8 Tips for Your Nonprofit RFP Process

February 16, 2018 | EveryAction Team

So your nonprofit needs a new vendor or consultant. You know what that means! Time to start the RFP process to make sure you find the best vendor for your organization. 

While creating a Request for Proposals can be labor-intensive, time consuming, and stressful, we’ve put together some tips to make the whole process go a little smoother. From developing, distributing, and reviewing RFP’s—here are 8 strategies to help you out along the way

Keeping these basic do’s and don’ts in mind can yield great results + make the RFP process a lot simpler (and so can our No-Fuss Nonprofit RFP Template.)

Do Classify Correctly

Depending on the project, a request for proposal (RFP) may not be what your organization needs—the lesser known request for information (RFI) or request for quotation (RFQ), which are considerably more streamlined, could suffice.

Make sure to address this very basic, yet often overlooked step: before beginning a lengthy RFP process, decide internally on the best vehicle for your request.

Do Clearly Define Your Scope and Deadlines

A detailed, yet precise RFP will help you attract the right vendors with the right solutions for your organization. Achieving this is largely dependent on presenting an RFP that purposefully explains your needs, parameters, and ideal vendor relationship.

When defining the scope it’s just as important to ask yourself some questions as it is to ask a vendor. Some questions should include

  • What expertise do we already have on our staff to handle this work?
  • Do we need a consultant or just someone who can train our staff?
  • What are our end goals and any specific deliverables

And if time is a factor (isn’t it always?), it’s critical to outline realistic project milestones + deadlines.

Is your fundraising schedule directly connected to the process? Are you hoping to report on progress at your next board of directors meeting?

Be as forthcoming as you can when discussing timelines.

Do Research Vendor History

When vying for a partnership with your nonprofit, vendors will readily provide examples of their work, accolades, and testimonials from happy clients, all of which will give you an idea of what your working relationship will be like.

However, that doesn’t mean you’re not off the hook in terms of information gathering.

Do those examples include a project similar to the one from your RFP? What’s the company’s reputation in its industry? Have there been any complaints filed by not-so-happy clients?

Ultimately, it’s up to you to know as much as possible about your potential partner.

Do Knowledgeably Negotiate

As a nonprofit pro, you’re probably able to negotiate in your sleep, as resources are almost always limited and ending up over-budget is never an option. 

But the whole reason that the RFP process exists is because you can only wear so many hats and, chances are, you don’t have the expertise to do everything in-house.

That said, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the work that you’re soliciting and get an understanding of what an organization like yours should expect to pay for certain services. The knowledge you gain will allow you to ask the right questions during the RFP process and can be a huge asset at the negotiating table.

Don’t Skip the Context

As is customary, your RFP should include a cover letter that introduces your nonprofit to potential partners and creates a sense of the culture in which you operate.

Be sure to carefully craft this section so that respondents can design the best solution strategy for your organization, not just one that has worked in the past for someone else. 

Do you have a savvy staff that can work with more advanced technology? Does your cause have any nuances that have a direct impact on your day-to-day work? 

This section should be about more than just logistics tough. This is an opportunity to ensure that you’re going to find the right fit for your nonprofit, so include a paragraph about your culture. What makes your nonprofit different? How does the mission of your organization play into the kind of portfolio you’re looking for? All these aspects matter to make sure that whomever you select is not just technically a great fit but seamlessly fits into the culture of your organization as well.

Putting in the time initially to address questions like these may help you avoid the headaches later on when a problem arises and you’re left having to explain why something just isn’t fitting with the way your organization functions.

Don’t Limit the Reach of Your Request

Casting a wide net will not only ensure transparency in the RFP process, but it will also offer your organization the chance to select from a varied pool of vendors, each bringing unique strengths and skills to the table.

And if you’re not taking advantage of free online posting sources, you might as well just file away that RFP in the back of your desk drawer. 

Websites like Philanthropy News Digest and RFP Database host RFPs from a wide variety of organizations, all with unique needs, and vendors with varying specialties are combing through them looking for projects they can hit out of the park.

Don’t just Go With Your Gut

Here at EveryAction, we’re big fans of success metrics.

Whether it’s an RFP, an ad campaign, or your digital strategy, clear outcome metrics are crucial in objectively determining whether you’re getting enough bang for your buck.

Create a simple scoring system for RFP responses based on the factors that matter the most to your organization—things like experience working with nonprofits and proximity to your office can play a big role in a successful partnership, so be sure to talk with your stakeholders along the way.

Breaking down and quantify the points that influence a project’s success will allow the best candidates to rise to the top and save you time by eliminating those responses that don’t make the grade when it comes to your basic requirements.

Oftentimes, updating a process with an unknown tech solution can be a sticking point for nonprofits. The thought of taking the time to learn how to use new software and training staff can be a daunting one when calendars are already so full.

But it’s important to remember that “the way we’ve always done it” may be the reason you’re so pressed for time to begin with.

Before you dismiss a proposal that incorporates unfamiliar technology, make sure to do your research. Read the latest nonprofit tech chatter and ask questions in nonprofit forums to find out what your peers are doing to successfully modernize their nonprofits with new technology solutions.

This may sound like a lot to consider, but you’ll be glad you invested a little more ahead of time if it means saving yourself a lot time later

To help you get off to a quick start, we’ve developed a Nonprofit RFP Template that includes all of the must-have information to get the ball rolling in the right direction!