Creating a Proposal Team: Identifying Who You'll Need

Once you've identified an opportunity to respond to and started to assemble your materials, you'll need to recruit a team to work on the proposal. If you've been anticipating an opportunity's release, you may already have your team in place. If this is the case, you can go directly to assembling your proposal binders and scheduling the initial proposal planning meeting.

However, if this is a new or unanticipated opportunity, you'll need to identify the expertise you need and who can provide it.

A proposal requires input from many people. While you may opt to have a single writer in an attempt to maintain a consistent narrative voice throughout the proposal, you'll still need to recruit reviewers. Additionally, unless the writer is very familiar with the organization's history and the details of the proposed work, other staff members will be needed to contribute background information. You'll also need to find someone to develop the proposal's budget.

The steps to form a proposal team begin with deciding the proposal development strategy and determining the expertise you'll need. Once you know what you need, you can move to identifying who on your staff can fill those roles.

Step #1: Creating a Proposal Response Strategy

Before you can decide who you'll need on your proposal team, you'll need to decide how the proposal process will work. Do you want one writer and a handful of reviewers? Do you want a several writers and two reviewers for each of the drafts? Do you plan on using an external grant writer? or will staff members write the proposal and consultants with industry knowledge to serve as your reviewers?

Your approach will impact who you need on your team and the development of your proposal calendar. The more writers you have, the more time it will take to stitch the sections together and create a final draft with a uniform narrative voice. If you intend to rely on consultants for any part of the proposal's development, there will be repercussions not only for your proposal calendar but also the cost associated with developing the proposal.

After you have an idea of your process, you can start filling in deadlines in your proposal calendar for the proposal drafts. With some dates and a process at least tentatively mapped out, you'll have an idea of which dates you'll need each of your writers, reviewers, and finance staff to work on the proposal. This information will be very helpful to have on hand when you begin to recruit team members.

Step #2: Determining the Expertise You'll Need

Once you have your strategy figured out, the next step is to sit down with the opportunity announcement and generate a list of the expertise and knowledge that is needed to prepare the proposal. You'll almost certainly need someone who can draft language on the organization's history, experience, and accomplishments. If the proposal is a request for continued funding of a current project, you'll need someone on the team who can speak to the existing project's goals, accomplishments, and challenges faced.  Responding to the request for applications (RFA) may also require specialized knowledge of a technical or geographic area, or both.

In addition to the more technical or substantive aspects of a proposal, your proposal team will also need individuals with administrative, financial, and management skills. Administrative team members include a proposal manager, who will oversee the proposal process, and support staff to assist with the copy editing, formatting, and final assembly of the proposal. You should identify all roles and responsibilities, down to who will photocopy and package the proposal, so that you can reserve the staff members' time.

Step #3: Identifying Who You'll Need on Your Team

After you've identified the expertise you need and have a rough outline of the proposal schedule, you can move to the third stage, which is identifying the individuals who have the required knowledge and experience.

To identify individuals, you might begin by reviewing your organization's staff list (have their resumes nearby) to determine where the needs of the proposal and the experience of the staff intersect. This step should not take long if you've defined the proposal team roles carefully. You may have already completed this step when you first identified the opportunity and evaluated it during the go/no-go meeting.

If the proposal focuses on a new area of work for the organization, you'll need to determine whether you have someone on staff with the requisite knowledge and experience. If you do not, you'll need to recruit someone who does.  If your organization intends to partner with other organizations, you'll have the advantage of being able to tap your partners' staff to fill in any knowledge gaps.

To help you determine who you'll need, review the opportunity announcement and the proposal requirements with "who, what, when" in mind, as in:

  • Who do we need to address each part of the proposal
  • What do we need them to do (write, review, support, etc.)
  • When do we need them in the process (where in the process, what weeks or days)

Having answers to these questions will help you evaluate potential proposal team members. Since you'll know the proposal schedule, obviously anyone who won't be around during the time you need them will be eliminated from consideration, and anyone with the time--who also has experience performing whatever role you need them to fill (reviewer, writer)--will be prioritized

Bringing the Team Together for the Kick-Off Meeting

Once you decide to pursue an opportunity, you'll want to schedule a kick-off meeting as soon as possible. Who you invite to the kick-off meeting depends in part on your proposal strategy. You may want to limit participants to those doing the hands-on work of preparing the proposal narrative and budget.  Or, you may want a larger group including representatives from any partners involved with the proposed project. You could also opt for two sets of meetings. One with senior leaders for high-level discussions about the proposal's strategic direction and staffing decisions and another set with the proposal managers and writers who will prepare the proposal.

For smaller organizations, all staff members may be involved in making the decisions about what to propose and everyone may have some role in the proposal's development and ultimately the proposed project. For larger organizations, the group working on the proposal may be a subset of those who will work on the project if it is funded. Speaking of project staff, you'll want to let staff members know that they are being bid (i.e. their names appearing in the proposal attached to a specific role) on the proposal.

If the proposal results in award, staff decisions can be revisited, but as a matter courtesy is always a good idea to let staff know that their names are going in before you ask for their resumes. Otherwise, it can be disconcerting and anxiety-producing for staff to hear that they've been added to a proposal, especially if they already have a full workload.

What's Next

Now that you've assembled your team, the next step is finalizing the first couple of weeks of the proposal calendar and producing your first draft. Follow the process in the next post in the series as the proposal development process continues.