applicants being instructed to contact the program staff to discuss their project in more detail. If this happens to you, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity!
It can be helpful for more than one person from your organization to participate in a Technical Assistance call or RFP workshop. I would suggest that you send at least one person who is responsible for developing the grant-funded project, in addition to the person who will write the proposal. I’ve found that discussing the information presented in the session with someone else gives me a better understanding of what the presenter meant—or helps clarify something I did not quite grasp.