How to Deconstruct a Request for Applications (RFA)
The following list of questions and tips will help you to deconstruct a Request for Applications (RFA, also commonly known as a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA), Program Announcement (PA) or Request for Proposals (RFP)), from a funding agency.
What is the budget cap? Can your research (or an aspect of your research) be completed with the funds available?
How many awards does the funder expect to make (i.e., how competitive is this competition)?
Is there a cost-sharing requirement? If so, contact your Department Research Administrator to start the internal approval process.
Is there a minimum time commitment (i.e., how many person-months)? NOTE: PIs cannot have zero time committed.
What forms/format does your budget require? For example, a modular budget form vs. a fully-itemized budget form at NIH.
Does the agency require inclusion of any specific costs (e.g., travel costs to attend a required meeting)? Are there any normally allowable costs that are not allowed under this RFA?
Is there a cap on the recovery of indirect costs (facilities and administrative (F&A) costs)? If the allowable F&A rate is below Tufts’ current F&A rate, please discuss this with your Department Administrator and start the internal approval process.
Are there caps or constraints on the allocation of specific funds or line items (e.g., line item X must not exceed 10% of total direct costs)?
What requirements are in place for sub-awards? If sub-awards will be requested, speak to your Research Administrator well in advance of your deadline.
What are the requirements for the budget justification?
Are there required sections of the proposal narrative that are standard to this funding agency/mechanism? If so, refer to the agency’s proposal guidelines document for more information (NIH SF424 R&R, NSF Grant Proposal Guide (GPG)). It is important to familiarize yourself with these instructions, and to use them as a reference for each proposal. They are also a place to find rules regarding any significant changes to proposal format.
Are there required or suggested subheadings? Funding opportunity announcements often provide information regarding the structure of your proposal.
If there are not required subheadings, are there easily identifiable headings that can be gleaned from the review criteria (e.g., Significance, Goals, Broader Impacts, Evaluation)? NOTE: Required or suggested subheadings are sometimes found in agency instruction documents, i.e., NIH SF424 R&R, NSF GPG.
Organize your proposal in the same format described or implied in the RFA.
Reflect the language the funding agency uses to describe the program and its mission (check the agency’s website). Use these key words in your proposal.
Subject headings, graphics, bullets, and bolded statements using language similar to that used in the FOA can all be used to make the reviewers’ jobs easier as they assess how well the proposal meets review criteria.
What are the review criteria? Are there any special/unusual review criteria?
It is particularly important to read the review criteria carefully when you respond to an RFA or Program Announcement (PA). Review criteria for “parent” or investigator-initiated announcements are typically found in agency submission regulations.
It is not uncommon to find ambiguities or apparent contradictions within the RFA. If, after re-reading the announcement, you are still in doubt, ask questions! Contact the relevant program official with your specific question or concern and ask for clarification. Contacts are provided within the RFA. Ask early! Some funders have a deadline for the submission of questions.