by Chris O’Donnell, Development Essentials

For the past few weeks US government foreign assistance funding and targeted countries continue to increase approaching $750 million and 100 most at-risk countries facing the threat of the global pandemic COVID-19.  The funding also includes $110 from the International Disaster Assistance Account to provide protective services, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, livelihood assistance, and humanitarian response coordination to mitigate the broader economic stabilization and security effects of the outbreak.

You’re probably wondering, if your organization is not already responding to COVID-19, do you have a role to play in the growing pandemic and how to get involved?  Although not well-known, USAID does welcome unsolicited applications for grants and proposals for contracts.  While the USAID’s guidance for unsolicited proposals covers the criteria for concept paper submissions, receptivity and opportunity, I believe, as a former USAID Contracting Officer, increases the chance of funding. Both the global pandemic COVID-19 and announced substantial funding satisfies my views.

The announced funding doesn’t limit the opportunities for your organization’s involvement with most targeted countries having a major USAID presence:  Afghanistan, Angola, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Africa, Tajikistan, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.

If you’re organization has a field presence in one of the 64 or targeted countries, capacity to response to COVID-19 and strong interest, submit an unsolicited concept paper to the USAID mission.  You can follow the USAID submission criteria, but here are Development Essentials’ top 10 tips to increase your chances of funding:

  1. A concept paper should be 8-10 pages (one PDF) including cover letter, narrative and budget. This says, we are thoughtful and comprehensive about the solution.
  2. Send the concept paper to the USAID Mission Director. USAID has an optional anonymous email box for concept paper submissions. This is an emergency, go directly to the decision maker.
  3. Prepare a cover letter signed by your organization’s president. This says, we are serious about the submission and request a serious consideration.
  4. Make your concept paper relevant to the COVID-19 situation in-country. It is not time to ask for more money, for what you have been doing the past 20 years.
  5. Pick partners on the ground with an excellent reputation and articulate how you will coordinate with the host government, donors and other implementers. This says, we play well with others and we won’t go rogue!
  6. Be realist about the cost of the work. Under budgeting increases the risk to USAID of funding the submission, which are quickly set aside.
  7. Follow up politely. After submission, ensure USAID confirms receipt with a point of contact.  If you don’t follow-up, this says, we’re not that interested.
  8. Speed is king. When USAID provides feedback on concept paper, make revisions quickly and resubmit. USAID moves on to other priorities quickly.
  9. If USAID rejects your concept paper (by letter or in discussions), ask for a debrief inquiring about USAID priorities–moving on quickly to submit the next concept paper? A rejection just means USAID has other priorities right now and you didn’t read the tea leaves.
  10. Finally, send me an email if you have any questions:  and please share.


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