Past Performance for New Partners

Jan 25, 2023
Tips & Guidance
USAID/Honduras staff member works with Honduran business owner, Pamela, on a digital impression.Photo Credit: André Josué Anchecta Oseguera

At USAID’s Partnerships Incubator, we often field questions from potential USAID partners seeking guidance about the past performance section of their proposals. New partners can sometimes feel that the past performance section required in USAID proposals is a sort of Catch-22: if a partner is new, how can they have past performance to show the Agency? In this article, we will describe some ways that new partners can approach the past performance section of their proposals to make a strong case to USAID about their expertise and capabilities.

Are “Experience” and “Past Performance” the Same Thing?

There is a difference between experience and past performance. Experience focuses on the degree to which an organization has performed similar work or has technical competence in a specific area, whereas past performance focuses on the quality of previous work performed. While an organization may have experience working in the specific sector or technical area of USAID’s solicitation, it may not have an official record of how well it performed doing that work.  

How Does USAID Use Past Performance Information?

The section of a solicitation that asks for past performance information typically will list the information that is being requested about each recently completed project. This may include details such as the scope of work, the primary locations of the work, the term of performance, the dollar value, and the names, titles, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses of individuals outside of the applicant’s organization who supervised/oversaw the activity. You should always follow each solicitation’s specific requirements. 

In its solicitation, USAID will spell out how it plans to factor in past performance. For example, USAID may use past performance in one of the following ways:

(1)  Pass/Fail: USAID can look at an organization’s past performance on a pass/fail basis to determine whether a prospective contractor's record indicates that it can perform successfully. When assessed in this way, the organization's past performance is not used as a basis for comparing it to other firms. What matters is whether the firm's past performance is sufficient to “pass.” All available past performance records (which can be found in the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System, or CPARS) may be considered, even those that are not relevant to the specific project.  

(2)  Ranking/Comparison: When used as a competitive evaluation factor, the past performance of each organization is evaluated and ranked from best to worst. If there is no record of past performance, USAID assigns a “neutral” rating—neither good nor bad. However, “experience” in a specific technical area may still be required and evaluated.

Many organizations that are new to USAID—such as those seeking their first USAID award—may not have extensive past performance records. However, there are several ways for new partners to demonstrate that they have the background and expertise to deliver results for USAID. 

Think Outside the USAID Box

It’s important to remember that experience and past performance do not have to be limited to USAID. A great way for your organization to obtain both experience and performance records working in your sector is to implement similar projects for other U.S. Government agencies, other donor organizations, the host-country government, or the community itself. These projects sometimes involve smaller dollar amounts than a typical USAID project, and the compliance requirements may also be less stringent—meaning that they can help you to get experience and prove your abilities. 

Highlight Your Experience as a “Sub”

Working as a USAID sub-partner can also be a great way to show your involvement in your sector. If you can demonstrate a strong performance as a sub-partner, you can illustrate both your technical strengths as well as your awareness of compliance requirements. Sub-partnership can be a kind of training ground that can allow your organization to prove that you have the technical know-how to contribute to achieving development impact. You won’t have a CPARS record for work performed as a sub-partner, but you can provide your own past performance write-ups about your involvement. For more information about sub-partnership, check out the USAID training module on “Building Strong Sub-Partnerships.”

Include Key Personnel, Subcontractors, or Affiliates

If USAID’s solicitation terms allow, another common way that young organizations address requirements related to experience and past performance records is by pointing to the qualifications and professional expertise of proposed key personnel, subcontractors, or even affiliated entities (affiliates). Provided it is clear how they will contribute to the project, you can discuss the technical background and performance records of these staff members, subcontractors, or affiliates. If a solicitation is silent on whether subcontractors’ or affiliates’ experience and past performance can be evaluated, be sure to ask USAID this question during the Q&A part of the solicitation process.

Keep Your Audience (USAID) in Mind

In the past performance and experience sections of your proposal, your job is to instill confidence that you have the specific background, knowledge, connections, and expertise that USAID needs to successfully carry out its project. Always read your proposal from USAID’s point of view, and make as compelling an argument as possible that your organization can achieve USAID’s desired impact. 

Are you a new partner that has successfully demonstrated past performance in a proposal? We would love to share your experience in a guest blog. Read our guest blog policy, and then submit your pitch. 

For an example of how one organization built its past performance qualifications, check out this snapshot about the strategic decisions that helped AgriCentric Ventures become more competitive for USAID awards.

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