How to Be More Strategic in Your Business Development

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How to Be More Strategic in Your Business Development

By Bea Bezmalinovic Dhebar

International Health & Development Consultant & Humentum Trainer

This post is the first in a four-part series on business development. 


The US Government's fiscal year ends on September 30th. As we look ahead to FY 2017, this is a good time to make some new organizational resolutions. I suggest a resolution to be more strategic and better prepared for upcoming bids. This is an especially good idea for any organization that spent the last months haphazardly pursuing RFAs and RFPs as they were released. Few organizations have the resources to pull off a “bid on everything” strategy on a regular basis. Pulling together the entire proposal during the few weeks between the solicitation release and due date can be a hellish experience.

I advocate that you follow a four-step process to more systematically pursue work with USAID:

  • Step 1: Understand current funding patterns/trends by reviewing current Congressional Budget Justifications.
  • Step 2: Know the donor's goals and objectives. For USAID, this means reviewing key documents like their Country Development Cooperation Strategies, Mission websites, and program strategies.
  • Step 3: Track their other programs and projects using recent RFAs and RFPs.
  • Step 4: Manage bid preparations using a pipeline.

This process starts with a review of the Congressional Budget Justification FY 2017 or the Foreign Assistance dashboard.

If you are just beginning to work with USAID or want to expand your portfolio, you want to start by figuring out where your technical/programmatic or geographic focus coincides with USAID's.

If your organization is committed to specific countries, it is useful to review each country's funding pattern to determine whether and where USAID funds programs in areas relevant to your organization, and if so, how much funding there is. If USAID is not funding work in your sector or program area, then it is not worth pursuing USAID funding for your work in that country. For example, if your organization is working in maternal child health in Niger, you are not going to get much from USAID in 2017 because their funding there is focused on “peace and security” and “democracy, governance, and humanitarian affairs.” If those program categories are unfamiliar, you might want to learn more about the Agency and its goals, programs, and strategies. Try this online training tutorial prepared by USAID.

While the total annual funding is not a predictor of new opportunities, the funding levels will give some indication of what scale of program is possible. For example, if USAID provides a total of $2 million annually in water and sanitation funds then it is unlikely that USAID will design a program that is $5 million/year or $30 million for a 5-year project.

It is also helpful to look at funding trends. If funding for a country/sector is consistently shrinking, be prepared for competition. On the other hand, if you see significant increases in funding, you may find more opportunities for your organization.

I'll talk about the next step, knowing more about the donor's goals and objectives, in my next blog, which will be published here on August 19, 2016. Humentum members are also welcome to join me at a free Business Development Roundtable in New York on August 24. Register here.


Bea Bezmalinovic Dhebar has over 25 years of experience working as an international health and development consultant. She has worked in more than 26 countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Her consulting practice includes strategic planning, market research and analysis, and business development, including business development training, management improvement, and proposal development.

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