Bid appraisal by (secret) checklist

It’s useful when a funder issues clear, detailed guidance notes.  Ideally, these should include a full list of what the funder is looking for in a bid.  As applicants, we can then use this as a checklist, knowing that whoever is appraising the bid is using the same checklist.  I’ve been doing some bid appraisals where unfortunately I knew that I had an appraisal checklist that was different from anything the applicants had seen.

Almost 10% of the marks are for innovation.  Yet there is no question on the application form for applicants to outline how they feel the project is innovative.  A few points for delivery competence, not many, but it would be worth a few lines explaining our track record – even though this is not requested on the application form, nor hinted at in the guidance notes.

This kind of thing is sadly common.  I blogged last year about how the Lottery Board members see a “Top Secret” list of the most common reasons for the failure of Lottery applications.  A useful list – but they don’t want applicants to see it!  The full list is given out on my training course “Ten Steps to the Perfect Funding Bid”, and the top three are in the blog entitled Lottery:  Reasons They Reject Bids.

In actual fact NOT telling applicants, is a sensible tactic from the perspective of the Lottery Officers.   They have too many applications.   They need to be able to reject the majority even before they have finished reading them.  Having a few “secret” items on their checklists enables them to fail you by page two and chuck your hard work in the bin.  If all applicants were working off the same full guidance, and the quality of all applications was higher, their job would be much harder.  Understandable, then, but inexcusable in my book.

In sharp contrast to this secrecy is the tendering process underway in Devon for a number of large social care contracts.  The strict laws applying to tendering require total transparency.  In one recent tender for carers’ services Devon County Council set out clearly that there were 420 points for service quality, and 280 points for pricing.  The breakdown within the quality section will vary dependent on the service, but the headers are likely to remain the same –

  • Organisational experience and principles – 75 points
    Involving carers / users – 40 points
    Service delivery and evaluation – 120 points
    Added Value – 40 points
    Workforce – 75 points
    Equality – 70 points

Bearing in mind the strict wordcount, it is therefore logical to use more of the available words for the questions that are worth more points.  Your carefully crafted answer could score zero if it’s the last answer in a section and it’s discounted because you are over the word count.   But at least this is clear from the guidance notes.

This clarity enables everyone’s application to be considered fairly against transparent criteria.  Some charitable trusts and foundations issue equally clear guidance notes.  Some, however, ask one set of questions but then use an entirely different checklist for scoring.  The best we can all do is to read the guidance notes several times, and try to read between the lines.

©  Tamara Essex 2011

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